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Pambazuka News 334: It is the Kenya people who have lost the election

The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa

Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839

With nearly 500 contributors and an estimated 500,000 readers Pambazuka News is the authoritative pan African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa providing cutting edge commentary and in-depth analysis on politics and current affairs, development, human rights, refugees, gender issues and culture in Africa.

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Highlights from this issue

As the crisis in Kenya deepens, there are a number of things that we ought to keep in mind. We need to listen to informed African and Kenyan voices, voices concerned with welfare of Kenyan people and the nation, and voices that tie the crisis to the rest of Africa, Diaspora and beyond. The other thing we need to keep in mind is this: the people who are dying, or at risk of dying, and doing the fighting are the same people that both leaders claim to be struggling for. Unlike our politicians, we should not forget the human costs.

Pambazuka News is therefore committed to bringing you analysis and calls for action that are informed by living history, the relationship of the crisis to the rest of the continent and beyond and that at the same time puts the welfare of Africans at the center. In this special issue, we hope that you find we have lived up to this commitment.

We have been overwhelmed with the number of articles and letters we have received, and in this second part of the special issue on the Kenyan electoral crisis, we publish a selection in the interest of ensuring our readers have up-to-date information of the different perspectives on the crisis.

In yesterday's Pambazuka News we featured:

- Firoze Manji explains why Kenya's people lost the election
- Horace Campbell looks at the drama of democracy in Kenya
- Kibaki should step down, says Victoria Brittain
- Onyango Oloo dissects the media
- Call of urgent resolution of crisis
- Kenya's democracy is on trial, writes Mukoma wa Ngugi
_ KEDOF issues as statement on the situation in Kenya
NEWS ROUND-UP over the last couple of days

Today, as a supplement to the special issue on the electoral crisis we feature:

- Paul Zeleza writes on how a nation is held hostage to a bankrupt political class
- Ali Mazrui proposes ways forward for resolving the post election crisis
- The crisis has inspired poetry from Mukoma wa Ngugi
- Salim Amin talks to Dipesh Pabari about the media's role
- We publish press releases from KNCHR and civil society organisations
- A range of letters from readers
- and a useful round-up of news from IRIN

As we go to press, Desmond Tutu appears to have been able to exert his moral authority to bang the heads of the contending parties together. Now more than ever there is a need for lifting the ban on live broadcasting so that citizens can participate and contribute to the solutions for the way forward.

The Editors

Action alerts

Kenya electoral crisis


In view of the growing crisis in Kenya as a result of the stolen elections, we at Pambazuka News have decided to devote a blog site to provide space for up-to-date information about what is happening. Please visit


It is the Kenyan people who have lost the election

Firoze Manji


Kenya is entering a protracted crisis. No one really knows who actually won the presidential elections. Given the overwhelming number of parliamentary seats won by the ODM and the dismissal of some 20 former ministers who lost their seats, it seems likely that the presidential results probably followed suit. But it is no longer really a matter of who won or lost. For one thing is certain: it is the Kenyan people who have lost in these elections.

Drama of the popular struggle for democracy in Kenya

Horace Campbell


This analysis by Horace Campbell argues that the calls for peace and reconciliation by the political and religious leaders will remain hollow until there are efforts to break from the recursive processes of looting, extra judicial killings, rape and violation of women, and general low respect for African lives. The analysis is presented as a drama of three acts.

Kibaki must back down

Victoria Brittain


Victoria Brittain writes that Kenya has sworn in a president who wasn't elected with little protest from the west. The flawed poll has to be rerun if the violence is to end.

No justice, no peace!

Onyango Oloo


Onyango Oloo dissects the "save our country" media blitz ad argues that behind the non-partisanship approach might actually be making a case for a Mwai Kibaki presidency.

Comment & analysis

Call For Urgent Resolution of Kenya Electoral Crisis


This petition calls on the ODM and PNU leaders to urgently seek a resolution to the current electoral crisis in the country and restore peace and harmony in the country through leadership.

Holding a nation hostage to a bankrupt political class

Paul T Zeleza


Disputed results from last week’s elections have left Kenya in deep political crisis. The opposition has refused to accept the results which have been questioned by local and international observers. Three days of violent protests have left more than 120 people dead. The battles are concentrated in opposition strongholds and shanty neighborhoods in the major cities from the coastal city of Mombasa to Nairobi the capital to Kisumu the western port city on the banks of Lake Victoria where a curfew has been imposed. Live television and radio broadcasts have been banned. While there is relief and even celebration among some supporters of the ‘victorious’ President Kibaki, the frustration and fear gripping the country is almost unprecedented in forty four years of independence. A proud country that likes to see itself as an oasis of stability in a volatile region is being held hostage by a bankrupt political class. Many Kenyans are filled with a sense of shame and anguish, as well as fortitude to salvage their country’s fortunes and future.

Lost in the electoral shenanigans and post-election turmoil has been a historic opportunity to consolidate the country’s newly minted democracy, to confirm its democratic credentials in the region and on the continent. Instead Kenya now faces a prolonged period of political uncertainty that will play itself out in unpredictable ways from the streets to parliament, severely testing the fragile fabric of public order, social cohesion, and inter-group relations, especially those structured around the complex inscriptions of ethnicity, class, gender, and generation. Some worry that Kenya might turn into East Africa’s Cote d’Ivoire, a once stable and relatively prosperous postcolony in West Africa that descended into chaos and civil war because of its failure to manage the combustible politics of democratic transition.

The opinion polls pointed to a close election. They were proved right. But only one out of 50 polls conducted in the lead up to the elections, showed President Kibaki in the lead; the rest pointed to a possible narrow win by the opposition candidate, Mr. Raila Odinga. The latter maintained his lead during the early counts of the presidential vote, but when the final results were announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya, he trailed by 231,728 votes. President Kibaki was declared duly elected with 4,584,721 votes against Mr. Odinga’s 4,352,993 votes. Election observers expressed surprise, the opposition cried foul, riots erupted, and the country teetered on the brink of an unprecedented crisis.

What a difference five years makes. In 2002 President Kibaki was inaugurated in broad daylight before an ecstatic crowd of a million people in Jamhuri Park in Nairobi; this time he was hurriedly inaugurated in the evening less than an hour after being declared winner before a small and dour crowd of officials. The intoxicating euphoria of 2002 has given way to widespread anger and anxiety. In 2002 the masses brutalized by decades of one-party rule rediscovered their voices and will; the nation was united in its hopes for the future, believed fervently in the possibilities of productive change. Now, many feel betrayed and disempowered, robbed of their votes and voices.

Whatever the future holds for Kenya and its tortured journey from dictatorship to democracy, underdevelopment to development, the present crisis has a complicated history rooted in the political economies of colonialism, neocolonialism, and neoliberalism that have characterized Kenya over the last century. This is to suggest that the present moment, the current political crisis, is rooted in complex historical forces that go beyond the ubiquitous ‘tribalism’ beloved by the western media in discussing African politics or explaining its proverbial crises, or the excessive obsession with personalities often found in the African media itself. This is of course not to dismiss the role of ethnicity or particular leaders, it is merely to point out the need to put both in the context of broader historical forces that have propelled Kenya to this moment and might impel it out of it.

The recent Kenyan elections promised to achieve an extraordinary development: unseating an incumbent president through the ballot box after only five years in power. This would have been unprecedented in Kenyan history, and is rare in Africa where incumbents typically serve the constitutional two terms and some even try to rig their way into illicit third terms. Nicéphore Soglo of Benin is one of the rare presidents to suffer such a fate; elected in 1996 he lost the 2001 elections to the former dictator, Mathieu Kérékou. This is a tribute to the power of incumbency to win or rig elections, the inordinate advantages enjoyed by ruling parties to use the sanctions and seductions of state power.

The manipulation of electoral processes and results by ruling parties is of course not confined to Africa: remember the U.S. elections of 2000, and President Putin’s recent attempts to prolong his rule? It is not uncommon for ruling parties in many so-called mature democracies to call elections opportunistically, redraw electoral districts in their favor, or ‘bribe’ the electorate with contrived economic goodies. However, it can be argued the national costs of electoral malpractices are much higher for African (and other countries in the global South) that are struggling against the challenges of internal underdevelopment and political and cultural subordination than for the more globally hegemonic western countries.

Save for the disputed victory for the president himself, the government suffered a political tsunami as a score of cabinet ministers and the Vice-President lost their parliamentary seats. Altogether, the Party of National Unity (PNU), cobbled together only last September, under which President Kibaki run, won only 37 seats, the victorious opposition party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), led by Mr. Raila Odinga took 100 seats, and the rest (parliament has 210 directly elected members) went to the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K), the party of the third major presidential candidate, Mr. Kalonzo Musyoka, and other smaller parties.

Swept away also were power brokers of the former dictator, President Daniel arap Moi including the once feared Mr. Nicholas Biwott and the tycoon Mr. Kamlesh Pattini an infamous architect of one of Kenya’s largest corruption scandals, as well as Mr. Moi’s own ambitious three sons. In a sense, the election signified a rejection of leading politicians associated with Presidents Moi and Kibaki. While the two represent different presidential administrations, one dictatorial and the other democratic, they are associated in the popular imagination, and were painted by the opposition, as old men leading corrupt regimes. Remarkably, Mr. Moi campaigned indefatigably for his successor, to the obvious glee of the opposition.

