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Residents pass a burning barricade in Kibera, Nairobi, on October 25, the day before presidential re-elections are held. Journalists covering the vote should take safety precautions. (AFP/Marco Longari)

CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering Kenya's repeat election and unrest

October 25, 2017 5:12 PM ET

The risk of unrest and violent protests in Kenya has increased after the country's electoral commission announced that repeat elections will be held on October 26. The order came after Kenya's Supreme Court annulled the result of an election in August that kept President Uhuru Kenyatta in power.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga today urged his supporters to boycott the vote and protest, according to reports. Human Rights Watch research indicated that 33 people were killed in Nairobi after the August election, most as a direct action of police. Rights group estimate that about 70 people have been killed country-wide in post-election violence.

CPJ's Emergencies Response Team has issued the following advisory for journalists planning to cover the re-election:

Current situation:

Reporters in Kenya told CPJ one of the major concerns covering violence at the protests is the risk of being an inadvertent victim. Journalists said they were worried about safety around police after reports earlier this year of people being killed after officers fired live rounds. Nairobi police in August denied targeting individuals and said they used live ammunition only to scare people who they referred to as "looters," according to The Guardian.

Journalists previously told CPJ that when police employ riot dispersal tactics, crowds can stampede, which is dangerous in Kenya's heavily built up slum areas.

When reporting on protests, positioning is key, as well as having a dynamic risk assessment to allow for a fluid situation. Many journalists choose to stay behind the police lines, which is generally regarded as the safest location.

Around the elections in August, CPJ spoke with 10 journalists who said they were assaulted or harassed by police and unidentified attackers while reporting on the election.

Regional hostility:

In Western Kenya, local journalists told CPJ that the mood was potentially hostile toward journalists and foreigners. They added that in part the hostility came from confusion over who was a journalist and who was an election monitor or official.

CPJ recommends that journalists covering the election carry accreditation whenever possible.

During any situation remain cognizant of the high crime rate in Kenya. Cell phones and recording equipment are particularly attractive to thieves.

If violence takes on a sectarian nature, local reporters, fixers, and drivers are at particular risk. Consider their safety before asking them to travel outside of their local area. Such requests could have dire consequences. In some hot spots, such as Mathare, delineations are unclear, which can be problematic.

Protection gear and licenses:

Journalists should wear personal protective equipment including helmets, eye protection, and gas masks. Journalists should note however, that the use of body armor now requires a license in Kenya and that police enforced this law during the August elections. Police arrested Kenya Television Network journalist Duncan Khaemba on August 12 for allegedly possessing a helmet and body armor without a proper license, according to police documents seen by CPJ and Khaemba. The journalist was reporting on violent post-election protests in Nairobi's Kibera slum at the time. Police told CPJ that the charges were dropped on August 15.

Body armor is classified as a firearm under the Firearms Act, and licenses are hard to obtain, particularly at short notice. As a result, all journalists should carefully consider whether to carry unlicensed body armor or risk working without protection.

Resources:

It is advisable for international journalists to register with their country's embassy, which can assist if problems arise.

To minimize the risk of reporting on crowd disorder:

Preparation:

  • Plan the assignment and ensure that you have a full battery on your cell phone. Know the area you are going to. Work out in advance what to do in an emergency.
  • Always try to work with a colleague and have a regular check-in procedure with your base--particularly if covering rallies or crowded events.
  • Wear clothing and footwear that allows you to move swiftly. Avoid loose clothing and lanyards that can be grabbed, as well as flammable material, such as nylon.
  • Consider your position. Try to find an elevated position that may offer greater safety.
  • At any location, always plan an evacuation route. If working with others, select an emergency rendezvous point.
  • Maintain situational awareness at all times and limit valuables in your possession. Do not leave any equipment in vehicles. After dark, the risk of criminal actions increases.
  • If working in a crowd, plan a strategy. Try to keep to the outside of the crowd and avoid the middle, where it is hard to escape. Identify an escape route.

In situations where teargas may be used:

  • Wear personal protective equipment, including a gas mask, eye protection, body armor, and helmet.
  • Contact lenses are not advisable.
  • Individuals with asthma or respiratory issues should avoid areas where teargas is being used. When large amounts of teargas are used, there is the possibility of high concentrations of gas sitting in areas with no movement of air.
  • Take note of landmarks (i.e. posts, curbs) that can be used to help you navigate out of an area if you are struggling to see.
  • If you are exposed to teargas, try to find higher ground and stand in fresh air to allow the breeze to carry away the gas. Do not rub your eyes or face. When you are able to, shower in cold water to wash the gas from your skin, but do not bathe. Clothing may need to be washed several times to remove the crystals completely, or discarded.

When dealing with aggression:

  • Read body language and use your own body language to pacify a situation.
  • Keep eye contact with an aggressor, use open hand gestures and keep talking with a calming manner.
  • Keep an extended arm's length from the threat. Back away and if someone grabs hold of you, break away firmly without aggression. If cornered and in danger, shout.
  • If the situation escalates, keep a hand free to protect your head and move with short, deliberate steps to avoid falling. If in a team, stick together and link arms.
  • Be aware of the situation and your own safety. While there are times when documenting aggression can be newsworthy, taking pictures of aggressive individuals can escalate a situation.

CPJ encourages local, freelance journalists and media organizations to closely follow the safety principles and practices of the ACOS alliance, which can be found here.

For more information on conditions for journalists working in Kenya, visit CPJ's devoted page on our website. For additional and detailed safety information, including security assessments, visit see CPJ's Journalist Security Guide.

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