David Anderson is faculty at the African Studies Center of Oxford University. He first went to Kenya in 1979 and has been studying, writing and teaching about politics and history in Africa since then.
He generously took an hour out of his busy schedule to share his views on the political situation in Kenya.
The transcript below is very long but, I think, very interesting. Please feel free to comment.
How surprised were you, personally, by the duration of the violence that we have seen since the election?
I wasn't surprised at all. Violence has characterized Kenyan politics since at least the 1960s, and arguably earlier. From the early 1990s, that violence became increasingly instrumental to the political process itself.
Yes, in that the Moi government purposefully deployed violence as part of its electoral politics. This is not a matter of debate or speculation, it's a matter of fact. That fact was confirmed even by a parliamentary committee. The great, great sadness of Kenya's politics is that no one was ever prosecuted for it.
Why was the international community so surprised?
Because they don't watch what they are doing. The international community is only concerned about a story once it becomes newsworthy. I returned from Kenya in mid-December and told anyone who cared to listen what was going to happen. Because as those in Nairobi knew only too well, both parties had a plan B. In both cases, plan B would result at the very least in civil disturbance, in the very worst case in violence. And it was obvious, if the polls were anywhere near right, that plan B would be necessary.
Now no one in the British government was very interested in that until the [situation escalated]. So the problem in world politics is getting people's attention before something happens.
How would you characterize the international community's perception of Kenya pre-December 30th?
I think those who work for donor groups and international agencies engaged in the process of fostering democratization and humanitarian rights in Africa and elsewhere inevitably play a double game. They want to encourage the development of the trends and changes they want to see. At the same time, they are aware that they do not live in a perfect world, that inevitably there will be gradualism, limitations to be accepted.
In the case of Kenya, those constraints have been heavily inflected post 9-11 by Kenya's role as the crucial regional ally for the west in its war on terrorism.
So whereas up until 2001, American and British pressure in Kenya was fairly acute, to the extent that, in 2000, within two years of the 2002 elections, some European governments were seriously considering pulling the aid plug on Kenya. But by the end of 2001, that had completely changed. There was no way anyone was going to put Kenya under that much pressure. And every Kenyan politician knows that.
So their bargaining position increased enormously. They realized that they actually didn't need to play the game as cleanly as they might otherwise have done. And they knew that they could get away with brokering solutions that would have otherwise not been acceptable to their international partners.
So since 2001, Kenyan politics has actually got dirtier. The west and the donors have turned a very blind eye to it.
Who gains from this faulty perception of Kenya as a democratic and developmental anchor?
So long as the myth persisted and nothing too dramatic happened, then no one internationally was harmed by it. Although, the Kenyan people and their desire for democracy were severely thwarted by it.
How? Can you give me an example?
In the sense that, we moved into a phase where Kenya's civil society is extremely energetic, engaged and pro-active. It has filled, more than filled, the democratic space that has been made for it.
But it has a political elite that still makes its calculations not on the basis of how many votes it can garner through persuasion and discussion, but how many votes it can garner through political deals and brokerage.
"The push for coalition government actually moves us backwards."
The old guard of autocrats who ruled Kenya for so many years are still there. And their political residue is still there. As the elections have become tighter, more closely run affairs, people commanding relatively small groups of support have greater degrees of power.
In the current campaign, once it became clear that Mwai Kibaki was, indeed, in trouble and that Odinga's opposition might just win, PNU at once began cultivating support among those that they might not have otherwise not have counted as their friends. That brought several old guard politicians back into play and it allowed them to get their hooks into the electoral process.
Now I am not suggesting for one minute that their participation is the sole reason for what happened, but their engagement with PNU certainly didn't help.
In an era of coalition politics, where people need partnerships in order to get power, the Kenyan political elite is likely not to become less autocratic, but to become more autocratic. The push for coalition government actually moves us backwards, not forwards, in terms of democratic institution building.
Why do the West and Kenya's neighbors need at least the image of Kenya as a stable democracy?
We have to be a little careful here. Although you have described it as an image and in my answer, I have been inclined to endorse that, for many of the people involved at senior levels in world organizations and donor groups, it is a reality. Kenya is seen by them as the most stable of their African partners. That may be a relative term but it's an important one.
Also, Kenya is a country they have felt that they can do business with and do business in, in that most things in Kenya are negotiable. Those things are seen by the West as being substantive and important. And even if Kenya is somewhat frayed at the edges, it is the least frayed at the edges of all the alternatives.
