In 2002, my senior project for college was a comparative study of Uganda and Kenya politics and my thesis in graduate school (2005) discussed the development of democracy in Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana. Since then, Uganda and Botswana have faced various democratic challenges; however my argument on Kenya hasn’t changed since I lived there in 2001. Democracy is unlikely to flourish in Kenya as long as ethnic conflict remains at the heart of political, social, and cultural issues. Ethnic or tribal differences in Kenya are not necessary historically engrained in Kenyan society, but a result of British colonial rule and the politics of elites in the post-colonial era. On 1/29/08 Professor Elkins from Harvard was on BBC America arguing that ethnic divisions sharpened during the colonial period given their divide and rule tactics. She described how tribal identity was used to determine access to the state and that the Kenyan ruling elites have continued to use the politics of ethnicity for political support. The Akiwumi report which was made public in October 2002, “confirmed that prominent ruling party politicians have fueled multiple incidents of so-called ethnic clashes in Kenya since 1991.”
Given the historical context and current political situation, Kenya’s present crisis in which 1000 people have been killed is no surprise. Kibaki and the government are to blame for rigging the election and police violence against innocent civilians, primarily in Kibira. But there is stronger evidence that Raila Odinga and his party have been the primary instigators of ethnic cleansing. In the BBC article, Odinga denies ‘ethnic cleansing, Justice Minister, Ms. Karua said the government had suspected that Mr. Odinga’s ODM party was “planning mayhem if they lost”. But she said they had not expected “the magnitude [of the violence] and for it to be ethnic cleansing”. Asked whether she was accusing the ODM leadership of “calculatedly planned ethnic cleansing”, she answered: “Absolutely yes, that’s what I’m saying categorically.” In another interview with the BBC’s HARDtalk, Mr. Odinga called these allegations “outrageous… She knows where the truth lies – that all that we are having is as a result of the order that the government has given to the police: to shoot particularly members of certain ethnic communities…. So what we have been seeing is basically a response by members of the public to the police action, which has resulted in the killing of very many people who are members of other communities than the one that she comes from.” It is ironic that Odinga makes a reference to Karua’s ethnic identity. The article goes on to say, “Mr. Odinga said his party had condemned one of the most notorious incidents – the torching of a church in the western town of Eldoret on 1 January. But he said the attack on the church had been an attempt to avenge earlier attacks.” The burning of the church in Eldoret was the first of its kind and remains one of the darkest moments in Kenya’s history. Any statement or apology that ever begins with a “but” never seems sincere. In a Human Rights Watch Report released on January 24, 2008, HWR states that opposition party officials and local elders planned and organized ethnic-based violence in the Rift Valley. “Opposition leaders are right to challenge Kenya’s rigged presidential poll, but they can’t use it as an excuse for targeting ethnic groups,” said Georgette Gagnon, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We have evidence that ODM politicians and local leaders actively fomented some post-election violence…” Human Rights Watch interviewed members of several pro-ODM Kalenjin communities who described the ways in which local leaders and ODM party agents actively fomented violence against Kikuyu communities. A Kalenjin preacher in a village in Eldoret North constituency told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of December 29, 2007, a local ODM party mobilizer “called a meeting and said that war had broken in Eldoret town, so the elders organized the youth into groups of not less than 15, and they went to loot [Kikuyu] homes and burn them down.” The report goes on to explain several accounts of ODM mobilizers arranged frequent meetings following the election to organize, direct and facilitate the violence unleashed by gangs of local youth and encouraged them to purchase semi-automatic weapons. Many Kalenjin community leaders told Human Rights Watch that if the area’s ODM leadership or the local Kalenjin radio station KASS FM told people unequivocally to stop attacks on Kikuyu homes, then they believe the violence would stop. “If the leaders say stop, it will stop immediately,” said one Kalenjin elder.
Based on media reports, the general trends of violence appears to be that the police began attacking people who were protesting for Odinga (it is unclear whether they were targeting certain ethnic groups) and as a result Odinga supporters attacked Kukuyus and then we saw the reemergence of the Kikuyu extremist gang, Mungiki. From an outsiders view, it is difficult to confirm whether this chain of events is accurate, but one thing that is clear is women from all tribes have been the worst victims. Rape has doubled and we know that rape has been severely under reported in Kenya. It is important to note that Kibaki was the first president to make an effort to dismantle Mungiki and challenge their authority. I remember the days when they controlled many matatu routes in Nairobi during Moi’s time. They regularly robbed and rapped people adding to Nairobi’s lawlessness. But with the win of the opposition in 2002, there was new hope in the city with police, government, and citizen cracking down on Mungiki’s control over the public transport system. Odinga now claims that Kibaki is using Mungiki against him when Odinga was the one that let the beast out of its cage. BBC’s article, Kenya Militia Strike Back, details Mungiki’s attacks on people. They are an extreme, violent group that likes to behead and hack people to death.
It is clear that Kibaki isn’t fit to rule. He has provided the public no leadership at this difficult time. I doubt Odinga would be any better and could be worse for the country. In 2003, he united with Kenyatta, which led to the split of the one party system changing Kenya’s democratic future forever. He offered Kenya great hope, but has proven to be a greedy leader willing to do anything for power. Although the violence has been stopped for the most part, Kenyans cannot deny the ethnic hatreds that exist in their society. Kenya must have true reconciliation and equality for its citizens to make a real political and social change.