Carol moved from Kenya to the UK more than 20 years ago. As the post-election confusion has unfolded, she has been doggedly followed the news and blogs from Kenya. She also tends her own blog, A Political Mugging in God's Own Country.
She describes herself as "a mother of three children and keeper of two cats. Studying international politics at uni and a writer diametrically opposed to Fukuyama’s 'End of History' analysis."
She has graciously accepted 8 Month's invitation to write about her perspective on the current conflict.
On Fairness and Justice
Kenya’s people are bearing huge losses of life and property since the political fallout following the declaration and swearing in of Mwai Kibaki as president of Kenya, on December 30, 2007.
Fairness and justice matter to Kenyans. The majority have clearly expressed their grievances with what they see as an election "stolen" from their democratically-elected leader, Raila Odinga. For 45 percent of the population, the democratic process now seems a sham.
The youth make demands for their president, Raila Odinga, with slogans such as “No Raila! No Peace!” Joel Oduor, a demonstrator from Kisumu, express it this way, "We want Kibaki to resign and pave the way for our rightful President Raila Odinga.”
These calls are coming from the slums, historically the hotbed of political activism, and from the regional stronghold of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement. Street demonstrations are spilling over into violence, in part because members of the General Service Unit of the Kenyan armed forces have used lethal force on demonstrators.
In response to these challenges, Mwai Kibaki has instituted a ban on all live media broadcasts. Some Kenyans see this as an effort to prevent Raila Odinga from mobilizing angry and disaffected youth who support him.
In addition, the government has banned all demonstrations. Under Kenya's constitution people have the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. The police say a ban on all rallies is necessary to prevent "criminal elements" from taking advantage of the situation.
It is ironic that this is happening under Kibaki, whose first administration lifted restrictions on freedom of speech and introduced progressive democratic reforms. When I visited Kenya last February, there was palpable optimism and pride in the country's democratic gains. The media was freer than even that of the UK. It seemed anyone could say anything. And now this.
The night Kibaki was hastily sworn in for his second term as Kenya’s president, the General Service Unit, under cover of darkness, entered the sprawling Nairobi slum of Kibera, seeking out Odinga’s supporters. Odinga belongs to the Luo tribe and about 45 percent of the Kibera population are Luo.
Kenya's General Service Unit is a highly-trained paramilitary force that the government is using to suppress internal dissent. It is made up almost exclusively of Kikuyus. (Decalo S. p.562 and Dianga J. p.135). One of its primary roles during the current conflict is keeping the two million people who live in Nairobi's slum settlements from spilling out into the streets of the capital.
Eyewitnesses reported Luos were being shot and left for dead by the soldiers. In the meantime, some Luos were exacting revenge for the “stolen election.” They were attacking their Kikuyu neighbours, most of whom support their fellow tribesman, Mwai Kibaki. The situation quickly descended into a hobbesian war of all against all.
Kikuyus fled Kibera’s slum in vast numbers, many leaving behind their property and belongings. Homes were torched, women and children were raped, babies killed. About 75,000 women and children are now camped around the city in make-shift shelters reliant on international aid. [There is now talk that the government plans to disband these camps. It is not clear where the displaced will go from there.]
On hearing the result of the election, Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement called for a mass demonstration at Uhuru Park, in downtown Nairobi. It was to take place the following day. People in Kibera were determined to reach the park all the same and at whatever the price. The General Service Unit’s tactics changed from the night before, perhaps because leaders were aware that the eyes of the world were on them.
Water cannons and teargas were directed at crowds of peaceful demonstrators on Nairobi’s streets. At the entrances to Nairobi’s slums the soldiers fired live rounds in to the air. When these methods did not seem to work as a deterrent, they started shooting at demonstrators.
In Kisumu, Deputy Police Commissioner Grace Kaindi justified this by saying of the demonstrators, “They don’t know another language except the gun.” The media began to report that many of those lying in morgues had been shot in the back.
