[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, “Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]
Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.
Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).
Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) as or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.
Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.
Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.
We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.
As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.
As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.
Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.
Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)
Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.