Thus the contest between the octogerian Mr. Kibaki and the flamboyant Mr. Odinga pitted a generational struggle for power. It is one of the ironies of contemporary Africa that countries that have enjoyed political stability since independence such as Kenya, Malawi, and Senegal, are still ruled by the nationalist generation that brought independence, while the countries with more turbulent histories have long made the generational transition. In this sense, the Kenyan election was a referendum between the older and the younger generations, between the Kibaki generation in power since independence and the Odinga generation that came off age after independence.

The first Kibaki government was elected in 2002 on a strong anti-corruption platform. Impoverished and exhausted from 24 years of authoritarian and corrupt rule by the Moi administration, the country was hungry for a clean government that would bring to justice corrupt former officials and lead a transparent and accountable government capable of reviving the economy and pursuing development. The drive against Moi-era corruption scandals not only stalled, but new corruption scandals sprang up, and the new administration’s anti-corruption credentials were irreparably damaged when the government’s own anti-corruption czar, Mr. John Githongo fled to exile in the United Kingdom in 2005.

But the Kibaki administration delivered on the economy. The country’s economic growth rate jumped from 0.6% in 2002 to 6.1% in 2006. Buoyed by this robust growth, the government unveiled its ambitious Kenya Vision 2030, a development blueprint to turn Kenya into a newly industrializing “middle income country providing high quality of life for all its citizens by the year 2030." President Kibaki and his PNU run on this economic record, while the opposition claimed it could achieve even faster growth unadulterated by corruption. One sought continuity, the other promised change. In reality, there was little difference in the programs of the PNU and ODM and their contending presidential candidates.

As is often the case in such contexts, the absence of policy differences was more than made up by the personality and symbolic differences of populism in which Mr. Odinga bested the president. Mr. Odinga a millionaire businessman, who had once been a political prisoner, and most importantly, was the son of the nationalist icon and former vice-president, Mr. Oginga Odinga, campaigned vigorously in his red hammer to achieve what had eluded his father. He appealed to the youth and people from disaffected regions, while assiduously assuring domestic and foreign business interests who preferred the wealthy, elderly and gentlemanly President Kibaki that he had long shed the socialist inclinations and firebrand reputation of his younger days.

The contestation between continuity and change in the electoral contest partly reflected the glaring mismatch between growth and development, both socially and spatially, and tapped into deep yearnings for a new socioeconomic dispensation, a restless hunger for broad-based development frustrated by neo-liberal growth. Kenya’s economic recovery and growth from 2002 largely benefited the middle classes rather than the workers and peasants, the bulk of the population. Even among the middle classes, the benefits flowed unequally between those in the rapidly expanding private service sectors rather than in the retrenched and decapitalized public sectors, which has been under assault since the days of structural adjustment in the 1980s.

For many Kenyans, therefore, the economy may be doing well, but they are not. As dependency theory used to postulate in the radical 1960s and 1970s, growth is not synonymous with development; neo-liberal growth is even less likely to lead to broad-based development because people are secondary to profits, public to private good. In Kenya, as in much of Africa and indeed the wider world since the onset of neo-liberalism the gap between the rich and the poor has widened, the sense of economic insecurity has increased among large numbers of people even as their countries’ economies grow. This partly helps explain the tightness of the vote and the prospect of a government losing elections in times of rapid economic growth.

If the economic growth of recent years in Kenya stoked expectations of development, the unequal distribution of wealth thwarted those expectations and engendered popular frustration, while democracy gave a new vent to express the frustrations. Anti-corruption discourse, the widespread popular distaste against corruption was both real and rhetorical in so far it reflected disgust at actual corruption scandals and invoked deep disaffection among many Kenyans who felt left out of the rapidly growing economy, a critique of rising economic class inequalities. In the authoritarian past there was no political alternative to the one-party state, now the discontented electorate could transfer its hopes for development to the opposition, even if the investment in the opposition did not promise to yield different dividends.

But class is not a reliable predictor of political loyalties and voting behavior even in the so-called developed countries. Often far more powerful are the constructed identities of ethnicity or race. In Kenya, as elsewhere in Africa, ethnic identities have greater political salience than racial identities. This is not simply because politicians mobilize ethnicity for electoral purposes, which they do and Kenyan politicians are notoriously adept at playing the ethnic card. Rather, elections for members of parliament are local or regional political events, latched on to the national presidential election; they are spatialized performances in which both the candidates and voters are located in particular constituencies and tend to share some common identity, ethnic or otherwise.

As we await a fuller breakdown of the elections results, it is clear that many members of parliament lost elections in their constituencies to competitors from their own ethnic groups. In such cases, party allegiance, record of the incumbent, and personalities all played a role. It is mostly in the large cities with their ethnically diverse populations where ethnic consciousness could be mobilized and the ethnic card played. In such contexts party allegiance loomed exceptionally large as a proxy for ethnicity. Only the president is subject to both local and national constituencies, and hence the enhanced ethnicization of the presidential election.

The complex interplay of local, regional, and national elections is of course not confined to Kenya or Africa for that matter. Look at voting patterns across Europe and North America and the different regional strategies political parties tend to employ to appeal to voters in various regions, not to mention the use of race. Nor is the ethnicization of electoral politics a peculiar African predilection. In no major western country has a black person ever been elected president or prime minister. In the United States, few blacks win state wide offices. Currently, there is only one black governor out of 50, and one black senator out of 100—the charismatic Barack Obama, the half-Kenyan and half-Luo 2008 U.S. presidential candidate. Yet, nobody labels electoral contests and results in western Europe and North America as ‘racial’, let alone ‘tribal’; they are given more dignified names.

Media reports on the Kenyan elections and especially reports of the protests following the inauguration of President Kibaki almost invariably include the word ‘tribal’; the reference is to ‘tribes’ and ‘tribalism’ as primordial identities untouched by history, as ancient hatreds immune to modernity, as pathological conditions peculiar to Africa. Forgotten is the simple fact that both Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga could not win the elections based on voting from their so-called ‘tribes’; two ethnic groups out of the country’s many ethnicities. While the presidential candidates received overwhelming electoral support in their home provinces, to win the presidency ethnic coalition building is essential, for the president has to win at least 25 of the vote in at least five of Kenya’s eight provinces.

The enthnicization of politics in Kenya is not a reflection of some atavistic reflex, or simply the result of elite political manipulations or primordial cultural affectations among the masses, even if the elites do indeed use ethnicity and the masses are mobilized by it. It is salutary to remember that some of Kenya’s ethnic groups only emerged or developed their current identities under British colonial rule. Few can trace themselves to the remote past notwithstanding the work of some historians to distinguish their ethnic communities with long and pristine pedigrees. Imagined ethnic and national histories are of course not about the past, but the present; they are part of the discursive and political arsenal for claim making in the present and for the future.

As we have learned from African studies, we need to distinguish between ‘moral ethnicity’, that is, ethnicity as a complex web of social obligations and belonging, and ‘political ethnicity’, that is, the competitive confrontation of ‘ethnic contenders’ for state power and national resources. Both are socially constructed, but one as an identity, the other as an ideology. Ethnicity may serve as a cultural public for the masses estranged from the civic public of the elites, a sanctuary that extends its comforts and protective tentacles to the victims of political disenfranchisement, economic impoverishment, state terror and group rivalry. In other words, it is not the existence of ethnic groups (or racial groups) that is a problem in itself, a predictor of social conviviality or conflict, but their political mobilization.

Ethnicity in Kenya is tied in complex and contradictory ways to the enduring legacies of uneven regional development. During colonial rule Central Kenya, the homeland of the Kikuyu, became the heartland of the settler economy, while Nyanza, the Luo homeland, languished as a labor reserve that furnished both unskilled and educated labor to the centers of colonial capitalism. Not surprisingly, the Kikuyu bore the brunt of colonial capitalist dispossession and socialization, and were in the vanguard of the nationalist struggles that led to decolonization and they came to dominate the postcolonial state and economy. Capitalist development and centralization of power reinforced domination of the Kenyan economy by the Central Province and the Kikuyu, a process that withstood the twenty-four year reign of President Moi, a Kalenjin from the Rift Valley, and was reinvigorated under President Kibaki’s administration.

Central Province and Kikuyu dominance of Kenya’s political economy bred resentment from other regions and ethnic groups. It fed into constitutional debates about presidential and political centralization of power, and the regional redistribution of resources that dominated Kenyan politics until 2005 when the draft constitution supported by the President and Parliament was rejected in a referendum. The ODM was born in the highly politicized maelstrom of the run up to the referendum.

