The August 9, 2022, Kenyan presidential election has been framed as a highly competitive contest largely between two main coalitions: Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja led by Dr. William Ruto and Raila Odinga respectively. As the polls near, there is a renewed focus by state and non-state actors on peace messaging. This messaging, while not new in Kenya’s electoral cycle, represents the persistent fear of electoral violence. Peace messaging is therefore emerging as one of the interventions to overcome this threat. There is a mixed outlook on the efficacy of peace messaging in preventing electoral violence, but generally this can mitigate violence.1Dorina A. Bekoe and Stephanie M. Burchard (2021).  Robust Electoral Violence Prevention: An Example From Ghana.  African Affairs, 120(481), 543–567

The media, civil society, faith-based organizations, and international partners have in the past several months launched engagements to emphasize the value of peace in the pre- and post-election period. The fear of electoral violence is drawn from previous cycles such as the 2008 violence. Counter-critiques around peace messaging have observed that it tends to silence electoral malpractices for the sake of political stability.2Sarah Jenkins (2020). The politics of fear and the securitization of African elections. Democratization, 27(5), 836-853, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2020.1742112 Moreover, this allows the incumbent leadership to deploy extra state security to maintain law and order. This can stifle the democratic space and result in human rights violations.3Gabrielle Lynch, Nic Cheeseman, and Justin Willis (2019). From Peace Campaigns to Peaceocracy: Elections, Order and Authority in Africa.  African Affairs, 184(473), 603–627.

Kenya’s path towards democratic consolidation remains hampered by several factors and partly explains why the peace messaging continues to persist. Some of these factors include the perceived weaknesses of key institutions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the instrumentalization of ethnicity, the prevalence of offline and online hate speech, and embryonic political party culture.

While peace messaging is generally important as a way to sensitize the value of peace, it remains important to improve on the electoral processes that in most instances serve as early triggers of electoral violence. The credibility of the electoral process can help prevent political unrest. This would work alongside building trust with election stakeholders, including dispute resolutions.4Sarah Birch & David Muchlinski (2018) Electoral violence prevention: what works? Democratization, 25(3), 385-403, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2017.1365841 Safeguarding the integrity of the 2022 electoral process thus remains important. The IEBC is a salient actor in the electoral process and therefore it needs to demonstrate its professionalism and independence as it manages the August 9 elections. It will need to draw on lessons learnt and reflections from the work of local, regional, and international election observation missions.

The media remains a key conveyor of peace messaging. It needs to adopt a balanced coverage of the candidates and the issues defining the campaign while embracing the tenets of conflict-sensitive reporting. This would allow for fairness, balance, and impartial coverage.5Jacinta Maweu (2017) “Peace propaganda”? the application of Chomsky’s propaganda model to the Daily Nation’s coverage of the 2013 Kenyan elections, Communicatio, 43(2), 168-186, DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2017.1319873 Radio remains a predominant channel for the transmission of peace messages given its wide geographical reach. The fact that radio is conversational and allows two-way communication means it is a much more effective platform than television outlets. While traditional media is important in this respect, embracing social media platforms remains key. This is critical in the sense of a growing youth demographic in Kenya that is embracing platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Telegram. The spread of the internet means that peace messaging in some of these spaces can spread rapidly.

The political class and indeed the political parties need to engage in peace messaging for their respective audiences. The value of this engagement would be to temper any undesired expectations such as poll losses and incentives for electoral violence. Managing the expectations of the electorate is therefore important in a context where the zero-sum politics model is prevalent particularly at the presidential level.

Building a robust democratic culture in Kenya remains possible as key institutions continue to mature, and as civic culture is deepened. This will be possible with extended periods of civic education. While critiques may question why peace messaging is mounted as we approach the August elections, it is important to emphasize it as a key ingredient in the democratic path.

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