Doing your part: Citizen’s role in promoting peace during elections

Citizens play an essential role in maintaining peace in a democratic transition of power. Nearly all general elections in Kenya since the introduction of multiparty system in 1992 has been marred with some kind of violence. The worst of it was seen in 2007/8 post election violence. Elections are not only a democratic issue but also a human rights matter as people have lost their lives, women have been raped, and children killed due to violence resulting from the elections. The loss of six months old Baby Pendo in the hands of police officers in 2017 characterizes a highly tribal, divisive elections and police brutality evident in the election period in Kenya. Police officers crashed Baby Pendo’s head during the PEV in 2017, leading to an excruciating death and the end of the baby’s promising life. This cycle of violence has to be stopped to ensure the country does not lose more innocent lives in the upcoming August general elections. Citizens should know that they play a critical role in promoting peace by choosing their political leaders freely and allocating power peacefully.

The everyday Kenyan has the power of making this coming election peaceful and the transition of power nonviolent. In the 2017 elections in Liberia, local citizens collaborated to prevent violence and promote peace. Their actions and initiatives led to the first peaceful transition of power between democratically elected leaders in decades in the country. Kenyans can emulate some of the actions and initiatives local citizens in Liberia took to promote peace in the 2017 elections. For instance, Liberians engaged in peace-promoting activities on grassroots levels where they urged their fellow citizens to say no to violence. Kenyans need to conduct community outreach events, market meetings, radio call-in programs where citizens are educated on the importance of peace and ways to enhance it These activities will bring together young men and women, especially motorcycle and taxi drivers, who are often used by political leaders to instigate violent interactions. Peacebuilding activities will give local peacebuilders platforms such as peace marches and football tournaments that emphasize on local citizens’ need to maintain and sustain peace.

Kenya is a deeply religious country with religions such as Christianity, Islamic, and traditional religions that citizens can use to promote peace. Religious leaders should use their platforms to appeal to political parties and fellow citizens to maintain peace in the upcoming elections. Political campaigns are also in full swing, and Kenyan politicians’ frequent churches to campaign and connect with the electorate. Religious leaders should ensure churches and other religious institutions are not used to spread propaganda and messages of hate. Some churches have taken the critical and necessary steps such as banning politicians from their pulpit to ensure they do not have a platform to make divisive and hateful remarks that may stir violence. A group of church women in Liberia also mobilized for peace in the 2017 elections by organizing public prayers and fasting while appealing to citizens to remain peaceful. Religious leaders and citizens should use these nonviolent and mass action strategies to prevent their institutions from becoming arenas where politicians abuse each other and spread divisive and hateful messages.

Social media is also a great tool that Kenyans can use to foster peace and prepare for democratic elections.. Social media is mostly unrestricted and can be easily used to spread misleading, violent, and hateful information that stirs up PEV. However, Kenyans have the power to use the tool positively for conflict prevention and peace buildings. Peacebuilding organizations and local peacebuilders can mobilize youths or sponsor hashtags that spread facts, accurate information, and messages of peace. Studies indicate that social media in Kenya plays a key role in stirring social and political tension that might result in violence. Civilians should use social media to encourage peaceful dialogue among people of different ethnic groups rather than create tension. Ethnic conflicts are mostly the cause of PEV in Kenya, and social media can help to bridge the divide between ethnic groups. Civilians should also monitor, discourage, and report hate speech from fellow citizens or politicians to promote peace and tolerance. Kenyan citizens should proactively disseminate accurate information and messages of peace using popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to promote peace in the upcoming elections.

Kenyans should not leave the role of promoting peace and stability during elections in the hands of politicians and government officials. They should come together to address and fight against political intolerance, hate speech, and cyberbullying that drive violence during elections. The benefits of peace, such as preservation of life and economic stability, should serve as primary motivators for citizens to engage in peacebuilding activities. The success of peacebuilding activities driven by citizens is also evident in several countries, including Liberia, which held peaceful and democratic elections in 2017. Citizens need to be an example to their fellow Kenyans in the grassroots and on social media that they are one people who will not fight on the basis of ethnic politics. Most Kenyans have either been victims or perpetrators of PEV in the past, but they can now come together to be advocators of peace and stability.

About author

Osongo D. Akinyi is a digital journalist and a creative storyteller who is vocal about gender equality, equity, feminism, femininity, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. She has worked as a writer, digital storyteller, social media manager, and sub-editor. Akinyi believes in the power of writing to stir change and promote action from her target audience as the right words have the ability to inspire, motivate, and even change history. She enjoys reading fiction, hiking, watching movies, and meditating to decompress. Akinyi is a Cohort 31 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) East Africa Alumnus. YALI equips young African leaders with skills, leadership tools and diversity of thought to help them impact the world positively. She is also a Youth Correspondent for the Commonwealth, where she tells stories of women who are making huge footprints on earth and venturing into careers such as politics, science, and engineering. She also writes about other issues that impact humanity, including politics, sex and relationships, mental health, social justice, human rights, and democracy on Commonwealth Youth Blog and her Medium channel. Most importantly, Akinyi encourages women and girls to own and tell their stories and not let society put them on the sidelines.
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