This narrative tends to ignore an important qualifying fact, that not all Kikuyus are dominant and not all Luos are disempowered. Colonial, neo-colonial and neo-liberal capitalisms have bred class differentiations within communities as much as they have led to uneven development among regions. In other words, Kikuyu and Luo elites have much more in common with each other than they do with their co-ethnics among peasants and workers who also have more in common with each other across ethnic boundaries than with their respective elites. This is a reality that both the elites and the masses strategically ignore during competitive national elections, because the former need to mobilize and manipulate their ethnic constituencies in intra-elite struggles for power, and the latter because elections offer one of the few moments to shake the elites for the crumbs of development for themselves and their areas.

Kenyan politics exhibits familiar African trends. The country started its independence with a hurriedly negotiated multi-party system between the nationalists and the departing imperial power that could not withstand the homogenizing imperatives of nationalism and the intoxicating and intolerant demands of uhuru: nation-building, development, and democratization. Before long, Kenya joined the African bandwagon towards the one-party state. It became a de facto one-party state as the pre-independence opposition party KADU folded voluntarily into the ruling KANU in 1964, while the post-independence radical Kenya People’s Union formed in 1966 by former vice-president Oginga Odinga, the father of the ODM leader, was violently suppressed.

Kenya became a de jure one-party state under President Moi, who took power in 1978 following the death of the founding President Jomo Kenyatta, and was confronted by on the one hand the political tensions engendered by the attempted coup of 1982, and on the other a slowing economy that stagnated under the onerous weight of structural adjustment programs imposed with market fundamentalist zeal by the international financial institutions—the World Bank and International Monetary Fund—and western governments. By the end of the 1980s, it was clear that while the country remained relatively stable in a tumultuous region its early promise had been squandered under a reign of authoritarianism, corruption, and structural maladjustment.

As in much of Africa, from the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the unproductive power of one-party rule faced growing popular opposition. The struggles for the “second independence” by the restive masses and organized civil society scored limited victories in the 1992 and 1997 elections, and finally seized the prize in the elections of December 2002 when the ruling party, KANU, lost to the opposition National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). It was a new day: democracy expanded as political and civil freedoms spread, so did the economy as the stagnation of the Moi years receded, but the social and structural deformities of the postcolony remained as entrenched as ever. It is in this context that the current crisis can best be understood.

The last five years have seen the growth of both democracy and the economy, but the marriage between democracy and development remains unfilled. The economic growth rates under President Kibaki resemble those in the early post-independence years under President Kenyatta. The difference is not only that neo-colonial capitalism of the Kenyatta era, which had a nationalist face, has given way to contemporary neo-liberal capitalism, which has a neo-colonial soul, democracy has reconfigured old challenges and brought new ones that the society and state have yet to manage satisfactorily as the results of these elections amply demonstrate.

Examples abound that as the suffocating lid of state tyranny is lifted during moments of democratic transition the suppressed voices and expectations of civil society surge, but the stresses and strains arising from the competitive grind of democracy often find articulation in the entrenched identities, idioms, and institutions of ethnic solidarity. The challenge in Kenya, as in other divided multicultural societies, is the need to balance group and national interests through further democratization, devolution of power, and power sharing. In so far as ethnic interests and cleavages are only one set among many other possible bases of political contestation—class, religion, region, and gender that often mediate and reinforce ethnic identities and antagonisms—there is need to think about group interests beyond ethnicity.

The current trials and tribulations facing Kenya will not be resolved without the emergence of a leadership that is truly up to the challenge, a leadership that pursue a national project of profound social transformation, that eschews narrow and shortsighted exclusionary politics and neo-liberal economic growth. Kenya, and Africa as a whole, have no historic alternative from building truly democratic developmental states if they are to chart the twentieth century more prepared and empowered than they did the disastrous twentieth century marked by colonialism and neo-colonialism and their depredations that were simultaneously economic and existential, cultural and cognitive, political and paradigmatic.

The current leadership, both the ‘victors’ and ‘losers’, seem keen to retain or gain power at all costs. The power struggle is as sinister as the differences among the leaders are small. But often it is the very narcissism of minor differences that breeds gratuitous violence and viciousness as histories of genocide demonstrate. The leading politicians engaged in combat whose followers are tearing their lovely country apart are members of the same recycled political class committed to neo-liberal growth that offer no real solutions to Kenya’s enduring challenges of growth and development, choiceless democracy and transformative democracy.

Most of the major figures in the three leading parties, PNU, ODM, ODM-K, served in the Moi and Kibaki administrations at one time or another. Their politics do not differ in any significant ways. Indeed, it is a mark of the promiscuity of the political class that the three parties were formed quite recently, and politicians shop for parties with the consumer ease of well-heeled customers. In a sense, then, their collective interests of the politicians and national interests of the population are not coterminous, although converges do exist and are invoked at certain moments. The political animus between the Kibaki and Odinga camps is rooted in the now infamous secretive Memorundum of Understanding on the distribution of cabinet positions and power drawn up among the opposition parties that hurriedly formed NARC to fight the ruling party KANU in the 2002 elections. NARC was a marriage of convenience for a splintered opposition determined to win that failed to survive squabbles over the spoils of victory. Before long, Mr. Odinga and his followers began complaining that Mr. Kibaki had reneged on the MOU and thus began the slide to the current political impasse and crisis.

President Kibaki’s contested ‘victory’ has deprived the country of the opportunity to see that the opposition offers little more than a recycling of the same policies and politicians as has been witnessed in other African countries that are now into their third or fourth cycle of competitive multiparty elections. As this has become evident the lure of elections as engines of fundamental socioeconomic transformation has dimmed in many countries and the search for new forms of politics is underway. In Kenya the disputed results of this election may have done the same. Only time will tell, perhaps long after the violence has subsided. What can be predicted is that the Kibaki government will be paralyzed in the new parliament, where it controls less than a fifth of the seats, and might even be brought down by a vote of no confidence, although the power of the government to secure or ‘buy’ support from self-serving parliamentarians cannot be ruled out, as has happened in Malawi and other countries where the President’s party is in the minority. And a popular uprising, or even an 'orange revolution', can never be ruled out.

Kenya’s current political tragedy is part of a much larger story. The absence of articulated and organized institutional and ideological alternatives under neoliberalism is at the heart of the political crisis facing contemporary Africa and much of the world. It has led, thus far, to the ossification of politics, and in some countries, the premature abortion or aging of elections as instruments of transformative change. The specter of choiceless democracies is not confined to countries in the global South, for in many parts of the global North including the United States the ideological divide between the major parties is often indecipherable, the result of which is political apathy as nearly half the population has exited the electoral process. For more fragile societies, the danger is not apathy, but anarchy. As a keen observer of Kenya, a country where I spent many fruitful years studying and teaching in the late 1970s and 1980s, I hope the country can avoid such a fate. Perhaps the ferocity of the reaction to the botched elections will serve as a wakeup call to the political class and the troubled citizenry to chart a more productive future for their beloved country. A good beginning would be for the contending parties to agree to a binding independent and internationally monitored investigation of the election results.

* Paul T Zeleza is editor of The Zeleza Post. This article was first published at First Written December 31, 2007

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

The media and the political crisis

Interview with Salim Amin

Dipesh Pabari


DIPESH PABARI: What is your general assessment on the situation?

SALIM AMIN: Well, at the moment it is pretty much what is being shown on television; it is just pockets of protests around Nairobi. We have not been out to Eldoret or Kisumu but in Nairobi it is just pockets of demonstrations around Kibera, Kawangware and Ngong Road, Argwings Kodhek Road and places like that where it is a few hundred people marching and demonstrating and the police pretty quickly crush that. Yesterday, there was more looting and damaging of property which I don’t think is ODM’s idea of protest. These are just a bunch of unemployed people who are just taking advantage of opportunity presented to them.

We have never seen the likes of the police presence in this town. I have covered this city for about 15 years and never seen this sort size of police presence so obviously there are fears that it could get out of hand and police and GSU have been called out in large numbers. There are pictures that I have seen on TV of various insights of people being machete to death and churches being burnt personally I haven’t seen that but it is obviously happening. It is happening in some of the areas where perhaps foreign journalist can’t go to perhaps more local journalist can access to.

DIPESH PABARI: We are receiving conflicting messages – both sides are accusing each other of genocide and at the same time we are hearing that there is rampant destruction all over the country yet the government is saying it is just a few isolated incidences here and there. What should we believe?

SALIM AMIN: I think upcountry there is a much bigger problem than here. Places like Mount Elgon and Eldoret have always been the scene of a lot of ethnic tension between the different tribes stemming from the ethnic cleansing the happened in 1992. That has not been forgotten. For me that is the fear of what will happen in this country. If this is not stopped quickly then the grassroots hatred is going to get worse and worse amongst the different tribes and then it will not matter what Kibaki or Odinga or any of these guys say. That seed has already been sown and it is going to be very difficult to retract from that. It will get to the stage where people will say you burnt my house down now I am going to do the same to yours and once that starts as we saw in Rwanda in 1994, it is very difficult to pull back from that. That is my greatest fear. I think places like Nairobi will slowly get back to normal but areas where there is not much media coverage, where it is hard to get pictures out of, it is going to get worse and worse.

DIPESH PABARI: From that perspective, places like Mount Elgon which have been consistently on the edge, has the media done enough to highlight issues like this that have essentially led to where we are right now.

