Are there some limits to impunity for killings in Kenya?

No doubt anyone reading this blog will have read of the abduction and execution-style murders of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri.

If you haven’t read it, here is Jeffrey Gettleman’s account in the New York Times, Three Kenyans last seen at police station found dead“.

As expendible as the lives of ordinary Kenyan citizens have always proven to be when they inconvenience or otherwise run afoul of the various state security forces, there are categories of people that are presumably understood to be off limits.

Thus the heightened shock and outrage when Kimani as a veteran young rights and justice lawyer with the respected American-based International Justice Mission is found murdered with his client and their taxi driver after being waylaid in returning from a court hearing.

Murder cases in which powerful people associated with state forces are obvious suspects are ordinarily “unsolved” and forgotten in various lengths of time depending on the prominence of the victim.  There is such a long list . . . Sometimes an unconvincing resolution is put forward processed through the system to buy time while we forget.

In this case, Kimani may have turned the tables by getting a handwritten note out of an “informal” Administrative Police holding cell to be found by a passerby–without this it seems doubtful that we would ever know that they were in AP custody between their abduction and their killing.  But we do know and are now responsible for that knowledge.

Will Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri be forgetten after due processing of outrage, or will Kimani’s handwritten “brief” be a turning point for justice in Kenya?  Maybe this will be a time when there is no hiding and no excuses are accepted; I think IJM is serious and committed and this case has resonance across the broad community of those who dream of a more just Kenya.  No time like the present.

Great Kenya reading while we are waiting for politicians to do the right thing

The tribalization of Kenyan politics has been unusually opened up for all to hear and see of late, as here in the US and in the UK we experience new traumas inflicted by individuals seemingly acting out of some overtorqued ideological angst.

At least there are no excuses for any further hate speech by anyone as we are all confronted with the stakes.

So, in the spirit of keeping calm and carrying on with learning, sharing and discussing, I commend to you Oowah’s new work-in-progress curation of “Roughly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Kenyan Journalism.”

An appreciation for church leaders and diplomats pushing dialogue in Kenya; next steps?

Someday, my hope remains, administration of elections in Kenya can be a straightforward and transparent affair that is not the stuff of secrets, drama and death.  However, that is not an option on today’s menu.  Church leaders by first speaking out earlier on the need for reform of the IEBC, followed by a call for dialogue now with escalating tensions and killings by police, have served the needs of the mwananchi; the foreign envoys who have spoken collectively both publicly and presumably privately during the recent opposition demonstrations and crackdown have added muscle toward an a needed de-escalation.

Next steps: let’s lance the boil of secrecy in the administration of elections; I firmly believe that Kenyans can be trusted to know how they voted and that counting votes in Kenya does not really have to be harder than in other countries.  

Without the secrecy, the opportunity opens for the more patriotic and more humane voices within the policitical process, both within parties and in civil society, to come to the fore.

Kenya: Police brutality, like other election violence, is used to rally political support as well as to suppress opposition

It is pollyannish not to appreciate that in a society as violent as Kenya’s, where violent crime and violent vigilanteism, along with police brutality, are features of everday life to be navigated by most Kenyans, the public reaction against or in favor of extra-legal violence by the police very much divides along political lines in accordance with who is delivering and who is receiving the violence.

It is the sort of thing that can be seen in the context of the height of the “civil rights movement” in the early 1960s in the American Deep South where I live.  Photographic and videographic images that shocked the rest of the United States and some of the rest of the world reflected police brutality under the command and for the purposes of political leaders who in some substantial part were playing for popular support among their own constituencies.  Not to argue that most white voters were necessarily in favor of particularly bad behavior by the police, but to note that popular support feeding political opportunism was part of the dynamic of repressive violence.

In this respect it has particularly saddened me to see Kenya led now by politicians who elevated themselves in the political ranks on the basis of their perceived reputations as champions of tribally organized violent politics after the failure of the 2007 vote count.

Kenya: Joint Statement from several Western diplomats

From: Nairobi, US Embassy Press Office
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 4:59 PM

JOINT STATEMENT

Heads of Mission on Recent Violent Demonstrations in Kenya

May 24, 2016

We are deeply concerned by the escalation of violence during the demonstrations in Kenyan cities on 23 May around the future of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The deaths and injuries of Kenyan citizens were tragic and unnecessary. We urge the Government of Kenya to investigate the actions of the security services and to hold accountable anyone responsible for the use of excessive force. We call on all demonstrators to act peacefully.

