The recent elections in Kenya saw millions of people queuing for long hours to vote, highlighting their commitment to influence social and political change.
Sadly, this ballot paper has often come at a cost. Election campaigns in the past decade have seen violence, loss of life and thousands of people forced to leave their homes.
Recently the Kenya Red Cross, funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and other donors, has been working with communities to encourage a peaceful election and to prepare for potential unrest and violence, which has featured so frequently in the past.
Prepared to respond
Karen Peachey, British Red Cross East Africa representative says: “In the run up to the 2013 election, we recognised the possibility of election related violence and large scale population displacement. The Red Cross needed to be prepared.”
Contingency plans were developed and put to the test when clashes in the Tana River region killed 187 people and forced over 34,000 people to leave their homes. Kenya Red Cross trained staff and volunteers snapped into action, administering basic first aid, distributing household stocks and putting their health, water and sanitation training in to practice.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be their only test. Karen explains: “We were informed of 71 election related incidents before, during and after the ballot – Kenya Red Cross responded to all of these in a number of different ways from providing first aid to supporting people who fled their homes and making referrals to other agencies, such as the police.”
Thanks to the Kenya Red Cross Chagua Amani (Choose Peace) campaign – created to promote peace during the election period – communities knew that Red Cross staff and volunteers were neutral and could be relied on for support during this tense time.
Karen explains: “Over 12,700,000 people were reached on twitter, 20 million text messages were sent and 18,141 people signed up to the campaign. This awareness is vital in the work of the Red Cross – helping us access communities who need help even when there is unrest.”
Lessons learned – building resilience
Although calmer than expected, election-related violence was responsible for 105 deaths and 248 injuries between January and March 2013. Kenya Red Cross staff and volunteers were on hand, monitoring the situation and responding as needed.
Happily, there were relatively few incidents and many of the resources were not used. However, the investment made in preparing has been invaluable and is certainly not a wasted experience as Karen explains: “The time and money spent training staff and volunteers in first aid and emergency response, together with the stocks which were prepositioned, means the Red Cross teams are well prepared and able to respond other humanitarian disasters affecting the country, including the current floods which are hitting many areas of Kenya.”