EAST AFRICA ・ Ten years later, Kenya still failing into widespread sexual violence on the margin of elections

Since 2007, Kenya has been a scene of impunity for incidents of sexual violence committed during post-election conflicts. While men and women are still demanding justice in the wake of the sexual violence that followed the 2007-2008 elections, on October 26, 2017, ten years later, Kenya seems to have relived the same experience. On December 14, 2017, in a report called “They Were Men in Uniform”[1], Human Rights Watch denounced the violence that occurred after Kenya’s 2017 presidential elections, said to have been perpetrated by members of the police force. Today, the situation is highly concerning, as rape and other forms of sexual violence have become political weapons used to humiliate members of different  communities or ethnic groups.

Kenya, a polarized and ethnically divided country in presidential elections

The issue of sexual violence in Kenya is strongly linked to the deep ethnic, geographical and social divisions present in the country. Indeed, the presidential elections were marked by the invalidation in Court of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election. Opponent Raila Odinga then boycotted the new poll, held on October 26, 2017, of which Mr. Kenyatta won with 98% of the vote. Nevertheless, this victory has been tarnished by the low participation (39%) of the Kenyan population [2].

In parallel with this political division, the Kenyan population is also ethnically divided. Tribal connections surpass national identity in Kenya, where more than 40 different ethnic groups coexist. Thus, politics in the country is often conducted along ethnic divisions. The report states that ethnicity is “easily associated with support for a certain political party or candidate” [3]. As a result, political rivals are often easily identified, and physical intimidation of opponents isused to destabilize the opponent’s side.

Following the presidential elections, Human Rights Watch unveiled two striking testimonies. In the first, a victim reported that she was raped in front of her children after refusing to say that she supported President Uhuru Kenyatta. In the other a woman explains that she was assaulted by civilians who were celebrating Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, in the presence of police officers [4].

Generalized sexual violence used as a political weapon

Human Rights Watch found that about 68 women and girls and 3 men have been sexually abused during the post-election period. Also, there are 12 witnesses of those abuses in the Mathare, Dandora and Kibera neighborhoods in Nairobi, as well as in the towns of Kisumu and Bungoma in western Kenya. The types of violence involved are multiple. In each case, members of state security forces and militias were involved, including are police officers or men in uniform, many of whom are equipped with firearms.


The trend of the last ten years is highly worrying. Sexual violence has become a political weapon. Uniformed men in Kenya  aim to humiliate, punish, control, terrorize and displace women, men and their communities. Those men seek to destroy the bodies of individuals in order to establish an ideological hold on the population. The individual thus broken, the men in uniform can establish a climate of absolute terror in the opposite camp. Also, the increase in rapes in the presence of close or extended family seems to have the purpose of breaking the morale of the family circle and preventing other members from rebelling against the camp to which they do not adhere politically. Rape is used  as a way of exercising power by maintaining terror among the effected population: the physical intimidation of opponents has thus become a warfare tactic.

Growing sequelae and increasing impunity for crimes committed

Sexual violence has devastating effects on victims. Indeed, they suffer from physical pain and deep psychological trauma. Physical pain is not only debilitating, but it also renders its victims unable to work or care for their families. After those terrible events, the victims constantly feel fear and anxiety at a psychological level. Despite the scale of the crimes committed against the population, no medical or psychological post-traumatic care, not even drugs to prevent HIV contamination, other sexually transmitted infections, or unwanted pregnancy was planned by the Kenya government. By its lack of medical intervention, the government has denied access to care.

Judicial impunity has also been denounced by Human Rights Watch. Indeed, the NGO denounced the many barriers that prevent victims from having access to justice. Due to the historical prevalence of impunity for sexual violence in Kenya, few victims reported reporting their assaults to the police. Many of them lack confidence in the police because of the police’s long history of human rights violations and corruption. Other victims are afraid of reprisals.

Today, the resolution, prosecution and condemnation of sexual violence in Kenya during the presidential elections has stalled. Indeed, the former government programs to help victims of violence in 2007-2008 excluded victims of rape, and they received no assistance, medical or otherwise. Regarding the violence in 2017, Human Rights Watch has urged the Kenyan government to take action. While the government’s commitment to action remains to be seen, the consequences of this brutal episode of trauma await any semblance of justice.


Article written by Fiona NOUDJENOUME


[1] https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/kenya1217_web.pdf

[2] http://www.jeuneafrique.com/497675/politique/kenya-uhuru-kenyatta-investi-president-raila-odinga-promet-de-faire-de-meme-le-12-decembre/

[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/14/africa/hrw-kenya-election-sexual-violence-report-intl/index.html

[4] http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20171215-kenya-hrw-denonce-viols-forces-ordre-pendant-periode-electorale


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