Kenya - a way out of the chaos?

Posted in Africa | 06-Jan-08 | Author: Steve Mbogo

"The way of violence is being perpetuated"
"The way of violence is being perpetuated"
“What went wrong?” is the most frequent question on the lips of most Kenyans after seeing their erstwhile peaceful nation engulfed in political chaos caused by a disputed presidential election. The way the violence is being perpetuated, like the burning of 35 women and children inside a church bear semblance to scenes from the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The humanitarian situation has been termed “serious” by the United Nations. Latest data indicate that at least 350 people have lost their lives and thousands have fled to Uganda for safety.

An insight to the current crisis shows the elections dispute was only a spark that ignited the long existing tensions perpetuated by ethnic hatred, perceptions of historical land injustices that have never been addressed and political dynamics of the last five years that saw an increase in the use of propaganda to win ethnic political support. Ultimately, political leaders should tell their supporters to cease violence immediately, so that a solution to the crisis can be found.

“What next?” ponders Jimmy Maina, who graduated from the University of Nairobi three years ago with a degree in business administration and decided to start a telephone handsets sales shop, an option he was to use to occupy his time as he sought a job at one of the many investment banks in the capital Nairobi.

In early 2007, Maina like many other Kenyans who woke up every day to the good news of the economic growth thought that the reality was too good to be true; not only had his business stabilized and made profits, he decided to expand his business by opening another shop in the capital Nairobi and another in the lakeside city of Kisumu. He had the money. In any case, a programme had just be rolled out by the government to offer subsidized loans to the youth interested in venturing into business or to expand an existing one.

The economic growth was amplified by the total change of face of Nairobi retail outlets where in 2002, retail outlets in main retail businesses area of the capital were mainly owned by Asian shopkeepers, but today, greening pavements of this city give way to colorful shops stuffed with imported merchandise manned by young Kenyans like Maina.

These young Kenyans represent the face that has slowing been defining the transformation of Kenya, thanks to the economic growth that picked up in 2004. By the last count in December 2007, the economic growth was 7 per cent, up from negative growth in 2001.

But these gains are under now threat following political violence that quickly degenerated into ethnic violence following disputed poll of December 27.

“My shop in Kisumu and the other in Nairobi have been looted and burnt. I will need to start from the basics but only if this violence ends,” says a remorseful Maina whose other shop has not been opened since the Christmas day for fear of looting.

Across most parts of the country looting of homes and business of those known or perceived to have supported President Mwai Kibaki have been looted or burnt, leading to major loss of business and government revenue approximated at US$28 million every day. Kenya’s top foreign exchange earner, tourism industry that rakes in $1 billion every year is now on its knees following departure of tourists and cancellations on visits by others.

According to the World Bank in a statement, Kenya is on the blink of losing what has been achieved in the last five years when Kenyans voted out the dictatorial regime of retired president Daniel Moi. Indeed, the Kenyan situation has confirmed to the world that the risk of political uncertainty in Africa is higher than previously thought of and national disintegration can happen extremely fast.

The events in Nigeria, which also had a disputed election last year and now continues to experience militia attacks in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, and the power struggles in South Africa are seen by analysts as bad prospects for the economic growth of the continent and a drawback perpetuated by political problems that can easily be resolved.

One of the major casualties will be foreign direct investments that had just started to pick up across the continent. Indeed, in December, Kenya concluded two major deals that saw France Telkom pay about $378 million for a 51 per cent stake in Telkom Kenya and in another deal, global capital management group Helios EB investors paid about $157 million for a 25 per cent stake in a private owned Equity Bank.

The wrongs

The current violence erupted seconds after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of December 27 presidential poll. In the build up to the elections, all the opinions polls had indicated that opposition leader Raila Odinga was on the lead followed by Kibaki except for a poll conducted five days before the election by Gallup International which showed Kibaki leading by a single percentage point.

