Brand new from Palgrave, Westen K. Shilaho’s Political Power and Tribalism in Kenya. Reading now.
Brand new from Palgrave, Westen K. Shilaho’s Political Power and Tribalism in Kenya. Reading now.
This is a straightforward lesson. We have acted in this movie in Kenya before.
(To refresh, here is my piece “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan politics was frozen and an election was stolen with U.S. connivance” in The Elephant.)
Mistakes will be made when we are out and about involved in our way in the world. (Most conspicuously, per Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This recognition of error obtained consensus among at least the top dozen Republican candidates and the top four Democrats so it seems to be a rare “given” that we should not have to argue about now.)
We cannot undo the past but at the very least we have a moral responsibility to take cognizance of (very) recent history in Kenya involving many of the very same Kenyan ethnic/commercial/political leaders and a continuity of institutional and individual players and assumed interests of the United States as well. Our choices have consequences, too.
We are in denial if we pretend that we did not fail abjectly (to the extent we even tried really) to effectively foster any type of justice in Kenya for the 2008 Post Election Violence. If we can excuse our asserted complacency in 2007 on the argument that the full magnitude of the violence was unprecedented (in spite of the 1992 and 1997 “campaigns”) we certainly do not have that excuse this time.
You cannot but hear bitter strident speech about Kenya’s presidential election from Kenya’s politicians, and from Kenya’s journalists, lawyers, pundits, publishers, moguls, ranchers and hustlers (of whatever ethnic or national origin or income). Compared to 2007 it is more aggressive and open and it is coming in some key part directly from the President and even more so from those very close to him and from the Deputy President.
In 2007 Mwai Kibaki and Moody Awori were not using the “bully pupit” of the Presidency and Vice Presidency to openly disparage and ridicule those with less power (even though Kibaki was obviously not in hindsight of any mind to actually risk being found to have lost the election by the ECK).
Likewise, during that campaign Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, on opposite sides of the presidential campaign once “retired President” Moi realigned to support Kibaki mid-year, were far more restrained in their widely public statements as candidates
“Why polarization matters” from The American Interest:
. . . .
What self-government presupposes and fundamentally depends upon is precisely what polarization corrodes. Less trust in our political institutions and in each other. Less empathy. More separation. More inequality. More anger. Poorer thinking. Dumber public discourse. Stuck politics. Together, these fruits of American polarization reflect nothing less than the diminishment of our civic capacity. Few problems we face are more dangerous than this one.It’s time for a new direction, a fresh breeze. The paradigm of polarization that dominates our politics and, increasingly, our society is clearly failing us. Left to continue, it will cause us great harm—and not for the first time.
In late 1862, at a time in which affective polarization was probably at the highest level in our history, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a message to Congress: “As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
American depolarization in the decades ahead will require a similar undertaking. First and foremost we must “think anew.” In our public conversation and in our public deeds, we must also “disenthrall” ourselves from the long-developing habits of heart and mind that now threaten our national experiment in ordered liberty. The success of that experiment may depend on it.
Not to distract from the “news”, the big events like a second Nairobi Carrefour coming to Karen and competing with Nakumatt. . . but for anyone who is interested in Kenya and
has not actually lived there in recent years, I highly recommend David Ndii’s latest Friday column from Daily Nation, “On hunger, and a nation in need of a conscience“:
Hunger stalks this land. One third of the respondents to Ipsos Synovate’s latest opinion poll answered yes to the question whether they or other members of their households ever sleep hungry.
The facts are much worse that the poll’s finding.
The most comprehensive information on our food situation is in a report published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2008 titled Food Insecurity Assessment in Kenya.
It shows that over half of Kenyans, 51 percent, consume less than what they require on a daily basis. They consume an average of 1,261 calories per day, against a requirement of 1,683 calories — a shortfall of 422 calories or 25 percent of the daily requirement.
Simply put, half of the country suffers from chronic hunger. . . .
I want to touch here briefly on what I have seen and heard in regard to ethnic “issues”–prejudice, discrimination, suspicion, solidarity, hate speech, and such–in Kenya.
An important thing for outsiders to realize is how complex, and deliberately obscured, these things are in Kenyan politics–and how much of what is said in popular fora in the United States is at least misleading if not flatly wrong factually and in some cases deliberately malicious. (I have finally just now brought myself to read the whole Chapter 4 on “Kenya, Odinga, Communism and Islam” in Jerome Corsi’s book The Obama Nation which was published shortly after I returned from Kenya in the summer of 2008 during the American presidential campaign. It was a major bestseller and thousands of Americans may have read more about Kenyan politics in that chapter than they have ever read elsewhere over their lifetimes. Corsi has a Ph.D in Political Science from Harvard, so he is certainly credentialed far beyond me, and he is way too smart to get into the “birther” nonsense that captivated so many American politicians for a few years, but he paints a picture of the Kenyan election and the post election violence that is very much at odds with my understanding and experience, as well as anything I heard expressed internally at the International Republican Institute, or through my family’s church in Kenya or from our missionary friends or at my children’s missionary supported school. In other words, malicious.)
One of the most important and interesting things that I have learned (so far) from my Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department relating to observation of the 2007 Kenyan election was that the Ambassador’s staff reported to him and up the chain during the campaign that while there was hate speech showing up on both sides of the ODM/Odinga and PNU/Kibaki contest, the greater weight of it was directed against Odinga. This surprised me because I had relatively limited separate interaction with anyone else at the State Department besides the Ambassador and his personal approach and attitude in my dealings with him certainly gave no hint of this background from his staff in the context of his tactics in addressing the Kenyan campaign.