SALIM AMIN: I think the local media has not done enough. The international media has never done enough to cover Kenya in its entirety. The local media has been suspect in ignoring this problem as well. The government – I think it is in their interest – there are obviously huge political implications in what is going on. It would not surprise me if people within government or outside are a part of what is happening out there. It really would not surprise me at all. I think there is a lot of political background that needs to be investigated and examined. Unfortunately, as we know, no government is very good at internal examination of anything. You know I heard stories about possible genocide in Mount Elgon area over the last couple of days where people have set up road blocks and they are pulling people out of cars from different tribes and slaughtering them. And that is just like it was in Rwanda in 1994. That is very scary. I also heard yesterday that Nakumatt stopped selling machetes – they restricted it to one per person because people were coming in and buying 200 pieces at a go. I am very concerned that a lot of this may have been preplanned which does then give it the element of genocide. It is a very dangerous word to use but if it has been preplanned and organized then the elections were just an excuse to get it started. I just found out about this on the internet yesterday. The planning side of this is very scary. If it was something that just randomly happened because of the election than it can almost be understood because people are upset about the results and the way it panned out. But if this is something that people have been thinking about for 2, 3 or 4 months than this is a really scary scenario

DIPESH PABARI: Have you heard of any other similar cases that could imply planning for this?

SALIM AMIN: No, that was the only incident that I have heard about. And that I only found out about yesterday.

DIPESH PABARI: What we are witnessing for the first time is the explosion of information and reporting through mainstream media and new media such as blogging on the internet. There is so much information flowing and there may not be as much credibility to these sources. Do you think this information explosion is a positive or negative thing?

SALIM AMIN: I think it is a great thing. The more people talk about their incidences, the better – for any society. The problem is whether those reporting are accurate or not and that is what is very difficult to verify. You can’t control what people blog or put on the internet. You don’t know whether it is inciting people or it is actual fact. The government blackout on live coverage – while we initially came out and condemned it – after thinking about it a little more I can see their dilemma as a government because no TV or radio station in this country has what they call a delay switch where they can pause for 30 or 60 seconds so the editor can listen to what the person is saying. And this especially applies to radio stations and call in shows and there were incidences of people calling in and saying let the people of X tribe come out and avenge this – there was no way of stopping it until it had already gone out and the damage had been done. I think that is what led to the government taking action against live broadcasts. And with the different radio stations, the vernacular radio stations in particular, a lot of that could have been used to incite people which is exactly what happened in Rwanda in 1994 where a particular radio station was instrumental in fueling the genocide. So I think that was probably a smart move in hindsight. But they will have to restore it and put some form of control in by asking them to put this delay factor in so that the editors have a chance to actually vet what is happening on live shows.

DIPESH PABARI: During the build-up to the elections, we had a tremendous amount of media campaigning initiatives towards free and fair elections. The whole country was plastered with billboards; the radio waves were filled with information, etc. Do you think it has had much impact?

SALIM AMIN: I think that is what we are seeing is that people feel that they have been robbed at the ballot boxes. They went out in massive number, they voted for whoever they wanted to be president or MP and they feel like they have been robbed and that is why this resentment and this huge outcry for people that was never expected. Now both sides are claiming rigging so nobody really knows who did what and in which areas. There is obviously irregularities there is obviously rigging that happened. I suspect that a lot happened at the last minute and that is why it was so blatant and so obvious because I don’t think anybody felt the mood of the country correctly. I don’t think the Government thought that they would lose 20 of their ministers in a poll and I think that led to a panic at the last minute and that led childish changes to ballot paper and to forms. There was also in the opposition some hanky panky on their side and in their areas. For me the only solution to this problem would be to have a reelection, may be just a presidential election but with an independent electoral commission set up that has nothing to do with the Government that has people from outside with more observers coming in but that would take time to put together and to redo and in that time this country could disintegrate into a crisis that would be very difficult to come out of and even the new ballots would not fix.

DIPESH PABARI: Do you think we are getting there?

SALIM AMIN: I sadly think that if this situation is not sorted out within the next few days, it is not a matter of weeks or months; we are coming down a slope that we will not be able to climb back up.

DIPESH PABARI: Has there been any evidence or any public outcry from the media that has caused this violence? Where did it come from? You said earlier that people were disappointed but were there any leader that would have would have been responsible towards this?

SALIM AMIN: I think more than them doing anything or saying anything to make it happen, the fact that they did not do anything to stop it is more telling in my opinion. I think the fact that there are things that all leaders in this country could have done to avoid this earlier they did not do. I don’t know anybody who deliberately came out and said ‘go and start demonstrating’, I don’t think anyone has said that and but the fact that they did more to stop it is a mark on their record as political leaders.

DIPESH PABARI: 24 hours later after it all broke out we did hear cries of peace coming from both sides especially from ODM but it seems that their people are not listening.

SALIM AMIN: That is a worry for me as well I mean just seeing today’s proposed rally as an example when Ruto addressed the crowd when they were stopped in Hurlingham and said that is fine we’ll step down today and come back on Tuesday. Majority of the crowd did not listen and just wanted to keep going and that worries me that, at some point that it is going to get so personal amongst the people because of what they have suffered in their various shanties or slums, that they are not going to listen to their politicians anymore that they don’t care what the leaders are saying, they just want some revenge of some sort and find any kind of method to do it. That is my fear that the longer this goes on, the less power the politicians are going to have to actually enforce their will on their own supporters.

DIPESH PABARI: We see the media more or less taking a side, the call for peace. It is the first time it has happened across all the newspapers sharing the same headlines. To what extent is it the responsibility of the media to act upon certain rumors that clearly might have terrible implications if they were true? For example, there was a rumor flying around that Ruto had organized truckloads of armed youth into Rift Valley. Where do you base your judgment on things like this as the media and is it your responsibility to report this as a warning?

SALIM AMIN: No, I don’t think it is the media’s responsibility at all to report that at all. They have to double check and triple check their facts especially at this very crucial time in our country’s history. They have got to make sure what is reported anywhere is 100% accurate and there is no room for rumor or speculation or assumptions being made in the media. Up to this point I have been very impressed with the media as they have got together and are saying we have got to save our country. We have got to do whatever we can to say peace has been restored. I have been very impressed with that but they have to be even more vigilante with that to make sure that it is absolutely correct and if they can’t verify information, don’t put it out there because that just leads to more and more confusion and uncertainty amongst people and fear.

The fact that lives media has been blocked means that there is much more hearsay going on around the country, especially with things likes mobile phones. I think the media has the responsibility to play down all that stuff until they have checked and rechecked all the facts. And if they find anything that is huge, then yes, they should report it, and shame the people who are responsible for it.

DIPESH PABARI: Are the media houses working together and cohesively on this?

SALIM AMIN: I think they are but I have not been privy to those conversations because we are outside the local media setup here but for example, we produced a short call for peace – a 3 minute TV package and we are hopefully going to do more of those. When I called all the media houses to see if we can have the airtime to do it – every single one of them was supportive and said keep sending us more stuff.

DIPESH PABARI: Last question; are we all responsible as Kenyans for getting to this state?

SALIM AMIN: I think we are all responsible. I think it would be wrong for us to sit back and say that one group or another group is responsible for this. I think we have been very blasé about our politics and about how we might get involved. I think this is a lesson to all of us. We have all got to be responsible in the way our country is moving whatever part of society you are from. Whatever it is you do in life, you have got to take responsibility for what you do. I think if we can all go out and convince one person to stop fighting, to stop killing, to actually listen and talk, then we would actually have done something good

* Salim Amin is the son of the late Mohammed Amin, one of Africa's top photo journalist. Salim is now running Camerapix and is the founder of A24 which will be the first pan-African news channel.

* Dipesh Pabari is a freelance writer. He sits on the editorial board of Awaaz magazine and writes for various magazines and journals. Dipesh also works for as the Communications Manager.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

Kenya’s democracy on trial

Mukoma Wa Ngugi


Mukoma Wa Ngugi argues that the dream of democracy is turning into a nightmare and suggests a recount as a possible solution.

The post-election crisis in Kenya: In search of solutions

Ali A. Mazrui


The Kenya presidential elections of December 2007 are potentially the most damaging episode to national unity since the assassination of Tom Mboya in July 1969. Both the murder of Tom Mboya and the management of the recent presidential elections are widely interpreted as an attempt to ethnically monopolise the presidency of the country. Both Mboya’s assassination and the latest elections are seen as historic blows to national stability and major setbacks to the process of democratization. Both Mboya’s murder and the 2007 elections unleashed widespread rioting and looting and made national institutions significantly more fragile than they were before.

It is therefore imperative that Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga enter into urgent negotiations to find a solution to this painful impasse, and to help the process of national healing.

The ideal solution would be to agree to a recounting of votes in the most controversial of the provincial results for the presidency, and for both Kibaki and Odinga to commit themselves to respect the outcome of the recounting.

Another possible solution would be for the African Union to appoint an independent commission of enquiry into the management of the presidential election, and make recommendations. One possible recommendation would conceivably be to accept the parliamentary results, which had, by most estimates, been transparent and credible. But there might be new internationally supervised presidential elections with the three main candidates on the new ballot.

