On Tuesday 8th August, Kenya will hold elections for the positions of the President and deputy President, members of Parliament (Senate and National Assembly) and devolved government members (county governors and ward representatives). While the last elections in 2013 were relatively peaceful, the memory of the 2007/8 post-election violence, which left at least 1,133 people dead and 600,000 people displaced, looms large in this election period.

In the violence of 2007/8, there was a spike in sexual violence predominantly targeting women and girls, though the number of victims remains unclear given the reluctance of survivors to report; the stigma attached to sexual violence; and fears of retaliation. An official commission of inquiry into the post-election violence states that the perpetrators included significant numbers of security forces[1] and that “the brunt of the suffering in Nairobi was borne by poor people living in low income neighbourhoods”[2].

The two serious contenders for president are incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta (Jubilee Party) and Raila Odinga (ODM), who ran for president in both the 2007 and 2013 presidential elections. In order to win in the first round, one is required to receive over 50% of the vote and 25% of the vote in at least 24 counties. The Election Observation Mission in Kenya estimates that women make up less than 10% of the candidates in these elections; many female candidates face harassment, intimidation and abuse, both online and in person[3].

The language being used around the election is concerning: a presidential campaign team member for the opposition party, ODM, has claimed that the country would burn “if President Kenyatta is declared victor in a sham election” and the Police Inspector-General, Joseph Boinnet, has said that police would have to use “slightly more force than that used by violent perpetrators” if chaos breaks out. Another worrying development has been the discovery of the dead body of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ICT Manager Chris Msando, one of the few people with information on the IEBC's election preparedness and technology, including knowledge of the location of the commission’s servers; the IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati has said it was clear “he had been tortured”.

Though there are many predictions for the election and post-election periods, one scenario that has been circulating as a likely one, including by a UN agency, is that there will be “extensive violence in some major high density, low income, urban centres [this would likely include areas like Mathare and Kibera where many of PBI Kenya’s partners are based], spreading to other areas but being largely contained by Kenyan security forces. Some areas would see sustained violence over a few days, but not to the extent that it would paralyse the country”.

Anecdotal evidence from our partners in the urban settlements suggests that many people on the ground are concerned that there will be violence and, if there is violence, it will most likely take place in the settlements. As the predicted security situation has worsened, women are often expected to travel upcountry (to their ancestral homelands - which are segregated by ethnic group) with their children. Many of these women are registered to vote in Nairobi, which means that they will not have the opportunity to participate in these elections. This deteriorating context has a clear negative impact on women’s rights and their ability to participate in the democratic process, if there is violence or a strong police presence at the polling stations then the turnout of women will further shrink.

[1] Kenya: Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) final report, 2008, p. 349

[2] Ibid., p. 203