Work in Kenya is far from over

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Since Kenya’s deadly electoral crisis in 2007-8, Kenyans have led myriad initiatives to prevent renewed violence in their communities. From developing locally-based early warning systems to training community leaders in mediation, solutions generated in Kenya have demonstrated both the power and innovation of grassroots peacebuilding in action. At the same time, the U.S. and other members of the international community made unprecedented efforts to support those working to prevent renewed violence. The Office of Transition Initiatives offered grants to local organizations leading a range of peacebuilding programs – utilizing U.S. violence prevention capacities such as the Complex Crises Fund – while the Conflict Stabilization and Operations Bureau worked with community leaders in volatile areas to build violence prevention networks and assess the potential for conflict.

Though the direct impact of prevention is inherently difficult to measure, the potential to gather lessons learned remains real. Through independent consultation with Kenyan partners and the communities in which they work, the U.S. can evaluate whether its engagement was effective in supporting locally-driven initiatives – and how, in future situations, it could better work with those leading efforts toward peace.

In the meantime, lessons learned could also help to inform ongoing U.S.-Kenya policy – particularly given that the potential for violence continues. A report released by Human Rights Watch before the election raised serious concerns regarding a number of unimplemented reforms, noting that many root causes of the deadly conflict in 2007-8 persist. Human rights abuses on the part of security forces continue with impunity, as do vast corruption and injustices around land distribution. And while the results of the election seem to have been accepted for the moment, many Kenyans warn that the pitfalls of the process have left some even more frustrated and disillusioned than in 2008.

Though the solutions to these issues will be determined by Kenyans, and Kenyans alone, U.S.-Kenya policy has an inevitable impact.  Steps to improve U.S. engagement should be taken as a result. Through increasing investment in local partners’ work to promote civic education and grow Kenyan communities’ awareness of their rights, for example, the U.S. can help support those building the local, participatory governance processes essential to holding politicians accountable.

At the same time, the U.S. must also evaluate policies that could actively undermine Kenyans’ work toward peace and justice. Given that Kenyan security forces were responsible for up to 40 percent of the deaths in 2007-8, an examination of U.S. security assistance should have been a first step for any assessment of conflict dynamics. Instead, an August 2012 report from the State Department’s Inspector General found that the Nairobi embassy’s records used to vet security assistance recipients hadn’t been updated since 2008. Regardless of any subsequent efforts to prevent U.S. aid from reaching human rights abusers, the U.S.’s continued provision of significant training and equipment to Kenyan counterterror and military forces – despite the Kenyan government’s minimal efforts toward security sector reform and ongoing abuses (including those focused on Kenyan-based Somalis and Muslims) – sends a message of double standards that doesn’t go unnoticed.

Investments to support those building peace in Kenya mark a huge step forward for U.S. violence prevention efforts, and gathering those lessons could prove invaluable for future work to prevent deadly conflict before it erupts. Simultaneously, though, Senator Coons’s resolution recognizes that the need for peace and reform in Kenya have not ended with the elections. If the U.S. truly means to “continue to stand with the people of Kenya in support of democracy, partnership, and peace,” then ongoing U.S.-Kenya policy must also incorporate some lessons learned – and there’s no time to waste.

Regan is Kenya project associate at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.