The third option is probably the easiest to accomplish. The new parliament should be sworn in, and called into session. Its first task should be to consider a constitutional amendment creating the post of Prime Minister answerable to Parliament and not to the Chief Executive (the President). If the constitutional amendment is passed, parliament would then vote for the first Prime Minister. Considering the balance of political parties voted into the new parliament, the new Prime Minister is almost bound to be the Honorable Raila Odinga.

Kenya would thereby become something approximating the fifth republic of France with both an executive President accountable to the people, directly, and an executive Prime Minister accountable to the people’s legislative representatives, Parliament. As in the case of the French Republic, the President (Mwai Kibaki) and the Prime Minister (Raila Odinga) would have to find ways of working together in the interest of the people of Kenya.

Who would appoint the members of the cabinet- the President or the Prime Minister? The Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense could be the prereagative of the Head of State (Kibaki) to appoint. But the Minister of Internal Security and almost all other ministries would be appointed by the Prime Minister (Raila Odinga).

The precise division of labor and division of powers between the new Prime Minister would have to be negotiated prior to the constitutional amendment by new Parliament.

Later in the session of the new parliament there may be need to re-examine the whole constitution of Kenya in the light of problems which Kenya has had to face since the last constitutional referendum. Should we re-examine once again the Maboma Draft constructed by the Ghai Commission? Only the new parliament, in consultation with the new President, can decide whether to have a new constitutional referendum.

* Ali Mazrui is Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities, Binghamton University, State University of New York at Binghamton, New York, USA and Chancellor, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Thika and Nairobi Kenya

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

News round-up on recent events in Kenya

Izzy Birch


A brief round-up of news on the Kenya crisis.

Kenya Election Domestic Observation Forum - Press Statement


Kenya is bleeding. Kenya is bleeding from a political crisis that has rapidly led to a social and spiritual crisis. We, the Church leaders working together with the leadership of all faiths have been alarmed at the speed and depth this crisis has taken over the last 24 hours. Unless checked, this crisis will plunge Kenya into a complete state of lawlessness, disregard for human rights and the sanctity of life.

Three actions could defuse this political crisis.

Firstly, the outcome of the recently concluded Presidential and Parliamentary elections requires a quick and comprehensive political resolution. The Church as part of KEDOF endorses KEDOF’s statement –

“ in our view, considering the entire process, the 2007 General Elections were credible in as far as the voting and counting process is concerned. The electoral process lost credibility towards the end with regard to the tallying and announcement of presidential results”

We have considered the opinion of the Members of the Electoral Commission and international observer groups. In our opinion, the Government, in close consultation with all the parties who fielded Presidential and Parliamentary candidates should immediately establish a credible process for the establishment of an Independent Commission. This Commission will seek the transparent verification of tallies for the concerned constituencies. All parties must start by committing themselves to acting on the outcome verification by the Independent Commission.

Secondly, we urge the leaders of the three major political parties to meet and dialogue. Their political leadership at this critical hour is central to saving lives. Over the last 24 hours, we have lost at least five lives every hour, with scores of other men, women and children injured, scared, displaced and vulnerable to attacks by fellow Kenyans.

We call upon leaders who contested Parliamentary seats – both those that won and those that lost to jointly and urgently address their constituencies within the next few days. We urge the mass media to continue to support the cause of peace.

Thirdly, while we appreciate the efforts of the uniformed forces to stop lawlessness and we acknowledge the challenge that they have to protect all civilians we call upon them to establish corridors of safety. Such corridors of peace are critical for restoring access to food, shelter, crisis centres and other basic needs to which we as a faith community are committed to assist in providing.

The ability to communicate during a period of national crisis cannot be gainsaid. While we deplore the use of these media for ethnic hate speech, attempting to block these avenues will be counter-productive. It will block also the flow of information that is required for identifying and reaching people at risk. We consequently call upon the state to lift the ban on live broadcasts.

While calling on the Government, political parties and other non-state actors to take these actions, we realise that the future of Kenya is in the hands of the Kenyan people. We therefore call upon all Kenyans to immediately cease the violence that is occurring in our towns, villages and communities.

We commit ourselves to monitor and quickly respond to the humanitarian needs of all Kenyans regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender and political affiliation.

God bless Kenya.

* Kenya Election Domestic Observation Forum (KEDOF) is a partnership representing Kenyan Civil Society Networks (and faith-based organisations) in establishing a common platform for domestic election observation programme
* * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

Remembering Kenya

Mukoma Wa Ngugi


Inside looking out, snow is falling and I am thinking how
happy we once were, when promises and dreams came
easy and how when we, lovers covered only by a warm

Eldoret night, your slender hand waved a prophecy
- a shooting star and you said, "when the time comes, we
shall name our first child, Kenya" and how I laughed

and said "yes our child then shall be country and human"
and we held hands, rough and toughened by shelling
castor seeds. My dear, when did our clasped hands

become heavy chains and anchors holding us to the mines
and diamond and oil fields? Our hands roughened by love
and play, these same hands – when did they learn to grip

a machete or a gun to spit hate? And this earth that drinks
our blood like a hungry child, this earth that we have
scorched to cinders - when we are done eating it, how

much of it will be left for Kenya? My dear, our child
is born, is dying. Tomorrow the child will be dead.

UW-Madison, Jan. 3rd, 2007
Commissioned by The World Today – BBC News

Challenge to constitutional legitimacy of demonstration ban

Maina Kiai


We, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) wish to question the constitutional legitimacy and legal basis of the Police Commissioner, Major General Hussein's decree barring anyone from holding political rallies after the just concluded general elections.

We have learned from media reports that the Police Commissioner issued this decree before the just-concluded elections. The Government spokesperson has subsequently reinforced these orders by repeatedly making this announcement in the media.

We wish to state here that these orders are illegal, and violate the fundamental freedoms of association, freedom of movement and freedom of expression, guaranteed in both the Constitution of Kenya and international instruments which Kenya is signatory to. In any case, if all public gatherings have been bannned, how will the elected members of Parliament appeal to their constituents to stop the violence?

We understand the Police Commissioner may be concerned about the state of security in the country. However, to issue such orders and decrees not only contravene the law, but only serve to aggravate the situation further.

Rather than arbitrarily ban the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Rally scheduled for Thursday 3rd January 2008, we appeal to the Police Commissioner to seek assurance and commitment from the convenors of the rally that their supporters will maintain peace and order during the rally. We also appeal to the Police and security agents to provide adequate security during the rally.

The National Commission has learnd that in the interest of security, the Government has ordered curfews in Kibera, Migori, Mathare, Kisumu and Eldoret. Whereas this is provided by law in tense security situations, the Police Commissioner should publicly make an announcement to this effect in order to bring this to the notice of all persons affected.

Further, the curfews should be conducted in a humane manner that allows the persons affected to access food and other social amenities.

We also appeal to the police and security agents to handle the situation with utmost caution, while ensuring the security of all without taking sides.

* Maina Kiai is Chair of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

On the Kenya Electoral Crisis

Maina Kiai, Gladwell Otieno, Mugambi Kiai, Betty Kaari Murungi, Njeri Kababeri, David Ndii, Haruon Ndubi, Zahid Rajan, Shailja Patel


It is now widely acknowledged that the electoral process that led to the swearing-in of Hon. Mwai Kibaki was heavily flawed and devoid of credibility.

We, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR), artists, and civil society groups in Kenya, believe that this flawed process precipitated the wave of brutal violence and senseless destruction of property sweeping parts of the country.

We are concerned that the violence seems targetted at innocent Kenyans from particular communities believed to be sympathetic to a particular party. Everyone has a right to vote for whomever they wish. Wherease we understand the disappointment, frustration and anger Kenyans feel at being disenfranchised, their anger needs to be channnelled responsibly, and without resort to violence.

The Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) handled the elections tallying process irresponsibly. ECK is squarely culpable for the crisis in the country, through its intransigence, careless statements, incompetence and lack of accountability.

The ECK had the opportunity to initiate dialogue between various stakeholders to salvage the situation. Despite pleas from credible national and international observers, and evidence presented to verify claims of rigging, among other electoral malpractices, ECK commissioners chose not to engage in this prudent course of action.

We express our disappointment and deep concern that despite every gain made in expanding democratic space in Kenya, a country governed by the rule of law, the former Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, banned the press from live broadcasts. We question the constitutional legitimacy and legal basis of Mr. Michuki's decree. From which statute or legal instrument does he draw his powers to ban the media in this manner, considering that the president has yet to constitute a Government, and, therefore a cabinet?

Furthermore, such a decree contravenes accepted international standards that guarantee freedom of expression and access to information, both fundamental rights. By muzzling the media, a key source of information to the public, the Government is encouraging rumors, innuendo, hearsay and suspicion, in an already polarized country.

We note Mwai Kibaki's earlier gesture calling on Kenyans to reconcile. Reconciliation can only be genuine if there is truth. We urge that:

The ECK discloses to the public the full presidential tally results, to be compared to results documented by national and international observers
The Government lift the media ban prohibiting the media from live coverage in Kenya.

