Tag Archives: elections

Politics as land disputes by other means? Kenya braces itself for elections (updated)

by Rhodri C. Williams

Kenyans go to the polls next Monday in the culmination of an entire political season spent building institutional guarantees against a repeat of the appalling ethnic violence and mass-displacement that followed the country’s last elections in 2007. Prevention measures ranging from a new 2010 Constitution to a 2012 law criminalizing internal displacement have been earnestly discussed and adopted in the intervening years.

However, the breathtaking fact remains that some of the leading candidates in the current election may be responsible for the violence of the last round – and that their eventual election may be used as a pretext to effectively shield them from accountability for these crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The resulting ‘bizarre’ nature of the first debate between Kenya’s presidential candidates was captured by Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict, who also reflected recently on the underlying question the ICC-Kenya brouhaha raises – namely whether transformative political change has supplanted individual criminal responsibility as at least the implicit primary aim of international justice.

There is certainly a case for such an approach, which arguably only transposes the consequences of the individual criminal behaviour of political leaders into the novel but expanding terrain of the state responsibility to protect (see Mark Kersten again, here). If the results of an individual leader’s acts are now recognized as giving rise to a threat to international peace and security, in other words, why should the rest of the international community sit around and twiddle its thumbs?

On the other hand, principled arguments against such an expansive view of the aims of international justice include the risk of politicization of the ICC through selective support of regime change by gatekeeper institutions such as the UN Security Council. However, beyond this concern about the tail wagging the dog, Kenya may now have usefully exposed a major practical limitation on politically transformative international justice. For example, in an otherwise highly cogent piece on the upcoming elections in Kenya on OpenDemocracy, Clare Castillejo argues for what some may view as closing the barn doors after the horses have bolted:

So what can the international community do in these final days before the polls? Firstly it must send strong signals that politicians who incite violence will face international sanctions such as asset freezing, travel bans and – where possible – prosecution. Kenya’s international partners (particularly the US, UK and the EU) and its East African Community neighbours must be prepared to speak out forcefully at the first signs of electoral fraud or organised political violence.

Got that? Politicians now hoping to elude international accountability for past electoral violence by running for elected office are to be prevented from resorting to further violence by threatening them with accountability for such acts. Is that entirely convincing? I do not mean to be facetious, and I am very concerned for Kenya, but is doubling down on a concept of accountability that has proven elusive in practice likely to be effective as a means of protection? Perhaps it will, if applied as part of a unified campaign of international condemnation. But if it does not, the result may further undermine the effectiveness of accountability as a check on such crimes.

Humanitarians are also talking prevention, but in a slightly more nuanced (some might say ambiguous) way. Continue reading

A weather eye on Sudan

by Rhodri C. Williams

I pause a bit before blogging on Sudan as there are so many people who know so much more than I do and blogs like Understanding Sudan seem to have made Khartoumology into the new Kremlinology (rightly so for anyone seriously interested in how to disentangle the knots of conflict and displacement that link the entire region). However, my reading of the surface phenomena this week has been slightly alarming.

First, Refugees International has come with a new report, No Time for ‘Business as Usual’ on North-South relations in light of the upcoming elections and the possibilities for renewed conflict. In essence, the report raises the concern that the persistence of longstanding international crisis response networks on the ground in Southern Sudan may have created a false sense of security:

While many international observers felt that the country would “muddle through” with only limited outbreaks of fighting in border and oil-rich areas, others felt that south Sudan was heading towards total collapse with an explosion of inter-ethnic tensions. A key concern was that a gradual ratcheting up of tensions rather than all-out war would mean no “CNN moment” to attract worldwide attention and funding.

The RI report warned about large scale territorial conflicts that jeopardize entire communities such as the “southern-aligned communities in the Nuba Mountains” who, after an independence vote, might be “isolated and targeted by proxy groups armed by the north in an effort to remove them from their land.” In addition to international contingency planning and community emergency preparedness measures, RI recommended the same type of basic returnee reintegration support measures that ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group and others have been advocating for years.

Meanwhile, as RI was busy telling the international community not to lose track of the South, a new report from AlertNet was warning that too much attention to the South was diverting international attention from a new potential meltdown in Darfur. And from a land rights perspective, perhaps the most disturbing element appeared to be that for want of any better idea of how to destabilize Darfur again, the Khartoum government appears to be backing a full dress re-enactment of the original pageantry of displacement that tore through the Darfur countryside six years ago:

And there are good reasons why violence may escalate in this highly militarised and polarised region. Any chance of lasting peace depends on addressing the root causes of the war which include the region’s political and economic marginalisation and tensions over access to land.


Tensions are also likely to spiral if the government carries out its plans to close the displacement camps and force people to return home.

Arab pastoralist and nomadic populations have moved into many of the villages abandoned by the displaced, most of them from non-Arab tribes, or turned them into grazing land, says Sudan analyst Eric Reeves.

“Forced returns amid present insecurity is a formula for renewed violence, and on a large scale,” he said.

Would someone pinch me or are South Sudan and Darfur really to be condemned to repeat their recent history – and all of us condemned again to watch?