So why is Kenya valuable in its current state to the West and its neighbors?
It's still valuable because the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, for example, in 2006, could not have taken place effectively without support from Kenya. And without the bases and the logistic support that the Kenyan government has provided by allowing American and (as far as I am aware) British security forces to operate from Kenyan soil.
Kenya is seen as a very important ally in regional organizations, the East African group in particular but the African Union also, in acting as a broker for Western opinion and in being a sounding board through which the Americans and British in particular can find out what other African governments are doing and how they might behave.
I read somewhere that you think that this conflict is not actually tribal...
It is very interesting when you analyze the voting behavior of the Kenyan people, the very mixed results you get. In some constituencies, in some areas, Kenyans vote ethically, strongly ethnically. But in other areas, they don't vote ethnically at all and never have done.
It's an immensely complex picture and it's often mediated by much more contemporary and current events. People will vote for other reasons than ethnicity and frequently do. And the more urban they are, the less ethnic they tend to be.
All these things need to be factored in because they help us to realize that what has happened since the 2007 "results" were announced, has been an up-swelling of reaction, but that it has had different formulations in different places.
This is not simply the usual academic lament that it is all much more complicated than you realize. It is actually a description of the reality.
So even in the Rift Valley where my colleagues and I have been doing considerable work to try to understand what has been happening, it is quite clear in Rift Valley there are at least four quite different sets of conflicts going on. They are motivated by different people with different causes and different issues at their heart.
None of them, as it happens, are intrinsically to do with the ballot results. They are all mobilizations and activations of other kinds of dispute for which this provides a wonderful camouflage and excuse.
Now, of course, that kind of detail is much too complicated for international agencies to deal with. They don't want to get to that kind of grained understanding. But Kenyans understand it all too well.
So when [a staff person from the Kenyan Human Rights Organization] claims that violence in the Rift Valley was paid for and organized by politicians, she is right. But that that doesn't mean that that is what happened everywhere.
The danger in saying that the conflict is purely ethnic comes from the fact that the international media seize upon it and then present the conflict purely and simply in those terms. Before you know it, Kenya is being presented as the second Rwanda. All the subtle understandings are lost because the comparison is all that then matters.
I think we have a responsibility as commentators, who know Kenya better, not to fall into that trap and to argue against any simple-minded, witless journalist who wishes to make that point.
Is there some kind of comparison that is more fitting, that people in the developed world might be familiar with? Is there something that you would compare it to?
Let me firstly say that the correlation of the Rwanda comparisons that were touted in the press fell exactly in relation to the murders in the church in Eldoret. That single event did more than anything else to trigger those comparisons.
However, the explanation that violence is to some extent controlled by politicians, is to some extent payed for, that people in the Rift Valley in particular sent text messages encouraging others to "finish their work" (which is a direct parallel of the Rwandan case) all of those things do invoke the images of Rwanda to some extent. But I think it is the wrong comparison.
Kenya's struggles are much more localized in their focus and driven by much more intimate politics. I think that there isn't an obvious comparator that one can reach for. What you can do is give an explanation of a political system and what has happened to it.
That explanation begins with Moi [Kenya's President from 1978 to 2002].It begins with Moi's reaction to being pushed into multi-party democracy in 1989. His reaction was to say that this would engender tribal violence in Kenya. He made that comment explicitly. He then made it come true by arming his own militia, training them through his own military and police, and sending them into action against communities that he victimized.
"Violence is not an event. It is a process. It takes on a life of its own."
He and his supporters did this predominantly in the Rift Valley. It's not surprising that three of the main sites of the violence in the last two weeks are the sites that he inaugurated that violence in, in 1992. Violence is not an event. It is a process. It takes on a life of its own. Violence breeds reaction and further violence, whether defensively or aggressively. That, in turn, provokes a further response.
We are now in a cycle of violence in these places that has very little to do with the actual politicians and has now become more to do with people's own sense of shame, fear, vulnerability and anxiety. That is a very dangerous position to be in.
So we have classic instability when people don't feel that they are secure, they don't feel that the organs of the state can protect them, therefore they have to protect themselves. So we move into the realms of vigilantism and militias. And in that situation, unscrupulous politicians will thrive. Frankly, Kenya's Rift Valley province has more than its fair share of unscrupulous politicians.
Now you add to that, in Kenya's case, the issue of constitutional reform and you get a very combustible mix. The constitutional reform issue has revolved around the whole debate about devolved powers. For Kenyans, that revives all the issues around majimboism.