Those with information on election fraud or irregularities be offered platforms to make such information public, without threat of intimidation. In this regard, whistleblowers may contact:
Hotline number: 0728 606582
Send verifiable information by email to:

lochiel AT
linakoth9 AT
lkabiru AT

We appeal to the international community to call for credible verification of the results before endorsing them. We note the EU observer mission has raised serious concerns about the reliability and credibility of the elections tallying process.

We appeal to the police and security agencies to ensure their responses are humane, measured, and proportional to the level of threat. We call on them to handle the situation with utmost caution, while ensuring the security of all without taking sides.


Maina Kiai, Chair, KNCHR
Gladwell Otieno, AFRICOG
Mugambi Kiai, OSIEA
Betty Kaari Murungi, Vice-Chair, KHRC
Njeri Kabebeberi, CMD
David Ndii, KLI
Haruon Ndubi, Haki Focus
Zahid Rajan, Awaaz
Muthoni Wanyeki, KHRC
Shailja Patel

Africa Action calls for US leadership to support Kenyan democracy

Africa Action


To foster peace, diplomacy must promote justice

Thursday, January 3, 2008 (Washington, DC) – In light of the serious human rights violations and challenges to stable governance Kenya has experienced in the past week, Africa Action calls for an immediate and comprehensive recount of presidential ballots supervised by international election monitors, and an end to the media broadcast ban. The clumsy series of contradictory remarks on the election made so far by U.S. officials have not been helpful in resolving the crisis and have revealed underlying U.S. interests. The U.S. must provide new coherent leadership to drive international pressure on rival candidates Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga to adhere to the democratic process peacefully and put a stop to the violence. The international community must base its response to the situation on the voices of the Kenyan people and concentrate on addressing not only the immediate political crisis but also deeper issues of social, political and economic justice. U.S.-Kenya policy should be people-centered and truly committed to robust democratic processes rather than defined by a narrow agenda of the “war on terror” and international business interests.

The ugly scenes of violence and chaos that have emerged following Kenya’s disputed presidential polls are symptoms of the greater issues of poverty and socioeconomic inequality. Western observers have held up Kenya as an economic dynamo for its high growth rates and macroeconomic stability without considering who benefits from this development. Despite vigorous growth rates of between five and seven percent over the past three years, Kenya is a country marked by disparity. With a per capita income of just $540 and a current ranking of 145 out of 177 in the United Nations’ Human Development Index, poverty is widespread. Some strides towards economic justice have been made in recent years. Notably, as president, Kibaki succeeded in eliminating primary school fees. However, the volatility around this election is testament to the fact that many Kenyans are still frustrated by poverty and a small elite holds the majority of their country’s vaunted wealth.

Kenya’s 2002 elections generated a powerful sense of optimism among the population that reflected a deep popular commitment to democratic ideals and a new future free of corruption. It is disappointing that these hopes have not materialized. This challenge should galvanize the U.S. and the international community to support this young democracy as it struggles to achieve its vision of a truly representative and responsive government. The African Union is playing a critical role as a rapid responder to help mediate the political crisis. However, U.S. leadership and sustained diplomatic pressure from the entire international community is essential to protecting human rights in Kenya and to a successful mediation between parties that results in a transparent legal solution to the dispute.

Much has been made of the ethnic dimensions of the conflict, but the bottom line is that power hungry politicians can manipulate ethnic differences to promote their own interests with dangerous consequences in the absence of social and economic justice. African nations, like countries worldwide, rely on robust democratic processes to mitigate such conflict. This involves transparent electoral machinery but also involves promoting governance and economic policies that serve all citizens and do not marginalize any groups. Both parties in the conflict have used the phrase genocide to characterize their rivals’ behavior. Africa Action urges leaders on all sides to avoide using inflammatory language that may incite further violence. At the same time, the international community must be vigilant for signs of widespread ethnic cleansing or even emerging genocide and be prepared to intervene if necessary to prevent such crimes against humanity from taking place.

The consequences of an international failure to support Kenya’s democracy during this crisis would be grim, particularly in terms of regional stability. For years, Kenya has been an anchor of stability in a region challenged by conflict. Kenya has hosted peace talks – such as those that led to Sudan’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – and absorbed refugees from neighboring war-torn nations. While a step backwards for this fledgling democracy would hardly reflect on the political fortunes of the whole continent, it would add to the challenges faced by the already tenuous Horn and East Africa. Therefore, the U.S. must lead the international community in a vigorous diplomatic response to defuse current tensions. The first steps to push for are a fully transparent recount of all votes and the lifting of all restrictions on independent media.

Letters & Opinions

On the Reuters lead story entitled “Kibaki Accuses Rivals of Ethnic Cleansing”

(Mail & Guardian Online 02 January 2008)


It is the responsibility of newspapers to report news as they see or hear it. However, I am apprehensive that this kind of equivocal and manipulated news-reporting (in the context of a slow media blockade) will simply buy the regime in Kenya time to launder its image in the midst of a crisis it has deliberately fuelled. The brewing genocide in Kenya has got a long and complicated history. The Kenyan government spin-doctor, Dr Alfred Mutua, has not even begun to scratch on the surface of what is truly going on. Kenya has a long history of internecine violence choreographed by ruling regimes that have always tried to protect their ill-gotten wealth by using ‘tribe’, and even ‘race’ as in the case of the colonial regime, as their alibi. As exiled Kenyan anti-corruption official John Githongo said not too long ago, “corruption always fights back.” Having “vomited all over our shoes” after a corruption binge and having unleashed murder on a scale we have never seen before, they now parade as our protectors. As the late JM Nazareth would have put it, we raia have become “sheep delivered to the fangs of wolves by constituting the wolves the shepherds of the sheep.”

There are many in the Kibaki cabinet and others in opposition parties who are known to have muttered what, under the South African constitution, would be termed hate speech. Many of them have worked for the state at points in history when major public figures such as Dr Robert Ouko, Bishop Alexander Kipsang Muge, Pio Gama Pinto, JM Kariuki, Tom Mboya, Dr Odhiambo Mbai and others were killed on the grounds of their political beliefs or ethnic roots. Others kept quiet when state-sponsored militias spread mayhem in Western Kenya in the early 1990s in order to stop the enactment of multi-partyism.

I know for a fact a number of public figures in the current mess who violently speared effigies of then exiled Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, in the late 1980s. There are others who sat back, laughed or kept quiet when state thugs were unleashed on Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Prof Wangari Maathai and politician Paul Muite in the early 1990s. Yet others took oaths of ethnic-elite solidarity, sold to the public as a defence of ethnic rights, when massacres and inter-party repression rocked Kenya in the late-1960s. It would be naïve in the extreme to expect that they have all of a sudden developed a conscience. Beware of how many Kenyan politicians will in the coming days make a show of appealing to universal values of liberty, human rights, ad nauseum, when their conduct has been consistently illiberal and complicit in crimes against humanity. Beware especially of the diplomatic ones who will speak in pious Oxfordian tones in order that they may seem less violent than others. Beware of the suave, slick types who could never hurt a fly; they don’t need to for they have snuffed many human lives. As Hannah Arendt discovered when she did research for Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil, her masterful summary of the career and trial of the Nazi operative, mass murderers do not sport horns on their foreheads. They are often very ordinary ‘family men’. Investigate, investigate, investigate!

Let the world know the truth that members of almost all Kenyan ethnic communities are being killed and not just Kikuyu supporters of President Mwai Kibaki’s illegitimate government as the news-report insinuates. Government sponsored thugs and mercenaries cut the water and power supply to Kisumu (an opposition stronghold) at a time when a cholera outbreak is clearly imminent. Over 100 people have been killed in Kisumu, many of them shot in the back by paramilitary forces. There have been reports of cholera in greater South Nyanza and this will spread to major urban centres on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria. Massive starvation is also imminent in the face of a ban on fishing (a consequence of the cholera outbreak). All major urban areas and rural settlements in all parts of the country are under severe threat, from Busia to Mombasa, thanks to the purveyors of spreadsheet democracy. A government that consorts with known international criminals cannot presume to lecture Kenyans on human rights.

Kenyans at home and in the diaspora have to admit that it is our collective silence in the face of extreme repression at key moments in our history that has led to this crisis. Giving airtime to saber-rattlers, spin-doctors and latter-day Goebbels will not help, but a little investigative journalism just might. The horses of the East African apocalypse may just have been unleashed. The truth must come out. However, our immediate duty now is not to dig in with specific accusations against politicians, but to work out a solution. Only a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and clear rules for power-sharing will help us in the end. Do not fail East Africa, for the region could implode!


