Kenya’s Reality Revealed

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.




  1. Tropical Love · February 27, 2008

    Having lived in Kenya for well over 6 years, the fact that Kenyans were inherently divided along ethnic lines was not hard to see. For instance, the first thing one asked after a formal greeting or introduction was, “what tribe are you from?” it was therefore no surprise that ethnic tensions would one day rear their ugly head. What was not known back then, was that a disputed election between two former allies in the fight to bring democracy to Kenya. The issue of who won or lost is not important right. what really matters is how Kenya is going to get back on track, under the present circumstances. The levels of violence in Kenya, clearly unprecedented but not new to the region, have attracted a lot more attention than the Rwandan genocide because of one simple fact. the outside world has a lot more to lose if Kenya goes up in flames. so what is the way forward? simple..a re-run of the election with different candidates this time, preferably candidates with more uniting than divisive political game plans coupled with a concerted effort from the two candidates who over saw the blood letting of the past two months, to heal the wounds and bridge the ethnic gaps that have been created. what happened in kenya will not go away over night. the communities that happened to find themselves on the wrong end of the ethnic divide in their villages face a very uncertain future. one where the option of going back home to look at the neighbour who hacked your wife is still unconcievable. it looks like kenya is i for the long haul as far as reconciliation and bringing the communities back together goes

  2. Shiraz Chakera · April 27, 2008

    Your article highlights three really important points: the organised nature of the violence; the disproportionate suffering of women; and that the two leaders, Kibaki and Odinga, are both heavily compromised by their long political careers.

    And it is this last point that is most important now Kenya is in a power-sharing context. Critical to sustaining peace are not only high priorities such as getting the economy moving again, but also ensuring that the suffers of the violence see real and progressive justice. Justice that can begin to heal wounds and enable the naturally forward-looking people of Kenya to trust each. However, these two leaders have very little interest in seeing justice come to completion – in terms of both the immediate issues of bringing the perpetrators of the violence to book and the longer-term issues of effective land distribution – because their and/or their supporters’ hands are too dirty.

    Thus it strikes me that this power-sharing agreement needs to be seen as a interim situation before fresher leaders come to the fore at the next election.

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