Attempts by noble and honest commentators to retrieve regionalism from the carnage of a majimbo debate have been very earnest and very worthwhile but they have not succeeded in capturing the public imagination. The public still sees majimbo as a violent, ethnocentric campaign to cleanse some parts of Kenya from people who were not born in that part.
That, for Kenyans, is a very serious and real political conundrum. It seems to me that most Kenyans do want some kind of local government, even if they are not sure whether they want some kind of devolved government. Unless they can sweep away the majimbo debate and discuss local government and regional representation with a clear head, we are likely to be trapped in the traffic of this violent politics for a long time to come.
Taking a step back from the straight political discussion, how would you characterize tribalism in Kenya, as compared to other East African states?
We do now have some ways of doing that empirically. There are creditable and credible sources that try to measure it. The best one, to my knowledge, is Afrobarometer, that has conducted questionnaires in may different African countries, dealing with peoples voting habits.
"People in Kenya really do express their identity, first and foremost, in national terms"
if you look at the Afrobarometer findings for Kenya, what you see is people in Kenya really do express their identity, first and foremost, in national terms. They are Kenyan before they are anything else. And the figures for Kenya on this particular question are just about the highest in Africa. So Kenyans are more nationalistic than almost anyone else.
When you ask them about tribal identity, they also identify with that quite strongly. So the point is, they are both, but they really do see themselves as Kenyan. Now I think that is profoundly important. Although they want their regional identity recognized, acknowledged and properly respected, they don't want not to be Kenyan. There has never been a secessionist debate in Kenya. Majimboism has never been about separation, it's been a debate about resource flows, about who gets what and whether it is actually fair.
What hope do you have for a more issues-based political discourse in Kenya?
It would be very pleasing indeed to imagine a political future where Kenya's political parties were organized around issues of principle, ideology and social order, that we had visions of the future as it were. There are Kenyan politicians, I think, who have that now, but they are not yet in the majority. And I think it is going to take us another two decades to get there.
We've had two decades so far in which we have managed to entrench electoral politics as a democratic institution. And this election has not been stolen from Raila Odinga, it has been stolen from the Kenyan people. That is the point. It doesn't matter who won the ballot. It's been stolen from the people who bothered to go and vote.
We've had 20 years of building up elections. Can we now, in the next 20 years, build up the institutions that will allow politics to take an ideas-based route. That will involve strengthening things like the electoral commission, strengthening parliament enormously. The Kenyan parliament, to be honest, is a joke. It seriously needs reform. Kenya does need a new constitution. It has to have one. The failure of Kibaki's government to achieve that, now looks much more important than it did when the government lost that vote.
How would you compare the run-up to December 27th, to the run-up to the 2002 election? In 2002, the world community was saying, "Kenya's done it. Here it is: Democracy."
That's because the world community wanted to believe that it really was a new era. If you look at the serious analysis of that result, all of us analysts who knew Kenya better were much more cautious. Most wrote about the beginnings of a process, not the end of a process. Many of us did say that the hard work lay ahead, not behind us. Having removed the old guard from power, they were still standing in the wings.
And Kibaki is not quite "new guard"...
Indeed not and there were some of us who made that point as well. Kibaki's government in 2002 was appallingly conservative. It was a government of, for and by the middle classes, intended entirely to secure a set of vested interests that were already well-ingrained and well-established.
That was said at the time by many analysts, but it wasn't what the international community wanted to hear. They wanted to champion Kenya as Africa's most mature democracy. They wanted to support the transition, in the genuine hope that by supporting it, you would encourage it along more quickly.
That is where the real naivete and stupidity comes. Because, of course, the African politicians in Kenya are all-too-well aware of what the limits of their powers may or may not be. And they have, in the 2007 elections, exploited the fact that the West and the international community have assumed that Kenya is OK. The electoral practices we have seen in 2007 have been far worse than anything we've seen before. 1982 was pretty bad but this beats it.
What that tells you, if you look at it chronologically, they did it in 1992 because they needed to win. By 1997 and 2002, they were aware that people were watching and you have to be more careful. Some of the practices were more constrained by institutional impositions put in place by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and others. By 2007, they thought, "What the heck. We know how to get around these things."
"What politicians have learned is how to fudge election results."
There is a learning curve here, is what I am suggesting. What politicians have learned is how to fudge election results, what you do in order to avoid oversight. Oversight has also diminished. As international observer groups have come to feel that Kenya is OK, they need further observers. If you recall, the Kenyan government had some debate late year about how many observers Kenya would let in.