Dr Dan Ojwang
Head, African Literature
University of the Witwatersrand

Response to Ngugi wa Thiong'o's analysis of Kenya

Rose Ochwada


Anyone who knows Ngugi will appreciate that Ngugi does not consider any other Kenyan a worthy leader unless they are Kikuyu. This article is a veiled attack on ODM and an endorsement of Kibaki leadership ( What is sad is that Ngugi fails to mention the fact that Kibaki failed to make the promised new constitution a reality, leading to the fallout with many in his cabinet and the consequent creation of the Orange Movement. He also surprisingly fails to condemn the new found reliance of Kibaki on Moi for political survival and what this means to all Kenyans who fought for the second liberation. He cannot bring himself to acknowledge Raila Odinga's fight to demoncracy over the past 30 odd years. He can only praise the role of 'Mau Mau' which we all know was a tribal organisation fighting for return of land to the Kikuyu. If not then can he tell me of a single non-Kikuyu who was a Mau-Mau?? I personaly have nothing against the Kikuyu per se. I only get annoyed at people like Ngugi who use their International fame to fight a tribal cause under the guise of an intellectual discussion. When he talks of economic progress, can he honestly quote an instance where a resident of Mathare or Kibera slums who can testify to a real change in their lives due to the 'economic changes' of the last 5 years? Or is he just quoting the 'infamous' 6% growth that Kimunya and Co keep going on about while stealing from the public through 'Anglo-Leasing? I have never been a fan of Ngugi even in the Moi era, I am less of a fan now with his clear hypocrisy and obviouse tribal agenda.

Kenyan people lost the elections - comment

Lucy Simiyu


I read your comments on the Kenyan elections with great interest. While acknowledging that the Kenyan electorate has indeed lost the elections (see, I would like to point out that we should have seen the post-election violence coming. After all, ODM never lost an opportunity to state that the elections would be rigged - it was a psychological game that heightened people's fears and anxieties so much so that even if Kibaki had won with a landslide, they would still have cried foul. I do not agree with your sentiments that since majority of the PNU ministers were floored, it is an indication that Kibaki was unpopular. I think for the first time, voters opted to stay away from the 3-piece style; the message some of us were sending was: You may be in PNU but you have not delivered as an MP but we believe Kibaki could do better with a new crop of MPs.

As I look at the line-up of MPs Kenyans have voted into parliament my heart weeps for the citizens. What nation turns a blind eye and votes in remnants of a dictatorial corrupt regime? I cannot believe that the ODM euphoria has brought in men and women who have corruption scandals firmly tied around their necks? So will we ever get justice for the crimes committed against us? And to see some of them give rhetoric speeches on justice is a mockery of our intelligence!

On the other hand, I think it is time we put lots of pressure on Kibaki to deliver on issues that are crucial for the Kenyan citizen. I think it's high time civil society (I wonder if we are still relevant at this rate considering that most of us have been compromised) began to speak with a loud voice on socio-political and economic issues affecting the Kenyan populace. As a young girl growing up, I knew that there were courageous men and women who never lost an opportunity to stand for the rights of the people. Slowly, the voice of justice has died over the years, and what we have as civil society in Kenya are men and women eyeing the political seats too and waiting to oil their pockets with hefty salary perks. The role of religious instituions cannot be under-estimated in the cause for justice. Religious institutions in my opinion, should be impartial, keeping a keen eye on the going-ons in society and providing a critical analysis of the happenings. They should be able to challenge injustice at all levels and ensure that the citizens' rights are prioritized at all costs. I have been disheartened to see religious leaders routing for particular candidates or political parties - how then can one provide impartial criticism when the individual or party disregards the rule of law or disrespects the rights of the common man? The media in Kenya has in some ways been irresponsible, airing politicians' irresponsible utterances and I don't think they were aware of the potential harm of their "freedom" to give every politician the space to abuse and call one another names. The chickens have indeed come home to roost. I honestly believe the media in this country needs to re-define themselves into a professional unit and for once, let news be devoid of name-calling and tribal alignments and assessments.

We need a paradigm shift in this country. As Kenyans descend on one another and kill one another, the politicians to whom they owe allegiance retreat in the safety of their homes and the comfort of their families. Is there any politician who really cares? In my opinion, none. Let us not lay blame totally on the state forces; it is clear in some regions that people had been incited to ensure that those belonging to a particular ethnic tribe should be annihilated or vacated. Could somebody please explain why Kikuyu businesses in Western Kenya were targetted? The youth in Kenya should also be motivated to think independently and it is high time each young man/woman realized that no politician will put a plate of food or salary on their tables. A successful society is made up of people who are able to exploit the existing socio-political and economic space in order to better not only their lives, but also the lives of the communities around them.

As we all wait for peace to be restored in this nation, it is my sincere prayer that we will learn from our errors. Aside from politicians, the civil society, religious insititutions and the media have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the unity we have enjoyed as a nation is restored and sustained.

Terror and nightmare of ethnic war

Caesar Wamalika


I wish to share with you the terror and nightmare we are going through of Ethnic War. I am emailing from Baraton and the situation is bad! It all began soon after lection results were announced! Then several groups of community around broke into war songs. They broke into the shopping center next to the university and looted all the shops that belong to Kikuyus and Kisiis. Then they broke into rented offcampus houses of students.

A crowd of about 1,000 people surged to the university gate and wanted to storm the university. They demanded that all Kikuyus, Kambas, Meru, and Kisii people leave the university within two hours. That was the only way to save the university from being stormed. They remained at the gate until it would be seen done. About three armed policemen arrived and spent time negotiating with the crowd. Finally the police advised us to evacuate the named ethnic groups. We put the faculty and students numbering about 250 into three university vehicles and were taken to Kapsabet Police station under police escort. They are still there as at now. A few of us are on campus!

The Division tried to evacuate those from Kapsabet Police Station to Eldoret international Airport but the next road block was a no-go-zone. Inspite of the police escort, the university buses had to return to Kapsabet. The is no way anyone can get out. One baraton group is holed up at Kapsabet police station while faculty members from Luo and Luhyia community, international workers and students are holed up within the campus. Those at Kapsabet have no food or water The worst fear is not so much of food but possibility of police station being stormed. The police are few and overstretched.

We have been having threats a almost daily at campus. On one occassion, we had to give out a bull for them to slaughter and guarantee us peace. Then they came and demanded milk which we also gave. Then we succeced in pleading with the malitia to allow us transport food to those at police station. They allowed us first day and we transported it on varsity tractor. It took three hours to go through road blocks to reach Kapsabet wich is only 15 kilometers away.

I attended a meeting yeasterday with commaders and malitia leaders who came to meet university adminstration. We confirmed that Malitia had had their own meeting and resolved that on humanitarion ground, faculty with kids and pregnant mothers be allowed to return to campus. They also told us students of other communities should come back. It sounded good news. We shock hands. We asked them to transport food to Kapsabet. They agreed and used their own vehicles. But the food never arrived. The malitia who were escorting the food we beaten and vehicles destroyed. The fact that you negotiate with one malitia group, remember the next and several others groups have their own policy. It is like you need visa to cross several of them. We have about 130 Kisii students and workers stranded at police station but cant leave for home. I know of Mr Obuchi whose wife is pregnant! I know of Pr Elijah Njagi and wife, Nyarangi anf wife, etcThey are sleeping in the grass and some in university bus parked at the police station. There is no food and I have never witnessed this.

As I write this email, have just been informed that a crowd came to university gate 15 min ago and demanded that we go out and join them in mass demonstration in the street. That means we shall be put on front line to meet the armed police. University PRO has negotiated with them and the crowd has now chained the university main gate, locked it and gone with the key. No vehicle an come in or go out. We pray that they dont come to force us out.

It is a nightmare to meet them. All of them are armed with matchets, rungus, arrows and bows. Some are drunk and others baying for blood. I have never seen this! We are fear frozen and prayer takes a new meaning! My home is 100 km from here but how do you pass those road blocks? We have Luo workers who want to get out but we hear the Kisii are grouping to fight Luos on Kisii/Luo border. We are boxed in. The road blocks are manned by not less than 500 people. The road block at Cheptrit has a thousand youth manning it. Police told us that Mosoriot has ten thousand worriers camping there. It is a no-go-zone.

We have no where to buy food, no calling cards available, no fuel! But we are finding a new meaning in prayer. I hope I can keep updating you of what is happening at Baraton. You can get from internet what could be happening in other parts like Eldoret, Kakamega and Kisumu.

I have to leave for a crisis meeting to try and avert any attack on the campus. I hope internet access will remain open so that I can keep updating you. I can see helicopter flying over us but seems to be passing again! American Embassy called yesterday for the sake of their citizens. This is a no-go-zone! We need to be evacuated from here! Promises of safety from some malitia groups cannot be trusted.You need to be here to feel it. Whatever the political arguement, it is a nightmare! The ground issue is not how you voted but ethnic affliation. Some are using it to settle personal scores! There were some leaflets from one group saying that all non-Nandis get ready to leave. Other Militia groups say no. But God still keeps us safe!

* Caesar Wamalika, University of Eastern Africa, Baraton/ELDORET, Kenya

News from Lamu, Kenya

Catherine Cutcher


Dearest friends and family,

We greet you with hopes for peace in the New Year. As you have probably heard,
there is much unrest in Kenya following the national elections on Dec. 27. We
are fine and are staying in Lamu, a small island off the northern coast of
Kenya, just south of Somalia. This is a very peaceful place and a small town
where everyone knows each other

We are not sure what news you are getting about Kenya right now, but we know
that many of you have been afraid for us. We thank you for your concern and
your prayers of peace and protection.