At the media tallying centre where the results were being announced by the electoral commission as they came in from the field, a dispute arose over the tallying of votes from specific constituencies. According to the opposition agents monitoring the polls, the presidential votes figures announced at the polling station for some constituencies was inflated in favour of Kibaki by the time they were announced at the media centre. The dispute that resulted into confrontations among the leaders was relayed live by national television channels and this continued to raise tension across the country.

But this exploded when the electoral commission announced that Kibaki had won by 47 per cent of total votes followed by Raila at 44 per cent and Kalonzo Musyoka at 9 per cent. Within seconds, the news came in that violence had erupted in opposition strongholds largely targeting members of the Kikuyu ethnic community to which Kibaki belongs and which is believed to have offered him the bulk of support.

Allegations that gave credence to stealing of votes for instance involved Molo constituency where Kibaki's votes at the counting center read 50,000 votes while results at announced at media centre were 75,000. In another constituency known as Juja, Kibaki's votes counted at the constituency level were 48,000 while those announced by the commission were 113,000 votes.

It did not help that allegations of rigging were mainly reported in Central Kenya, the home of the Kikuyus. Government statistics indicate that Kikuyus form the largest segment of Kenya’s 34 million people at 22 per cent, followed by Luhya (14 per cent), Luo (13 per cent), Kalenjin (12 per cent) and the Kamba (11 per cent)

Reports from the election observers differed but there was a consensus that the management of the votes tallying process was below the international standards. The European Union observers were more brunt, terming the presidential tallying process as a sham and pointing specifically to areas where it believed massive rigging took place. As a result, the United States withdrew a congratulatory note it had sent to Kibaki.

Ethnic tensions

Steve Mbogo, WSN Editor Kenya: " President Kibaki should reach out to Raila and issue a joint statement immediately calling…
Steve Mbogo, WSN Editor Kenya: " President Kibaki should reach out to Raila and issue a joint statement immediately calling on their supporters to stop the violence"
When Kenya is referred to as the oasis of peace in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region and seen as evidence that democracy can work in Africa, little focus is given to the underlying ethnic suspicious that float like hot lava just beneath the rosy flowers of peace and harmony.

Indeed, the world has failed to look closely at what influenced the national voting patterns even in the most democratically acclaimed elections of 2002. In short, tribal loyalties largely defined the outcome of elections. In Kenya’s multi ethnic society, almost every community has unofficial ethnic chief whose word is followed when important political decisions like voting are to be made.

This reality has meant that for democracy to be practiced in Kenya, unofficial heads of various ethnic communities must be involved. Public positions and resources are therefore not allocated on merit or a democratically decided method by through ethnic royalties to the ruler and this is tolerated as ‘democracy’ and ‘equity’.

According to political analyst Mukoma Wa Ngugi, a Kenyan poet and author, African democracy generally serves tribalism. He says democracy in Africa is “an expression of ethnic tensions.” To prevent them from exploding, democracy is exercised by allocating pubic resource management positions to a person of their ethnicity, and this cools off even the strongest of passion to cause violence.

Events of 1991, 1997 and early 2002, which were elections years, should have given ample warning that all was not well in Kenya’s ethnic and political dynamics. During that time, members of the predominant Kikuyu community were targeted for attacks in the Rift Valley and Coast provinces. Other ethnic communities, like the Luo, and the Kisii were also attacked by the Kalenjin tribe which retired President Daniel arap Moi belonged to.

Resentment against the Kikuyus almost runs across the whole nation, which has 42 ethnic communities although most of these have very few members. Kikuyus are generally industrious, economically adventurous and are perceived as arrogant because of their agility. In the Rift Valley province, the current violence is as much political as it is connected to the land ownership in the area. Kalejins resent settlement of Kikuyus in the land they consider theirs. The Kikuyus settled there starting immediately after independence and continued to do so throughout the last four decades since Kenya attained independent from British in 1963.

