Friday, January 11, 2008

Kenya erupts in violence

Editorial written for Economic & Political Weekly

Rival tribes engage in killings over presidential election results.

Incidents of internecine killings and violence have rocked the east African nation Kenya ever since the results of the December 27th presidential elections had been announced. The decision of the election commission in Kenya to declare the victory of incumbent president Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU) has been the spur for these incidents, in which around 600 people have been reported to be killed.

It was widely believed that the results to the elections would have been extremely close with the opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) mounting a strong challenge to Kibaki's rule. However with reports of rigging and electoral malpractices coming in, the declared victory of Kibaki is seen to a dubious one by several independent observers. The fact that the prominent candidates belong to different tribes; Odinga from the Luo tribe and Kibaki from the Kiyuki tribe is mentioned as the reason for violence against the Kiyuki tribe members by disenchanted voters belonging to the Luo and other tribes. The most prominent incident of violence involved the burning of a church which had provided refuge to Kikuyu tribe members in a small town about 185 miles away from the capital, Nairobi, in the process, killing a number of people trapped inside.

It is however too simplistic to term this violence as motivated by just another case of inter-tribe rivalry in Africa. The political rivalry between Kibaki and Raila has been very intense and both accuse the other of personal corruption. During the Kibaki regime, formed since the demise of the Daniel Arap Moi dictatorship, Kenya has seen significant foreign investment led economic growth (about 6 percent according to latest figures) but concurrently widening regional and economic disparities in the predominantly agriculture based country. While prosperity has been accrued to sections in and around central Kenya (Nairobi and some other urban centres), regions in the west has seen continuation and accentuation of poverty (a national average of 79 percent) that has characterised the nation for quite long. Raila Odinga derives a lot of support from these regions, while the Kikuyu tribe dominated central Kenyan regions have affirmed support to Mwai Kibaki.

Mwai Kibaki, when first elected to power in 2002 was able to defeat Arap Moi's designated nominee Uhuru Kenyatta of the Kenya African National Unity (KANU) with the support of Raila Odinga. Kibaki's legacy was to devolve power in a federated system for Kenya, but the problems of corruption had continued to plague his regime. Odinga, a prosperous industrialist became part of the ODM along with other politicians and launched a movement to oppose Kibaki's rule. A much touted move for a new constitutional draft through a referendum by the government in 2005 was defeated resoundingly by the opposition, particularly because of a powerful grass roots mobilisation by Odinga. Odinga therefore emerged as a powerful candidate to replace Kibaki in the recent December 2007 elections and opinion polls pointed out that he would win by a narrow margin over the incumbent president.

Fundamentally however, Raila Odinga does not offer any substantial change in the economic policy (Odinga belongs to the Liberal Democratic Party faction of the ODM) and his elevation would have been yet another case of circulation of elites, common to African post-colonial nations. As it is however, the doubts raised over the legitimacy of the election verdict, fuelled the current spate of violence as Odinga refused to accept the verdict and called for a re-count and resignation of the new government.

Supporters of Kibaki have alleged that rigging occurred in ODM strongholds as well and Kibaki has refused an official recount or resignation, conceding however that the allegations about the election verdict have to be fought in the courts. Kibaki has also suggested a national unity government with portfolios for members from the opposition; the idea having been refused by Odinga however. A presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka who came third in the elections (also from the ODM), has been named as the vice president in the newly installed government.

Representatives of the African Union have offered to mediate between the warring politicians in Kenya to bring about a conciliation, which could stop the internecine violence. An official and accurate recount seems to be the best way out of the impasse. But the prevention of internecine violence of this nature in the future can only happen if the structural problems of the Kenyan political economy are sufficiently addressed by a democratically elected non-corrupt government.

1 comment:

Maishinski said...

NO MORE VIOLENCE!

Dear Raila, haven't you had enough blood in your hands? Is this what it has come down to - power at all costs?

Did the murder of innocent children in your name mean nothing to you? Torn families, starving widows are weeping for Kenya. More people are jobless than ever before. The coutry's global image has been permanently tainted.

This is your legacy Raila, May God have Mercy on your cold, cruel, greedy, selfish, soul!

Kenyans are united in their cry for PEACE!