The bottom line here is there is plenty of this “negative ethnicity” to go around and most of it you will never see in the newspaper or otherwise in the media–even in Kenya, much less of course internationally. My personal experiences before the election in 2007 involved going to lunch with young middle class professional Kenyans–essentially strangers to me–who would openly and unashamedly if privately express the type of stereotypes about members of other tribes that you or I might hear in a private club in New Orleans about “the blacks” (if you are “white like me” anyway).
The attacks on Kikuyu in parts of the Rift Valley that underlie the ICC charges against Ruto and Sang were sick and sickening (as were those in 1992 and 1997) and so were the attacks in Naivasha and elsewhere that underlie the ICC charges against Kenyatta. So was the post election violence in Nairobi and Kisumu and other places that were not covered in the ICC charges. The families in Nairobi that I knew that suffered personally from the violence in those early weeks of 2008 were from various “tribes”. The families that sheltered in our compound happened to be Luhya and Luo; my staff were diverse but Kikuyu were more represented than others. All of us who were there are all colored emotionally I am sure by our personal experiences in that searing time.
Whether Ocampo as ICC prosecutor used good judgment choosing to bring charges against only six individuals as “most responsible” I do not have enough information to evaluate. To be frank, there are aspects of Ocampo’s approach as a lawyer and public figure during those last years of his tenure at the ICC that I am not personally enthused about. To be fair, as a real man and a real lawyer, he was never going to be as “big” as so many Kenyans looked for him to be when they were painting his picture on matatus and such, and he realistically never had any chance for more than some very small success against the dragon of impunity in Kenya. Just as the Government of Kenya was never really going to prosecute the post election killers, the Government of Kenya was never really going to cooperate with the prosecution by the ICC. Now we will have to see if the Trial Chamber is willing to pursue enforcement of the Government’s obligations or not.
Personally, I am not inclined to believe that the facts of the charges against the remaining three ICC defendants are based on either mistaken identity, or on some massive international conspiracy to frame them. I could be wrong of course. As far as Uhuru, I tend to credit the observation of a Kikuyu friend who said “I don’t support Raila, but its an open secret” that Uhuru did the gist of what he is accused of doing. I heard things about these matters in Nairobi in “real time” in early 2008 from the same types of general discussion that covered a lot of other important information that you won’t ever see in a Kenyan newspaper. But all hearsay. Maybe if the cases are dismissed, someday we will find out who really did it.
The most important question though is whether Kenyans want to treat each other differently badly enough to change the underlying kind of prejudice that makes a dangerous minority of Kenyans vulnerable to the hate speech from the politicians who will continue to use it until it stops working for them. Better democracy and effective governance for broader development in Kenya will depend on this change.
I have long been convinced that one of the reasons for the “tribal” tensions among Kenyans is the ability of Kenya’s political elite to manipulate access to information to manipulate public opinion.
Now that we have the Carter Center final report ultimately acknowledging that the 2013 election cannot be counted on to have fully reflected “the will of the Kenyan people”, and when we see how much more divided Kenyans are by “tribe” and politics than they were before the failed election of 2007, I want to revisit my past suggestion that the Kenyan wananchi need to be told the truth about what happened in the 2007 election.
Continuing obscurantism about the facts of the 2007 election debacle feeds continuing obscurantism about the post election violence and feeds impunity. Everything is just a “controversy” and no one is accountable for anything. And whoever holds governmental power in Kenya can largely define the narrative to their own ends–and now we see them acting aggressively to seek further control of the media and to shut down independent voices in Kenyan civil society (for latest, see “Win for NGOs as funds Bill rejected”).
Readers of this blog will know that I learned eventually through my FOIA requests that our Ambassador in 2007 himself witnessed the tally sheets being changed at the Electoral Commission of Kenya headquarters to give Kibaki the necessary numbers. (“Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Election–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did”).
Readers of this blog will also remember, I hope, that we have learned from The Daily Nation that the State Department subsequently, in February 2008, issued “visa warning” letters to the Deputy Chairman and two other Commissioners of the Electoral Commission of Kenya “suspected of accepting bribes to fix election results tally at ECK Headquarters”. Also, as I have noted, a senior third country diplomat told me in January 2008 that his country had learned separately of large bribes to ECK personnel and I cannot imagine that this evidence was not shared with the State Department.
Whatever the motivations of those involved in keeping the facts hidden at the time, they are no longer relevant now–better late than never in telling Kenyans what we know.
The Somaliland Sun reports that the Government of Somaliland has informed the visiting head of the new United Nations Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) that Somaliland will not host a UNSOM office. Somaliland wishes to continue hosting and receiving aid through various individual UN agencies and organizations but considers the overall UNSOM mission in support of the Federal Government of Somalia incompatible with Somaliland’s independent status.
In the meantime, the questions of governance for Kismayo and the “Jubaland” region remain an immediate challenge as does the unsettled Somaliland-Puntland border. Somaliland has indicated a desire to strengthen relations with Kenya, which shares a common interest in some degree of regional autonomy for Jubaland on the Kenyan border.
Of note on Kenya:
Dr. Stephanie Burchard, “How Fraud Might (Indirectly) Promote Democracy in Africa” in the Institute for Defense Analyses’ Africa Watch, discussing the judicial review of Ghana’s presidential election in contrast to the procedure in Kenya.
David Anderson on the Mau Mau case, “Atoning for the Sins of Empire” in the New York Times.
Wycliffe Muga on “A Brief History of Election Rigging” in The Star.