Covering the Kenyan elections

Kenya goes to the polls on 8 August to elect a president, parliament and county assembly seats. Election violence in 2007/08 killed more than 1,000 people and there are fears that this poll could easily turn violent as well. Chris Msando, an electoral official, was found dead in late July with reports saying he had been tortured and murdered.

Experts say that election violence is most likely to occur if there is a run-off, not during the initial vote. First results are expected within 48 hours of the polls closing. 

Worth noting is that this is opposition leader Raila Odinga’s last chance to become president as by the next election he will be age-barred from running by Kenya’s constitution. However, young people are doubtful that Odinga is offering anything different than the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, and many are disaffected and don’t want to vote at all.

Background to possible violence 

  • Kenya has reformed its electoral system, creating 47 counties that were drawn up along tribal lines, which should negate the threat of tribal violence in the countryside. However, in the cities, any violence is likely to be based along ethnic lines.
  • The army and police will be more prepared than in 2007/08 and have issued warnings to the political parties that violence won’t be tolerated.
  • Up to 200,000 new police recruits have been employed in the past year. New equipment includes water cannons and armoured personnel carriers.
  • The collapse of the International Criminal Court case against Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto relating to the previous election violence has only intensified the mood of impunity among some politicians and increased the chance of vote rigging.
  • There are more guns in Kenya than ever before because of regional insecurity. If violence breaks out, protestors will be well armed.

On the ground

  • An authorisation from the Kenyan police is needed before shipping in body armour and it must be declared on arrival. Confiscation is still a possibility though small qualities of PPE (vest and helmet) are getting through without any problem in the run up to the elections.
  • Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa are likely to be flash points for violence.
  • Kenya has an excellent mobile network, but that could be shut down as it was in Uganda (during the 2016 elections) if any violence breaks out. A satellite phone is therefore essential kit.
  • Expect increased crime unrelated to the elections, including theft of equipment and carjacking as the police will be pre-occupied.
  • Citizen networks on WhatsApp and Telegram dealing with crime could be useful for journalists in planning their movements.
  • Terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab are a possibility, particularly along the coast. There was a recent attack on a police station in Lamu blamed on the Somali militants who have targeted Kenya in recent years.
  • The army and police are unlikely to assist journalists if violence breaks out and can be heavy handed when dealing with violent situations.

Tips on safer election reporting

  • Ensure you have all of your paperwork in order and are carrying copies of your accreditation, passport and visa (though never the actual passport).
  • Save some contacts – high-ranking security officials, staff from your embassy – who might be able to assist in an emergency.
  • Alert your editors to where you’ll be going.
  • Set up a WhatsApp group with other journalists and regularly check in with each other.
  • Be prepared before setting out. Do your research. Talk to people on the ground before you arrive.
  • Carry plenty of water and sunscreen.

This advisory is based on information provided by Salim Amin, the chairman of Camerapix, the founder of the Mohamed Amin Foundation and the co-founder of A24 Media, and Andrew Green, a foreign correspondent based in sub-Saharan Africa.

Image by AFP