Voting, not Violence, in Kenya

Peace-keeping authorities are monitoring the 2010 referendum in Nairobi, Kenya.
Peace-keeping authorities monitor the 2010 referendum in Nairobi (UNDP)

Days before a constitutional referendum took place in Kenya, employees at the Uwiano Platform in the capital of Nairobi received an alarming SMS. 

The message came from a resident of Chebarus village who said his familiy had been surrounded by an unknown armed group. The assailants had threatened the family with death because of their support for the proposed new Kenyan constitution.

Uwiano Platform

  • The UNDP-supported Uwiano Platform helped to maintain peace in Kenya during the country's 2010 referendum.
  • Surrounding the referendum, the Uwiano Platform received about 20,000 reports of threats and prevented 122 potentially violent incidents.
  • Uwiano is the most coordinated collaboration between civil society and the government in Kenya to date.

In response, the Uwiano worker and his colleagues quickly called the District Commissioner, who immediately dispatched a contingent of police officers to the area.

The frightened villager said his entire family was relying on Uwiano for safety in its hour of need.

The Uwiano (Cohesion) Peace Platform was established by the Kenyan government, the United Nations Developoment Programme (UNDP) and civil society organizations as part of the national effort to maintain peace around the time of the referendum. It was launched shortly before the August 4, 2010 Referendum in Kenya, which was held to determine whether to adopt a new constitution that had been passed by parliament four months earlier.

Uwiano used an innovative approach to prevent outbreaks of violence leading up to the Referendum, involving official and non-government organizations, and using multimedia, such as text messaging, to complement more traditional sources of information for detecting conflict.

The platform employed six data clerks and six data analysts to receive, verify, analyze and disseminate information sent in by the public. With this information, the staff then produced daily briefs and reports, which were shared with security agencies and other organizations, including the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) and the media.

Uwiano also used an online early warning and rapid-response system to map and share information, including reports of hate slandering and outbreaks of violence. This allowed authorities to respond quickly to these activities and to prevent them from erupting into wider violence.

The platform gave the public a means of relaying information, views and opinions in order to preserve peace and security in their communities. It received about 20,000 SMS messages, many of which came on the day of the Referendum.

As a result, Uwiano tracked and stopped a total of 122 incidents before and during the vote.

The Uwiano initiative marked the most coordinated collaboration between civil society and the Government in Kenya to date, and helped the country to conduct its first-ever violence-free election.

The approach was based on lessons learned from the violent presidential polls of December 2007, which plunged the country into its gravest political crisis since independence. During the immediate aftermath of these post-election clashes, UNDP helped civic groups to send staff to the lower Rift Valley, the epicenter of the violence, where they worked closely with security services in the area to mediate local tensions and pre-empt further outbreaks of fighting.

Drawing on the success of these earlier initiatives, high-level political efforts were initiated in advance of the 2010 Referendum to prepare opposition parties for the possibility of mediation and to bring them closer on key policy issues.

UNDP also supported the country's elections committee in conducting a massive civic education campaign, as well as a national registration drive that saw some 12.4 million voters registered.

In doing so, it worked with a community of experts to familiarize the public with the content of the propsed constitution. It also helped to recruit, train and deploy almost 200,000 polling clerks across the country, and introduced new technology for the immediate transmission of electoral data.