Three weeks ago Kibaki calculated that these measures would help to contain people’s anger and frustration. Perhaps he assumed that the uprisings would die down after a few days. He was wrong. These measures have only sharpened the feelings of anger and discontent directed at Kibaki and the clique that surrounds him, known as the Mount Kenya Mafia.
Looking at Kenya today, one can see a muddle of groups with competing claims. It is difficult to imagine what might hold the nation together, now these grievances borne of frustration have burst to the surface. The recent violence has deepened cleavages between people of different ethnic communities and economic classes.
What is it that makes Kenya homogenous today, apart from the imaginary border that contains her people? Conflicts over the land itself underpin some of the longest-standing disputes in Kenya.
In the Rift Valley, Kalenjin grievances about land were exploited in the lead up to the December 2007 election. These complaints go back to the era of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, and beyond to the colonial administration.
Following independence in 1963, Kenyatta’s government bought land from Kenya’s white settlers to redistribute to Africans. Some Kikuyu set up companies to buy large tracts of land which were then resold at prices beyond the reach of most Kalenjins. Kikuyus displaced by the colonial administration resettled here. They took up farming and prospered while the Kalenjin community, traditionally pastoralists, languished under successive regimes.
In Nyanza Province, the geographical heart of Odinga’s support, people have suffered under years of governmental neglect. They have watched the Kikuyu-dominated Central Province receive the biggest slice of the government’s revenue pie.
Forty-four years after independence, Nyanza is still grossly under-developed. On the shores of Lake Victoria, Luos ask why no government has undertaken the task of building a lucrative fishing industry. They say business free people from reliance on the politics of patronage. Many Luos argue that the Kikuyu have “eaten”, so have the Kalenjin, and they believed that under Odinga it would be their turn to “eat.”
Along Kenya’s coast, people complain that Muslim Kenyans have been unfairly targeted and mistreated because of Kibaki’s cooperation with the George Bush’s administration’s so-called war on terror. Some people along the coast have an interest in seeing the back of Kibaki.
With the Luo only making up 13 percent of Kenya’s population, it made little sense for Odinga to mobilise people along strictly tribal lines. To win with a clear majority Odinga needed to make appeals that cut across lines of ethnicity. He mobilized these many disenfranchised groups behind ODM’s calls for change and his promises to clean up corruption.
This was a good strategy at the national level and ensured that Odinga’s ODM won in six out Kenya’s eight provinces [candidates need to win a majority of the votes in at least five provinces to win the presidency] but it was marred by politics at the local level. (Klopp 2001)
For instance, in the Rift Valley, it made little sense for ODM’s William Ruto, a Kalenjin, to appeal to his constituency on broad national issues. Instead, he championed local causes, in this case Kalenjin grievances over land. He campaigned on a similar platform in previous elections. For Ruto to disavow ethnic difference in the 2007 race would have been disingenuous.
It was politically advantageous for William Ruto to politicize ethnicity by emphasizing Kalenjin identity as being distinct from other tribes in the region. According to Kikuyus who have fled Rift Valley in recent weeks, Ruto preached hatred against the Kikuyu. Now some members of the Kalenjin community have led the massacre of Kikuyus in the region.
Problems of legitimacy
If we can look beyond ethnicity and political affiliations, the problems afflicting Kibaki since his swearing in at the end of 2007 rest squarely on the fact that he does not have the consent of the majority to rule.
By consent, I mean the principle that in a democratic society, a government's right to use state power is granted by the people over which that power is exercised. That consent relies on moral authority and trust.
In Kenya, consent has been shattered beyond recognition during the past three weeks. So has democratic reform, which seems to have been usurped by a clique of power-hungry old men for whom democracy is a hollow concept.
Kenyan institutions such as the judiciary, have been exposed as corrupt entities incapable of dealing with other governmental rot that has been revealed in recent weeks. The shame is, there are many talented Kenyans who could reverse this situation but they are currently being held back.
