The Jubilee Government was in a tizzy about stopping Raila Odinga from leading opposition CORD rallies around the country before the Mpeketoni attacks just over a week ago. The attacks then became the focus of attention for Kenyans and the Kenyan media, with Uhuru Kenyatta deflecting things back to Raila and CORD by as much as accusing them of undertaking the attacks and explicitly denying a role for Al Shabaab.
With the victims largely now out of sight and out of mind in the hinterlands the media has moved on to the incessant tribal politics that makes for easy punditry in lieu of actual investigation and in-depth reporting.
I have never been a big fan of rallies in Kenyan politics–not in 2007 campaign when I was trying to help support a better process, not in 2011-12 when they were used to try to stop the ICC, and again, not in the 2013 campaign. Nonetheless, I am pretty well inured to the fact that the usual suspects in Kenyan politics, on whatever side they happen to be at any given time, use these rallies as a primary means to connect directly to their supporters and to get national media for their messages. I wish Kenya’s politics was a little more creative, but then, the political class as it exits always wins, so I guess they don’t feel a lot of incentive to change. Regardless, the rallies are not in and of themselves generally dangerous except to the extent the security forces are engaged to make them so.
Tribal animosities were clearly more raw and pervasive in the spring of 2013 when I was in Nairobi for the election than they were when I left in May 2008 during the immediate post-election period. It appears that the last year has not seen marked improvement. An obvious reason why all this should be expected is that the parts of the February 28, 2008 election peace deal that were to address the underlying issues have not been implemented and the politics of 2011-2013 were so explicitly tribal.
Why haven’t they been implemented? One reason is that the February 28, 2008 deal was made by Kibaki and Raila with Kofi Annan after the larger mediation process between PNU and ODM broke down. PNU was a coalition of parties and not all of them ever supported the deal from the inception. Uhuru Kenyatta’s KANU being one such at the time. Raila and Kibaki cooperated to support the passage of the new constitution in 2010, but the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission plodded along on the backburner. The biggest single thing to galvanize government attention during the remainder of Kibaki’s second term was the fight to block the ICC, and, of course, Raila was running for president again, along with Saitoti and Uhuru and some others. By the time the TJRC report was finalized, the new State House was not prepared to accept it as written.
Rallies will come, and rallies will go. The question is whether the long term work of protecting Kenyans from the persistent threat of terrorism and the long term work of “tribal” reconciliation will be taken up or yet again deferred for some future generation.
Another must read is from Cedric Barnes at the International Crisis Group: Losing Hearts and Minds in Kenya. Horne argues that the roundups specifically contradict the unity messaging offered by the Kenyan government after Westgate and are likely to backfire by promoting marginalization and thus increasing the persuasive power of extremists. The operations highlight the extremely slow pace of security reforms in Kenya; the going rate to avoid getting arrested if you are of Somali ethnic background is 5000 KSh. Horne also points out that Kenyans of Somali ethnicity and those from the historically marginalized regions in the eastern and northeastern part of the country have always had difficulty getting identity documents from the authorities in the Kenyan government.
Here is Muthoni Wanyeki in The East African : Usalama Watch–State is Fracturing Kenyan Society: “A journalist in discussion with a senior Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officer tells of the ATPU’s alleged frustration with the whole operation — for breaking down its intelligence networks, having nothing to do with counter-terrorism and the likelihood of blowback.”
Kenyans of Somali origin have also been detained as potential terrorists, making citizenship no bar to this programme of racial profiling.There is no indication that any useful intelligence leading to the apprehension of the café bombing Al-Shabaab terrorists has been obtained although at least 82 “illegals” have been deported to Somalia.The reality is that if the deportees are genuine hardcore Al-Shabaab operators, they will soon return to Nairobi via Kenya’s undefended porous border.
The obvious question about all this: why? At least one opposition politician has suggested that the operations are intended to curry favor with the West or the U. S. in particular for some reason. Admittedly I am not objective as an American but I tend to think that the roundups are obviously enough counterproductive (e.g., they increase rather than decrease net terrorism risk) that the Kenyatta administration would not find any serious encouragement for this from Western governments. Maybe I am naive, but its worth noting that the International Crisis Group is a firmly Western Establishment voice.
These are four five recent columns from the Kenyan papers on different aspects of the current malaise in public affairs. Each makes a general point which I think is of undoubtedly valid, but adds some perspective, analogy or point of fact that struck me as unique and particularly worthy of your attention if you missed it at the time:
One commonly hears statements like the “Kenyan economy is bigger than Tanzania’s and Uganda’s combined.” Yes, but that was 20 years ago.
Kenya’s gross domestic product in 1990 was $11 billion. Tanzania’s was $5.4 billion, and Uganda’s $4.03 billion. Kenya’s economy then was bigger than Tanzania and Uganda combined; twice that of Tanzania, and nearly three times Uganda’s.
By 2008, Kenya’s GDP was $31 billion. However Tanzania’s was $21 billion, and Uganda’s $15.8 billion. It’s no longer bigger than Tanzania’s and Uganda’s combined; it is not double that of Tanzania; nor is it three times bigger than Uganda’s. Indeed, depending on the GDP figures you look at in three or so years, Tanzania could be East Africa’s largest economy.
The story of the past 20 years in East Africa, therefore, is not how large Kenya’s economy is compared with those of its neighbours, but rather how much the others have closed the gap.