The perception has always exited that a Kikuyus were assisted at the advantage of other ethnic communities by the then administration of President Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu who ruled from 1964 to 1978 to settle on the land that had been previously owned by the white settlers but which initially belonged to the Kalenjin and Maasai ethnic groups. Because of their industriousness, Kikuyus who have settled across the country have created opportunities for making money outside their province and this is seen by the local ethnic groups enabling them to benefit from resources that are not their own.

However, the constitutional of Kenya allows every Kenyan to own property and live in any part of the country despite their ethnic background. On this strength, the Kikuyus have multiplied across the nation but sadly this constitutional provision is not always respected.

That is why new voices have emerged calling on a solution to be found to resolve injustices that are perceived to have happened based on allegations that Kikuyu’s settled on the land that was not initially theirs. The fact that the present attacks in Rift Valley started even before the final tally was announced, when Raila was leading, shows that the attacks would have happened anyway no matter who won.

Ndungu Wainaina, the director of the Nairobi-based International Centre for Policy and Conflict says while talking peace is urgent, resolving the disputed results would only be part of the problem. The country would still be bleeding. “It is important to deal with historical grievances,” he said.

Land is a major issue is Kenya because based on the official statistics here, 70 per cent of the country's labour is employed in agriculture. Considering that the total arable land mass in the country is only 14 per cent, there is no enough land especially for the young people who have been looking up to eke a living from agriculture.


But the violence has not been confided to the places with land dispute but also in the lakeside city of Kisumu, inhabited by Raila’s Luo ethnic group where looting of business premises was rampant and among the slum areas of the capital Nairobi and coastal city of Mombasa.

When Kibaki came to power in 2003, ending poverty, corruption and tribalism were his main briefs. On poverty, the accelerated growth of the economy was mainly experienced from the lower middle income and higher social groups but was yet to trickle to the poorest of the poor. Most of the violence is being perpetuated by the jobless disillusioned youths.

Data from the government in mid 2007 indicated that the number of Kenyans living in absolute poverty dropped for 52 per cent in 2002 to 42 per cent by mid 2007. These figures were however highly disputed by the opposition. The rain really began to beat Kenya when Kibaki fell out with Raila in 2005 and sacked him from his cabinet for failing to support the draft constitution. Most of the Luo ministers were sacked too.

Raila wanted a constitution that would reduce the powers of the president by appropriating them to a new position of a prime minister, but which he was alleged to be interested in, and also a devolved system of governance that would see Kenyans elect even their village representatives. But the Kibaki camp favoured a strong presidency and argued that a devolved system of government would be too expensive for Kenyans.

In the referendum vote on the constitution, Raila’s NO camp won and the predominant supporters of Kibaki’s YES camp were his ethnic colleagues, the Kikuyus. The vote brought about a tribal dimension of the political scenario, something that Kenyans thought they had done away with when they voted in 2002.

"Little focus is given to the underlying ethnic suspicious that float like hot lava just beneath the rosy flowers of…
"Little focus is given to the underlying ethnic suspicious that float like hot lava just beneath the rosy flowers of peace and harmony."
Immediately, Raila joined hands with the then opposition party Kanu and hit the campaign road, with various allegations against the Kibaki administration. For instance, he never failed to tell the masses how corrupt the Kibaki administration was, and how the president had populated the government with appointments from his Kikuyu tribe. Raila also rubbished the economic growth saying it benefited the elites of the society.

Emergence of a group of investors which bought stakes into some listed companies through a common investment fund known as Transcentury and who are associated with Kibaki added to the speculations that the president was involved in shady deals. Raila also claimed that the sterling performance of the Nairobi Stock Exchange was being driven by drug money despite major interest in the market among the small investors, claims he however retracted later.

Raila went ahead to promise Kenyans that he would introduce a federal system of government if elected, a system that is favored by most Kenyan ethnic communities expect the Kikuyu. While the federal system is seen as the best way of sharing national resources, the understanding among Kenya semi illiterate and disillusioned population is however skewed. The understanding is that it would mean that an ethnic group becomes administratively autonomous under a defined geographical region inhabited by only members of the indigenous ethnic group. This means that Kikuyu’s would for instance not be allowed to live in a province like Nyanza which is considered indigenous to the Luo and vice versa.