Mwai Kibaki actions, or more accurately, inactions over the past three weeks have ensured that he has lost the trust of ODM supporters. Odinga, through his tactical errors, has not been able to reach out to flagging Kibaki supporters. In fact he has alienated many among Kenya’s middle and upper classes.
Odinga’s error was to go to the electorate with promises that the “national cake” would be distributed more fairly than had been done under Kibaki. Odinga trafficked the perception that the Kikuyu had been the sole beneficiaries of government revenues under Kibaki.
It is surprising how quickly this campaign succeeded in turning Kikuyus into the national “other.” Sadly, the majority of Kikuyus, like most Kenyans, live on less than 600 USD a year. They are hardly enjoying the prosperity they have been accused of.
Approximately 60 percent of Kenyans live in poverty, surviving on less than two dollars a day. Poverty cuts across lines of ethnicity. While Kenya's political elite point to the five percent annual economic growth that Kenya has experienced under Kibaki, they do not acknowledge that this has come at a price for Kenya's poorest citizens who have seen widening of the gap between rich and poor.
All Odinga managed to do was mobilise the poor against the poor. This is why I say he made a tactical error.
No doubt there are Kikuyu in the political elite who have benefited under Kibaki but Kenya’s political elite is multi-ethnic who have more in common with each other than they do with the poor and vice versa. Similarly, Kenya’s multi-ethnic poor have more in common with each other than they do with the elite.
What we are really witnessing is an inter-elite conflict which has led to deaths, displacements and disenfranchisement of poor Kenyans across the country. Kenya's poor are deprived of a leader or a movement capable of addressing their diverse grievances and aspirations.
Listening to the voices of the powerless can humanise all of us.
Odinga can not possibly hope to lead a social movement that excludes the 22 percent of the Kenya populace who are Kikuyu. He must acknowledge his campaign has so far engendered fear, terror and mistrust. Why was he unable to foretell that his actions would lead to this?
At its heart, this conflict is about resources. In a country where wealth was distributed more equitably, tribalism would never arise.
Lack of legitimacy
The problems besetting Kibaki stem from the fact that his legitimacy relies on how the people view his right to govern. If close to 50 percent of the population believe he has stolen the election, how can he expect to be given consent to govern? This is a problem.
By continuing to avoid being seen in public, and by refusing to acknowledge that the elections were flawed, he encourages the view that his claims to govern are illegitimate and further undermines the notions of democratic consent on which his governance must rest. In other words, having compromised the democratic process he has undermined his own claims to govern.
Kibaki can not regain legitimacy through coercion. The Kiberan chant of "Democracy or death" is testimony to that. People have made up their minds that the value of attaining democracy outweighs the potential cost of dying in the process.
For too long the poorest Kenyans have been denied work, resources, services and protection by the state. This is a country where a degree holder can work as a night-watchman. A change in power represents their best hopes of reversing this situation. Raila Odinga expressed that hope.
Kibaki can only offer the political status quo. For now, he is tied to placing a fence around the slums and to guarding their exits. He has also shown that he is prepared to continue to exclude the disenfranchised from the political process by refusing for so long to meet with Odinga.
Kibaki must lift all bans on live media broadcasts. He must allow people the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. He should prohibit the GSU from using live rounds on innocent demonstrators.
Most importantly, Kibaki must remember that it is only through fair face-to-face negotiations that legitimacy can be conferred. Kibaki ignores this at his peril, and at the peril of countless Kenyans who seem wiling to die for economic equality and true democracy.
Decalo S., (p562), Modalities of Civil-Military Stability in Africa, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4. (Dec., 1989), pp. 547-578.
Dianga J. W., (p.135), 2002, Kenya 1982, The Attempted Coup: The Consequence of a One Party Dictatorship, Pen Press, London.
Klopp J.M., Ethnic Clashes" and Winning Elections: The Case of Kenya's Electoral Despotism, Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines, Vol. 35, No. 3. (2001), pp. 473-517.