What responsibility do Americans have for tribalism and corruption in Kenya?

Far more than most of us realize I would say.

Aside from the fact that most Americans simply are generally unaware of the whole topic, more specifically I think we have a problem from being in a real degree of denial about the extent to which both Kenyatta and Moi were tribalist and corrupt, and advanced the systems of tribalism and corruption, while we supported them for other reasons. Certainly a big part of my education from living and working in Kenya was the opportunity to have private conversations with Kenyans who would tell me about how bad things had been under Moi. Especially noteworthy were these conversations with citizens from the Kalenjin groupings in the Rift Valley.

Before going to Kenya I got too much information of tertiary importance about the history of political parties without the driving background of tribalism and torture and aggregate economic statistics without the same background. Nor was I well informed about the determinative modes of operation of Kenyatta, Moi and then Kibaki as leaders.

It seems to me that you have to understand and account for these things to understand the relative importance of a new constitution to the Kenyan people, as well as to understand something meaningful about the 2007 presidential election and the misconduct of Kenyan authorities, and the multiple different types of violence in different places in the wake of the stolen election. Then you can read the Waki Commission report on the post-election violence and make sense of the ethnic “body count” and the fact that slightly more of those killed who were identified by ethnicity were Luo than any other “tribe”, followed closely by Kikuyu.

The new constitution has given a sense of empowerment and opportunity in Kenya–but we have seen the chimera of reform before after the 2002 election. The United States and others have given themselves a lot of credit for the February 28, 2008 post-election settlement, but the agreements reached have seen a mixed record of performance so far. While the Waki Commission did a great service, no Kenyan tribunals have been created to prosecute cases from post-election violence. The Kreigler Commission abdicated the duty to assess the presidential election, while finding that the overall system and the parliamentary results were deeply flawed. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission has been aborted–trying again will require a significant new effort and extended time, while the next election looms.

So yes, this is exactly the right time to fully examine our role in the referendum campaign leading to the new constitution and our role in the 2007 election leading to violence followed by a settlement that has led to that referendum and to some other reforms, while others remain in limbo. With a better understanding of these last two elections we can make honest and informed decisions in a democratic manner about what our role should be now and in 2012.

And by the way, I understand that you still can’t buy “It’s Our Turn to Eat” in a Kenyan bookstore.

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