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.
This is well worth a read by those interested in American foreign policy and its relationship with authoritarian governments and democratic transitions anywhere, and in international election observation. One lesson here for Americans, and for those seeking American support for reform, is to appreciate the power of illicit wealth in the hands of foreign authoritarians to help charm key people in power in both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States. Nonetheless, in a pinch in the Philippines, we eventually helped with the restoration of democracy irrespective of Cold War interests that had been previously asserted to justify support for the Marcos dictatorship.
The 1986 election in which Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by Corazon Aquino was a pioneering effort in international election observation and internationally supported domestic observation to combat state-supported election fraud. Aquino’s accession to the presidency as summarized in her Wikipedia entry:
Of particular current interest from the Bonner book is the role of Republican Senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Richard Lugar of Indiana as election observers who held the line against election fraud and provided key support for “moderates” back in Washington in the Reagan White House against the pro-Marcos “hardliners”. After seeing blatant election misconduct by the regime, Cochran sent a message by donning his yellow golf pants during the observation–yellow being Aquino’s campaign color. Lugar was defeated in the 2012 Republican primary by a hardline “tea party” challenger, and Cochran has just been certified as the narrow winner of a primary runoff against a “tea party” challenger in Mississippi. Within the Carter White House in 1977-81 there was similarly a divide between hawkish pro-Marcos Democrats, people we might think of now as more or less “neocons”, and early human rights advocates.
Check BBC News on the feed below for reports that Kenyan authorities are losing their appetite for the role of host to Somali politicians, as reflected in the brief arrests of Somali MPs in the Eastleigh raids today following the Jamia Mosque protest Friday. The comment is that perhaps Somali politicians should either enter the country as refugees and stay in the camps or stay in Somalia.
One more messy and complicated situation handled with characteristic subtlety by what Ben Rawlence of Human Rights Watch has aptly called Kenya’s “State within a State”–the police and security forces and key security ministries that were “off the table” in the Kenyan election and formation of a coalition government.
Kenya, if it is to become stabilized and return to democracy, must learn to tolerate political expression by citizens which continues to be regularly suppressed by force. This would create a climate in which security forces could hope to become trusted and gain public cooperation. There are conflicting reports about the protests last Friday and I can’t really weigh in on the details of that specific situation, but until I see otherwise I have to assume that the actions of the police and GSU are more likely to inflame than secure.
The questions raised are real, however, of how helpful to either Kenya or Somalia is the role of Nairobi as the back office for both Somali politicians and for the diplomatic and aid infrastructure for Somalia. In the case of United States government specifically, doesn’t Kenya warrant its own ambassador, rather than having to share one who is also in charge of the US role in ungoverned Somalia?
Bunge La Mwananchi reports that 22 members of BLM and Kenyans for Justice and Development have been arrested and taken into police custody for the offense of engaging in a peaceful procession against impunity, noticed to police in advance by letter. I guess it can be said that there is no impunity for political expression.