Raila’s campaign trial culminated in his signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Muslims, that he would protect them from harassment based on investigations relating top terrorism. Kenya has been attacked by terrorists thrice first in 1980 against a hotel with ownership links to Israel where 15 people died, again in 1998 against the US Embassy where over 250 people died and in 2001 against an Israeli owned hotel in coastal city of Mombasa where more than 20 people died.

Based on this profile and the fact that the attackers were Muslims, Kenya ahs been a major player in the global war against terrorism and the 4 million Muslims here have at one time or the other found their kin being investigated, which has led to withdraw of political support from Kibaki.


All these factors were at play as Kenyans went to vote on 27 December. The violence however has threatened to destabilize the Eat African countries of Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and the troubled Burundi. Except for Tanzania, the rest are landlocked countries which depend on Kenya port and mainland transport system for supplies of important commodities.

Uganda sources about 17 per cent of its world imports from East Africa which 97 per cent come from Kenya. Tanzania gets nearly six per cent of its world imports from within the bloc with Kenya’s share of that being also over 90 per cent. Already, Rwanda and Uganda have started rationing fuel sales following disrupted flows from Kenya.

Kenya also neighbors Somalia to the North West, which has had no government for a decade and a half now. To the North, it shares a border with Ethiopia, in a region where Ogaden rebels are fighting the Ethiopian government for political autonomy. To the north also is South Sudan, which Kenya was instrumental in helping to sign a comprehensive peace agreement with Khartoum in 2002. The implementation of the peace agreement is still shaky.

Conclusions and recommendations

Disintegration of the country would therefore have grim stability repercussions across the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region.

The starting point for the unfortunate situation in Kenya will be to end the ongoing violence immediately then seek a solution to the alleged rigged elections and later to the ethnic animosities especially the anger that is directed to the Kikuyu ethnic community. President Kibaki should reach out to Raila and issue a joint statement immediately calling on their supporters to stop the violence.

Public education campaign should be rolled out among areas where youths attack people from different ethnic communities to educate them on the need to work in harmony with their neighbors and to let them know their neighbors are not responsible for their problems. They should be taught the value of work, respect of other people’s property and stern action should be taken against those who incite others into ethnic violence.

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has already held talks with Kibaki and Raila and prevailed upon the two to form a coalition government. On Saturday, the president offered to form a government of national unity after meeting United States diplomat for African affairs Jendayi Frazer.

But Raila dismissed the offer saying he wanted Kibaki first to resign as the president but said he is ready to participate in an interim government that will prepare for new presidential elections in three months. Kibaki has declined any suggestions for a re-run of the elections. Not matter the positions at the moment, international mediation should continue and the international community should not be seen to take sides.

According to Prof. Ali Mazrui, the Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, the ideal solution would be to agree to a recounting of votes in the most controversial of the provincial results for the presidency, and for both Kibaki and Odinga to commit themselves to respect the outcome of the recounting. This should be done in the next few weeks to avoid more tension.

The other option would be for the African Union to appoint an independent commission of enquiry into the management of the presidential election, and make recommendations. One possible recommendation would conceivably be to accept the parliamentary results, which had, by most estimates, been transparent and credible but have new internationally supervised presidential elections with the three main candidates on the new ballot. The AU mediation process has been halted but if it is restarted, the body, known for its sluggishness should come up with recommendations at least within a month to move the process fast.

The other option according to Prof. Mazrui would be to swear in members of parliament who will then vote to change the constitution to create the post of Prime Minister answerable to Parliament and not to the Chief Executive (the President). If the constitutional amendment is passed, parliament would then vote for the first Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister is almost bound to be Raila and the president Kibaki. An executive President accountable to the people, directly, and an executive Prime Minister accountable to the people’s legislative representatives - the Parliament.