Violence will not resolve the issues regarding the future of the IEBC or ensure the 2017 elections are free and credible. We strongly urge all Kenyans to come together to de-escalate the situation and to resolve their differences, taking every opportunity for inclusive dialogue. Kenyans should talk, and any compromise must be implemented in accord with Kenya’s Constitution and the rule of law. As partners, we stand ready to support such a dialogue in any way that is useful.

# # #

This statement has been issued by the following Heads of Mission in Kenya:

Robert F. Godec
Ambassador of the United States

Nic Hailey
High Commissioner for the United Kingdom

Jutta Frasch
Ambassador of Germany

David Angell
High Commissioner for Canada

Johan Borgstam
Ambassador of Sweden

Mette Knudsen
Ambassador of Denmark

Victor C. Rønneberg
Ambassador of Norway

John Feakes
High Commissioner for Australia

Frans Makken
Ambassador of the Netherlands

Rémi Marechaux
Ambassador of France

Roxane de Bilderling
Ambassador of Belgium

Stefano A. Dejak
Ambassador of the European Union

Pre-election violence in Kenya: here we go again?

The pre-election killings in Kenya in 2013 were “only” 500 or so as reported at the time.  The various branches of the Kenya Police Service were more restrained than they seem to be this cycle.  In the pre-election period the IEBC was well respected and trusted, having not experienced overlapping scandals and problems that materialized later and remain outstanding.

I think it is well worth remembering that in the especially violent and destabilizing election campaign of 2007, it was the deployment of the Administrative Police (the “AP”) to the western provinces on behalf of the Kibaki re-election effort just before the vote that first openly “militarized” the campaign.  I should have been more alarmed by the “physical” rather than simply electoral implications of that move at the time.

It seems to me that the open use of armed force for political advantage by an incumbent puts the opposition in an unavoidable “fight or flight” bind to the great risk of public safety and stability, affecting the majority who are ardently supportive of neither “side” in the actual campaign.

As Americans we naturally prefer to see Africans choose the “flight” option rather than the “fight” option in most cases.  There are a variety of reasons for this, some that are morally well grounded and some that are morally questionable.  Some of it is compassion; some of it is geopolitical self interest; part of it may be unique to more individualized interests and relationships.  In European countries especially, for instance Ukraine, and in other parts of the world, we often weigh these choices differently.  

In Kenya, it would be most convenient for us, of course, if the opposition stood down, kept quiet, and trusted their government and the donors to handle election administration like in 2007 and 2013.  We know that we cannot ask that explicitly and we see that the IEBC has lost wide confidence from the public but we seem to be unwilling to directly engage in support of reform now.

I would not want to see any of my Kenyan friends or acquaintences sacrifice bodily harm for any of the Kenyan politicians I knew personally from the 2007 campaign.  In 2007 I thought that Kalonzo, Kibaki and Odinga were all three reasonably plausible and well experienced, well known choices; the election itself ought not to have been seen as particularly high risk or high reward, one way or the other, for the vast majority of Kenyans.

However, as I am deeply grateful that my ancestors made the sacrifices required for me to inherit the benefits of a democratic system here in the United States, I would be embarrased to suggest–and am always disappointed to see my government imply–that Kenyans should simply knuckle under and accept that they do not have the freedom-in-fact that their constitution says on paper, under the law, that they have achieved. 

The opposition has generated an opening for reform through the aggressive and disturbing police brutality meted out against them by the government.  There needs to be a pivot, however, to a more nuanced approach if meaningful reform is to be achieved that advances the causes of both non-violent politics and freedom.

The opposition pols seem to focus on the personalities and roles of the IEBC commissioners.  Obviously someone like Hassan who has relished an extraneous public profile as the nemesis of one potential candidate has gone beyond the point of being a trusted neutral in the future, but the delay in the election date that seems to be in the offing from yet another round of procurement “issues” can cycle tainted individuals out of office.  Reform and systemic trust is a much deeper problem than that however–and it is too important to all Kenyans and the country as a whole to be left to the competing camps of pols.

Kenyan democrats should call out the donors.  If we say we are serious about supporting dialogue why not ask us to show a bit of leadership to go with our cash underwriting?

As for me, I am waiting on the first documents from months ago from a FOIA to USAID to understand more about our spending on the IEBC procurements last time.  No sign yet that our advocacy of “open government” is penetrating our approach to democracy assistance in Kenya, but I certainly think transparency would be hugely helpful in supporting real problem solving and rebuilding trust.

Periodically, Westerners are reminded of the brutality and politicization of Kenya’s paramilitary police [updated 18 May]

But there is not much new under the gun in Kenyatta’s Kenya.  