When you know so little about the local politics, you have no idea what shenanigans will go on. Some people who were on observer groups simply have no idea of the extent of what went on.
Is that why it's taken so long for the international community to come out with statements of concern about the electoral process and results?
That has a rather different explanation. Kibaki's haste to have himself confirmed in a second term and the fact that the head of the electoral commission was pretty much forced into doing it, tells you something very significant.
What Kibaki was doing there was trading on the fact that the electoral commissioner's reputation was high internationally, that people would generally want to support him, that he was seen as a leading member of the Commonwealth electoral commissioner's group, etcetera, etcetera.
Kivuitu's reputation in Kenya in 2007 came under serious challenge because of what people knew was going on in the interference with the independence of the commission. But externally, international groups felt they should support Sam because he was trying to do a good job in a difficult situation. Now Kibaki and his advisers showed great astuteness in realizing that.
How can Kenya move toward a more holistic development?
That question has to be answered in several parts. There are two main areas...
Firstly, institutional development, boring and dull as it may sound, is absolutely critical. Elections aren't worth the paper they are written on, if they aren't supported by strong institutions. The electoral commission has to be restored, rebuilt and given serious powers.
The judiciary needs complete overhauling and all of the replacements (particularly those appointed on Christmas Eve) removed. Parliament needs to be funded properly, given functioning working committees, the opposition properly instituted in its parliamentary role, review and other procedures of government business inaugurated and carried through to a proper conclusion, drafts persons and assistants appointed and paid for by the state so that parliamentarians can do their business, and so on.
All of those things are functional to any democractic politics. Without it, if you don't win, you lose everything because you have no role. You have to give opposition politicians a reason to be there. That reason comes from a functioning parliamentary democracy. We have to invest in these things and instead of giving Kenyan politicians pay raises, why not simply give them allowances and funds to support their offices properly.
So that is one part. There is another part about coalition governments and how that works.
If you look historically at how democracies evolved in other parts of the world. There are often a number of different phases through which that must take place. In Kenya and in much of Africa, we are at the end of the first phases, which is a phase in which you get rid of these old guard autocrats who ran the rotten burrows and paid for politics to happen. You move into a situation where they have to compete in an election against others on terms that are not purely set by the depths of their pockets.
That's what we've got in Kenya. It doesn't mean that those old guard are yet lost. They are still there, but they are now having to compete in a different arena.
That tends to lead to a much more closely-run politics. Large parties find it difficult to dominate. Small parties proliferate. Lots of small parties tend to be weak, but collectively they gain power, so they form coalitions. But these coalitions are kaleidoscopes: lots of moving parts, people who can be bidded in or out of them depending on who pays them. The corruption that caused autocrats to dominate moves into a phase when corruption is used to buy off smaller groups, one against the other.
This is exactly what we've just seen in the 2007 election in Kenya. People with deep pockets, many of whom may be those who filched it from the state in the last 20 years, still have enormous power.
Now this coalition phase, in my view, is even more dangerous than what went before. Because people can exploit these [cultural] differences to their own advantage. Coalition politics can actually lead both to the entrenching of vested interests and to the slowing down of democratic reform. The people who don't want that reform may be a very small minority but their participation in a coalition may be crucial to its power. That's exactly where we are now.
"What we are seeing is a pattern. And it's a pattern that is not intrinsically Kenyan."
I would argue that it's not jut Kenya that is there: it's Zambia, it's Malawi, Nigeria is heading in the same direction, Uganda will be exactly the same when it moves to multi-party politics. What we are seeing is a pattern. And it's a pattern that is not intrinsically Kenyan. It's intrinsic to the process that we are looking at.
People at the start of this transition to democracy were not honest enough or candid enough about what was going to happen. This is utterly predictable. You can model it. It is likely to happen, not unlikely to happen. But, hey, maybe if in 1989, you'd said to the Kenyan people, "Well, we are going to have 40 to 50 years of turmoil and then you'll have a nice democratic country." Would they have been quite so keen?
I've heard a lot of people say that, while they waited so long to exercise their right to vote on December 27th, they are now wishing the election never happened...
I've heard this again and again and again. My e-mail box is full of it. I have been saying and I will be saying to the British government tomorrow when I meet with them, that democratic participation in Kenya has just taken one hell of a hit. Getting these good people back out again is going to be really difficult.
And if you think they are going to vote for Mwai Kibaki or Raila Odinga again, forget it. Damaged goods, both. They are out of here whether they like it or not. The real problem is, who can replace them?
