Structural weaknesses and poor decision-making in Kenya fuel a sense of crisis in election years that should not be.
Over the past three weeks, for example, Kenya has lost billions of shillings due to its failure to manage orchestrated oil shortages across the country.
The loss took the form of thousands of vehicles lined up at gas stations, money wasted on the search for fuel and investment opportunities lost.
A blame game ensued with government officials accusing oil companies of hoarding gasoline and trying to coerce the state on one side while on the other oil companies pointed the finger at non-payment by the government for what it owed them in terms of oil subsidies.
The country suffered from increased underdevelopment before the elections, generating security problems. Faced with the next elections, the misery of oil was only an indictment against national politics and the decision-making bodies.
With the elections fast approaching, there are indications that certain areas are likely to be potential sources of unrest. Three stand out as facing challenges of identity and belonging.
These are the Lamu complex, the Marsabit/Isiolo/Meru complex and the Nandi/Kericho/Kisumu complex. The inhabitants of each complex have diverse and sometimes competing cultural backgrounds.
Differences within and between each of the peoples tend to germinate and intensify in times of crisis and elections with violent fallout.
Spillover involves separate layers of identity and belonging centered on families, clans, ethnic communities and livelihoods.
The feeling that the presence of “others” in a place is synonymous with deprivation of what is necessary and fuels such hostilities.
Examining and monitoring feelings of identity and belonging as the driving forces behind election-related hostility would be a stability-promoting activity.
The Lamu complex along the coast of Kenya is an area requiring special attention. It encompasses more than the county and has local, international and religious touches, in addition to neighboring Kilifi and Tana River counties.
Beginning in southern Somalia, the complex stretches south to Palma in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique and is home to the terrorist group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab’s terrorist cousins, the Al-Sunna wa Jama’a operate in Cabo Delgado and are felt in southern Tanzania.
As a county, Lamu is the beginning, going west eventually into Cameroon. It also attracts international actors, including the Al Shabaab whose presence reinforces animosity over identity and belonging during the election period by dividing the inhabitants into “Wabaara” and “Wapwani”.
The huge forest of Boni serves as a hiding place for militias and Al Shabaab operators who want to expel the ‘Wabaara’. Given that the ‘Wabaara’ tend to resist demands to become politically invisible, Lamu is becoming an election hot spot worth watching.
Other electoral conflict complexes are not as visible or unstable internationally, but they are hotspots that deserve attention.
Less than 500 km west of Lamu, the LAPSSET passes through the Marsabit/Isiolo/Meru conflict complex in Isiolo.
The complex is largely arid and semi-arid and appears to be a mixing point of diverse people jostling for territorial positions and cannot agree on identity who belongs or does not, mostly among the big five comprising the Somalis, Borana, Turkana, Meru and Samburu. .
About 400 km west of Isiolo, but not on the LAPSSET pass, is the Kisumu/Kericho/Nandi complex where the Kipsigis, Luo and Nandi converge.
All three electoral conflict complexes reveal serious issues of identity and belonging. While all three complexes require constant surveillance, there are other locations that cry out for research and investigation in order to expose identity and dormancy of membership that lure authorities into complacency.