Three years ago, Kenya’s Supreme Court noted the appearance of corruption in Kenya’s election commission and directed investigation and possible prosecution.  No action eventually led to protests which are being brutally suppressed as we speak because the incumbent regime is apparently very afraid of reform, and is reacting just as it has in the past, and each of its predecessors has.

We have no right whatsoever to claim to be surprised.

Update 17 May: Bernard Ngatia, who was shown on video being mercilessly beaten by police, died from the injuries.  Update 18 May: Unsurprisingly there is a lot of murk now about the details of the beating victim from the video and whether he did or didn’t die. We can hope the media will clarify; the same issue of a pattern and practice of police brutality to squelch political dissent confronts us as we hope that thisvictim survived.

From today’s statement from free expression supporters Article 19:

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns yesterday’s killing of a protestor by police, and injury of others who had joined the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) politicians calling for the removal of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

ARTICLE 19 urges the police to respect Article 37 of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to public authorities, as well as its obligations under international human rights law.

What to read about the ivory burn

Image

Don’t get me wrong, I hope some great good for conservation comes out of the burn this time. From a global perspective, perhaps the spectacular publicity can in fact matter in the future and in the big picture Kenya is a small place and fodder for the larger good. That’s really beyond my scope in this blog.

For understanding the event as it relates to Kenya and elephants and conservation and government in Kenya, please read Owaahh: The Politics of Ivory and Fire.

Gathara’s World: Burning Ivory, Burying Elephants: How the Government of Kenya Harms the Conservation Cause.

Why Botswana will not burn illegal ivory

Assessing Kenya’s election campaign

Best new current periodical article:

“Kenya’s elections: turbulence ahead” in New African.

This piece notes the dynamics from the recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho in the context of the refusal to address the outstanding corruption matters with the IEBC from the most recent general elections, most notoriously the Smith & Ouzman convictions.

It can be no surprise in context to Kenya watchers to see the Uhuruto administration teargassing opposition protests of Hassan and company at the IEBC this week.

It would seem that we can safely say that the demise of any remedial action associated with the Post Election Violence has now brought to an unsuccessful close the notion of a post-2008 “reform agenda” with the exception of the fact of devolution.  De facto implementation of most of the promise of distributed and restrained powers of His Excellency Hon. C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Kenya will await another political epoch.  Certainly the IEBC now lacks the credibility the ECK had in 2006-07.

The American Deputy Secretary of State will arrive soon for a “bonfire of the ivories” and regional confab about how to save what’s left of the African elephants from poaching, giving important visibility and associational credibility again to the messaging of the Kenyatta administration.  I assume that “we” think this will help the elephants in some fashion even if Kenyatta’s family doesn’t have to explain itself on the issue and corruption in other areas continues to burgeon.  Apparently diplomatic manners allow us to memorialize elephants cut down by violence if not so much the PEV victims and witnesses at this juncture.

Mudavadi offers wise response to Uhuruto victory rally on Post Election Violence

“Greatness is not attained by glorifying yourself in times of victory. It comes only when you handle victory in great humility,” he said.

The former Vice President said the Afraha rally was in bad faith particularly for the 2007-08 post-election violence victims who are still in tears and despair nine years later.

“Kenya’s healing lies not in holding a roadshow prayer rally. It lies in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report which Jubilee, with her numbers, has deliberately failed to push for adoption in Parliament. The report offers better options for healing, compensation of PEV victims, cohesion and measures of dealing with ethnicity that has crippled our state,” he said.

Mudavadi dismisses Afraha rally as “roadshow”.

Mudavadi was Raila’s running mate in 2007 and presumably would have been in place to become Prime Minister under a new constitution if the Kibaki vote totals had not been marked up at the ECK to keep Kibaki in office and unleashing carnage.  In 2012, Mudavadi was the original choice of some more responsible, less jingoistic elements of the Kikuyu establishment over Uhuru, and had a signed deal for Uhuru’s support, for which Uhuru reneged.  Ultimately, Mudavadi seems to have proved to be too temperate, too sober for the times.

From this blog four years ago:

The political establishment in Kenya will not be easily moved in the 2012 elections, now most likely ending up to be in 2013 through a complicated series of legal wickets for which no one has claimed responsibility and for which there is no obvious popular support. I hope it is finally dawning of any doubters that the Government of Kenya as an institution is quite mobilized on balance to try to stop the ICC, as it has been–and not in favor of any substitute local justice mechanism.