I quite agree that we have got to rebuild now a sense of participation. That's going to be really, really difficult. And it is one of the hazards of this kind of coalition. Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, exactly the same. People feel that politics just isn't worth the time. And yet, their lack of participation opens the door for all kinds of mischief and any kind of tyrant or autocrat getting power with a relatively small power base.
So I think we are in a very dangerous situation. We are going to have a long time of it. We are in for at least another decade of really quite difficult, fraught, fractured politics where it is going to be very, very touch-and-go whether things can be held together.
So, is culture really just a wedge that people are using?
Yes. I don't think culture is the cause of this at all. I often say to my students that they must be careful not to mistake a description for an explanation.
In Kenya's case, this is very appropriate. The cultural politics is simple a description of what you think you see, it's not an explanation of what is actually motivating what is happening.
What does the international community need to do, in this precarious moment?
In the first place, they need to shut up. One of the grossest errors made in this entire process in Kenya was Gordon Brown's office issuing a press release to tell the world that our hero, Prime Minister Brown, had offered Kenya a solution to its problem. I'm quite sure that Gordon Brown was well-meaning. I'm quite certain that the arbiters he proposed to both Raila and Mwai were perfectly sensible. But why the hell did he have to tell the world he had done it? Did he really need the credit for that?
And in Africa of all places, having former colonialists tell you what to do ain't good politics. Even if, personally, those politicians were happy to accept that advice, they didn't want the world told that they had done so.
So if the West is going to "help" Africa, it can help it first by keeping its opinions to itself and doing things quietly and subtly and giving assitance where it is wanted and not being heavy-handed, and never taking the credit for it.
Secondly, they can do their level best to be more honest and more candid in their evaluation of what progress is being made. Stop kowtowing to tyrants. Stop allowing them to believe they are getting away with it. Be blunter. Be franker. They are not fooling people, least of all the Kenyan people, who know only too well how messy and rotten their politics is. Why are they shy of saying so? Kenyans respect you far more for your honesty and integrity.
So I think we just have to be braver and bolder and more honest. And if we can do that, I think we will find that people come into politics in Kenya with the right standards, qualities and integrity. But they won't come in if they think they are going to be mired in this dishonesty. If we can get them into a situation where they feel they are being treated and supported properly, then I think there are good people who will come forward. It will take a little while. We are not going to see them in the next 12 months, but there will be people who will come forward.
The other thing, if the West is going to give money to something, for God's sake, give money to building institutions and to building up legislators and parliaments.
How are you feeling about all of this?
What I feel most of all, I'm just angry about it.
Angry at whom?
Anger at the political elite, that they can treat the Kenyan people with such complete contempt. That just infuriates me. I have had a lot of contact with politicians on both sides in this process and even those who I respect and admire have stretched my patience to breaking point.
Is it egotism or a power hunger that drives their actions?
I don't think it is always egotism. I think it is power brokerage mostly. They simply believe that if they don't win then everything is lost. And that comes down to the cost of politics, to the fact that both parties raised significant portions of their election funds from people they knew to be deeply corrupt. They took that money and happily spent it. Both candidates allowed their candidate to use Community Development Funds and knew it. Both parties allowed their candidate to use state resources, and knew it. So things have to be settled.
"The whole idea that we can run this election again in six months' time is complete poppycock."
And they know that they can't afford to do it again in the near future. The whole idea that we can run this election again in six months' time is complete poppycock.There is no way we can run it again.
So what is the answer?
There is no answer at the moment. And if one is being really blunt about it, PNU and Kibaki realized that. They realized only too well that if they got the key to the kingdom, there was no way anyone was going to take it off them.
It has been alleged that the United States has offered to fund a re-run. That idea has been bandied around in the European Union as well. The relative costs of doing that are quite small. But what could be more likely to illegitimate the entire process than having it externally funded? It is a good question to ask because it does get to the heart of the problem. If election funding could have been regulated and controlled in an effective way, we would not be where we are now.
So you either spend 20 years building up the institutions to get there, or you let the U.S. pay for the election now and cut out the agony. But, of course, you don't cut out the agony because you still wouldn't have the institutions.
I am not at all sure that we can have another election. I also think that if we did have another election in the next 12 months, the turnout would be around 30 percent. It would be like firing a starting gun for the people who [want violence].
I don't see an easy solution. When I stop running around and doing interviews like this, I will be deeply depressed, because we are not in a good place.