Kenya: The U.S. Can Support Peace or Fuel Violence
Many eyes are on Kenya as its next national elections approach in March of 2013. Will Kenyans and those working to support them successfully prevent a renewal of the violence that erupted after the 2007 elections?
Creating Structures for Peace
U.S. policy towards Kenya could help promote peace—or fuel instability. The United States is providing military training, equipment and funding to Kenya even as ethnic mobilization and pre-election tension are on the rise. Yet support for Kenyan civilians’ violence prevention and peacebuilding efforts is only more critical as the elections approach.
Reasons for Hope and Concern
Thanks in large part to FCNL’s work, the U.S. toolkit for taking preventive action to help avert war and atrocities has expanded since 2007.
The State Department’s new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations could help connect Kenyan grassroots violence monitors to rapid mediation response. The Complex Crises Fund, which gives USAID flexible funding to address emerging conflicts, is already funding youth peacebuilding programs. And the newly-created interagency Atrocities Prevention Board, if it acts early enough, could help coordinate U.S. diplomatic efforts before the elections and help the U.S. respond effectively if violence occurs. These peaceful prevention tools could help the United States support Kenyans‘ efforts toward peace.
Reasons for Concern
Still, an emphasis on counterterrorism and military assistance could undermine this progress.
For example, Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia, which began in October 2011, has led to retaliatory attacks on Kenyan and Somali communities, egregious human rights violations on the part of Kenyan counterterrorism forces, and worsening food insecurity and violence.
The U.S. is supporting this intervention, which is intended to quell al-Shabaab, a violent extremist group with ties to al Qaeda. One estimate from the National Defense University found that the U.S. is already giving Kenya about $300 million in military assistance—a number that far outweighs what the U.S. is spending to support peace.
Congress may go even further. In its report on the FY 2013 military authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee called for increased military activity on the entire African continent, saying “activities that utilize U.S. Special Operations Forces and an ‘indirect approach’ that leverages local and indigenous forces should be used more aggressively and surgically in Africa.”
Meanwhile, the Senate’s version of the military authorization bill includes $75 million for counterterrorism assistance for Kenya and other East African nations, which could pay for equipment such as grenades and rifles. Kenyan Friends are already concerned that weapons are increasingly available to armed militias. Any weapons leaked into illicit markets could enable bloodshed.
Congress should end the expansion of counterterrorism and military operations in Kenya. An increasing emphasis on military aid and incentives will only fuel violent conflict and undermine the peacebuilding work underway.
Time to Support Peace
The U.S. has an opportunity to complement, rather than undermine, Kenya’s efforts to prevent renewed electoral violence. As we highlight what Kenyan Friends are doing, including the important work of the Friends Church Peace Teams and the African Great Lakes Initiative, and lobby for the tools of peaceful prevention, FCNL also encourages the U.S. to emphasize peace and social justice, not aggression and military might, to help guarantee long-term stability.
Find out more about how you can be part of this work to support a world free of war and the threat of war.
FCNL's Executive Secretary Diane Randall has more about Quakers in Kenya.