On Dec. 27, Kenyans went to the polls. The election itself was mostly peaceful
although some people complained that they could not vote and were told they were
not registered. There was some violence at some polling stations, and there were
some election workers who protested that they were not paid enough. Raila
himself went to vote in his district of Langata/Kibera, and found that his name
was not even printed on the ballot! Election observers from the European Union,
the U.S., and other countries were deployed throughout the country, and they
have reported widespread problems with the way the election was conducted and
how the votes were counted.

It appears that the presidential election may have been rigged, since it took almost four days for the election results to be counted and declared. The elections had been decentralized with individual polling stations in charge of counting the votes from their constituencies. Although the votes were counted locally, they were then sent to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) in Nairobi, where the Electoral Commission of Kenya was meeting.

As a result, there has been violence, looting, and killing in some parts of Kenya – especially in the Western Province near Kisumu and around Nairobi and Mombasa. These are large cities and the violence has mostly been centered around the cities. We have been communicating with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and with friends in the cities who have reported widespread fighting, killing, rapes, looting and burning of stores and houses. The worst situation was a church that was burned with dozens of women and children trapped inside who were seeking refuge. There have been over 300 reported deaths so far, and over 150,000 internally displaced refugees.

On Jan. 2, we heard that Nairobi and Mombasa had cooled down, and that the General Service Unit (GSU military police) and other police were heavily deployed throughout the cities. Shops had opened again in the cities and it seemed that things were returning to normal. However, Raila called for one million people to come to an ODM rally to be held at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, the large central park next to downtown, on Jan. 3 (today). Kibaki banned the rally and called for heavy police deployment throughout the city. This morning we have heard that the rally is taking place and a large crowd is moving from Uhuru Park to Kibera and Langata, Raila’s home constituency. Police have been deployed heavily throughout the city. Kibera is the largest slum outside of Nairobi and has been the center of much of the violence so far. We are praying that the rally will be peaceful and that Raila will ask his supporters to protest without violence. However, the situation is very tense and it might escalate again after today’s rally.

Do not worry about us – we are safe here in Lamu and we will be careful about waiting until it is safe elsewhere before traveling from here. The only concern here is that we are very remote, and that the supplies to the island come from the other cities on buses and boats. Since there is an oil shortage and a ban on traveling in the cities, there are few supplies coming to the island now.

* Cat Cutcher is a PHD student at Ohio University currently in Kenya on a Fulbright scholarship. This is an edited version of the full letter.

Comment on special issue on Kenya electoral crisis

Obonyo Raphael


Thank you for your concern and for your asurance that you are with us in this very difficult moment in the history of our nation. I am fine, we are fine though affected in one way or the other.

A country we once loved with a passion is now going up in flames in the post election violence. Hundreds ofd innocent lives have been lost, thousand injured and many more thousand have been internally displaced. Not to mention that porperties worth billions have have been vandalized and normal business operations interfered with. No one is spared in what has turned out to be teh nucleus of genocide. The most affected parts are the urban slums like korogocho (where I live) and the rural areas.

Our country is on fire and it is bleeding profusely because of the accusations that the incumbent president rigged the elections at the tallying centre. We are now paying heavily because some of our leaders disrespected justice and democracy. we have never been so divided as a country.

The uncertetinity grip our country is unbelievable. We live a day at time and every second counts. Gun shots, tear gas, razing of houses, massacres and all sorts of violences are slowly but steadily becoming teh norm. A country once regarded as an island of peace has become a turmoil of chaos.

Though the situation is quite appaling i still remain optimistic though cautiously. keep in touch and forever let us respect justice that is if we want peace. That is the greatest lesson we have learnt from the debacle...

We are at pains and we ask who will save our country?

Two more petitions

Ecoterra International Kenya


Dear Friends,

here are two petitions for you to sign:

Please endorse and then send them far and wide for others to do likewise.

African Union Monitor

AU Monitor Weekly Roundup

Issue 118, 2007


This week's AU Monitor brings you updates from the African Union, where Cuban Vice President Estaban Lazo Hernandez recently held discussions with Commissioner Konare. The two leaders agreed to improve political and socioeconomic links between the African Union and Cuba and enhance Cuban solidarity for the development of the African continent. Further, Nadia Ahmadou provides analysis about the African Union's commitment to human right's and governance on the continent, encouraging the commission to match its statements with action by creating " a consolidated and coherent institutional approach to the standards regarding human rights, as contained within its Constitutive Act".

A memorandum of understanding between the United Nations' Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and three European countries was signed recently. The new business plan for 2007-2009 will allocate $12 million to numerous gender, trade, and governance activities.

In regional news, the South African Development Community (SADC) reflects on 2007 and examines developments and shortcomings of its member states activities while also highlighting the various challenges to regional integration.

In peace and security news, the full deployment of peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region has been delayed further still. Of the issues contributing to the delay, amongst the largest is the Sudanese governments' insistence that only African troops be deployed to the region, asking that the UN and other international structures provide control and command support.

Lastly, the final communiqué from the 42nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is now available.

Refugees & forced migration

Round-up of articles from IRIN


KENYA: Fears rise over plight of displaced

Thousands of Kenyans displaced by post-election violence in the west of the country were taking refuge in police stations and church grounds with little or no access to humanitarian assistance four days into the worst unrest seen in the country since a 1982 failed coup.

Many have no homes to return to, because they were set on fire in the wave of violence that greeted the Election Commission of Kenya's announcement on 30 December that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had won the presidential poll three days earlier. Much of the violence was committed by civilians and generally targetted members of Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group and others that support him politically.
Full report

KENYA: Whispering in Swahili - good neighbours in the Rift Valley

Two families found themselves caught up in post election violence in Moi's Bridge, an area between Eldoret and Kitale in western Kenya's strife-hit Rift Valley Province. They told IRIN their stories.

The area is predominantly Kalenjin (an ethnic grouping including the Nandi, Marakwet, Pokot and others). But a significant Kikuyu population also lives there. According to the Kenya Red Cross Society and other sources, the violence in Rift Valley Province mainly pits members of the Kalenjin community against the Kikuyu, the tribe of controversially re-elected President Mwai Kibaki.

On the night of 29 December - the day before the election results were announced and promptly rejected by the opposition, the first attacks on Kikuyu houses and homesteads around Moi's Bridge began, according to residents of both ethnicities contacted by phone from Nairobi.
Full report

UGANDA-KENYA: Border town sets up camps for families displaced by poll violence

Johnstone Kimili still does not understand why it happened as he describes the violence in western Kenya that forced him to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda.

"I am a pastor and had gone to church that Sunday [30 December] morning. There was nothing that indicated violence would break out," he told IRIN at a makeshift camp in the Ugandan border town of Malaba.

"The trouble broke out immediately after the results of the presidential polls were announced; everything changed within 20 minutes," he said.

"Within minutes, my two shops had been burnt down and they took everything - even the doors and windows. I lost property worth 600,000 shillings [about US$9,000] - including the clothes I was wearing."
Full report

KENYA: Rape on the rise in post-election violence

Amid the violence that engulfed several residential areas of the Kenyan capital following the declaration of controversial results of the presidential elections, women in particular have been targetted, with at least one hospital reporting a rise in the number of rape victims seeking treatment.

The Nairobi Women's Hospital said it had on 31 December received 19 rape cases, almost double the daily average.

Violence erupted mostly in the slums of Nairobi and other areas soon after the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced that incumbent President Mwai Kibaki had won the poll, beating his opposition rival challenger Raila Odinga, who immediately rejected the result citing alleged rigging of the poll in Kibaki's favour. "It looked like it was mainly systematic gang rapes," said Sam Thenya, the chief executive officer of the hospital.
Full report

KENYA: Post-poll violence a 'national disaster', says Red Cross

Kenya is in the throes of a humanitarian "national disaster" amid post-election violence that has left scores dead, tens of thousands displaced beyond reach of immediate assistance and many more destined to be dependent on aid for several months to come, according to the Red Cross.

"The country has been riddled with insecurity over the last few days and there are many areas we cannot access," Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet told reporters in Nairobi on 1 January after conducting an assessment by helicopter to western parts of the country.

Video footage shot during this mission showed smoke billowing from homes and farms, crowds of displaced civilians seeking sanctuary in churches and police stations, and usually busy main arteries empty of traffic and dotted with roadblocks manned by gangs.
Full report

KENYA-UGANDA: Food aid reaches displaced families in border towns

Food relief for an estimated 2,000 Kenyan refugees who crossed the border into east Uganda when they fled post election violence has started to arrive, government officials said.

Musa Ecweru, a Ugandan minister in charge of refugees and disaster preparedness, told IRIN that an estimated two tonnes of maize meal and about 600 kilograms of beans were delivered on 4 January to the refugees at the make-shift reception centres set up in the compounds of St Jude and Koitangiro primary schools along the border.

He said: "We are using the two primary schools in Busia and Malaba as we assess the situation and determine whether we have to move them further inland as required by international law."
Full report

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