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The Kenya Political Crisis: Diagnosis and Prognosis

Ghelawdewos Araia

March 20, 2008

Ever since the Kenya political crisis erupted following the December 27, 2007 electoral debacle, the major media outlets around the world have been portraying Kenya as ‘island of stability.’ There is no doubt that Kenya, relative to its neighbors, have enjoyed peace and stability but the latter have been exaggerated and mythologized. It is therefore imperative to first demystify the ‘island of stability’ analogy in order to better fathom the current crisis.

The current Kenya crisis is neither a sudden and spontaneous eruption nor has its beginnings with the Kibaki-Odinga power conflict. The original sin for the current crisis was actually impregnated during Daniel arap Moi presidency (1978-2002). Moi, a Kalenjin, who served as vice president under Jomo Kenyatta, assumed power when Kenyatta died. Moi held power for 24 long years and unfortunately his regime was one of the most corrupt regimes in Africa. In an effort to cling to power continuously, Moi employed divide-and-rule tactics and unleashed an attack on the Gikuyu by arming the Kalenjin tugs and other unemployed Kenyans and in due course tens of thousands of Gikuyu lost their lands to the marauding armed criminals and were forced out from their homelands simly to become homeless and jobless.

The Moi attack perpetrated against the Gikuyu was repeated in the 1992 and 1997 elections, but the world ignored the crisis and, wittingly or unwittingly, overlooked the regime’s ill-engineered policies and none of the criminal elements were brought before justice. In 1992, hundreds upon hundreds (the exact figure is unknown) of Gikuyu were killed and close to half a million were internally displaced and became refugees in their own country.

In 2002, Mwai Kibaki defeated Daniel arap Moi, but unlike the latter, Kibaki, a Gikuyu, did not seek revenge although he was determined to end the mono-party system and the predominance of the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU), the unchallenged sole party since independence in 1963. Kibaki himself was a member of KANU but in 1991 he left the party and formed his own democratic party and ultimately he founded the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). True to his party, unlike his predecessor, once Kibaki formed his government in 2002 he implemented a policy of inclusiveness in the government. Also under Kibaki, Kenya enjoyed a 6.1% GDP growth of the economy, which was a stagnant 0.6% growth under arap Moi.

Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga are neither rookies in government nor novice to politics. In the early 1960s, Mwai Kibaki had been at the forefront for Kenyan independence and was one of the first members of parliament when Kenya became independent in 1963. In the 1970s and 1980s he served as Finance Minister and as Vice President. Similarly, Raila Odinga was born to one of the most influential and powerful Kenyan leaders, Oginga Odinga who was the first vice president of Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta. Oginga Odinga, a Luo, was an author known for his celebrated book, Not Yet Uhuru. Raila Odinga was a member of parliament since 1992 and he served as Minister of Energy in 2001-2002 and as Minister of Roads, Public Works, and Housing from 2003 to 2005; his brother, Oburu Odinga is also currently a member of parliament. Both Odingas are prominent leaders of their party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

The current post-election crisis, therefore, is not only a manifestation of two contending parties, namely NARC of Kibaki and ODM of Odinga, but also between two very influential people who have been in power circles for too long. Moreover, the bloodletting conflict, the burning of Gikuyus alive in a church, and other random killings and clashes, are not necessarily spontaneous undertakings. They may have been prompted and precipitated and perhaps even incited by shadowy elements in the power circles, both from within and outside the government.

However, though the Kenyan conflict manifested ethnic strife, it is not a Rwanda-type ethnic cleansing genocidal politics. Contrary to what we have witnessed in Sudan, Somalia, and Rwanda, Kenyan politics for the most part was oriented by national unity beyond ethnic particularities. For instance, the Jomo Kenyatta-led Gikuyu Central Association was quickly transformed into the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) and two decades before the emergence of KANU, in 1921 one prominent Kenyan leader by the name Harry Thuku presided over a political organization named East African Association.

To be sure, in the mid-1940s and early 1950s a Gikuyu group called Anake a Forty (The 1940 Warriors) in an attempt to reclaim their lost lands, declared war on the colonial regime. In 1947, however, the rank-and-file of the Anake was joined by other ethnic groups such as Embu, Meru, and Kamba, and once KANU consolidated in the late 1940s and early 1950s, major ethnic groups like the Gikuyu, Luo, Luya, Kalenjin, and Kisu were rallied around the nationalist party and in unison they played a role in the Mau Mau movement.

The Mau Mau guerrilla-type operations took place around Mt. Kenya, Nakuru, Aberdares (Nyandura), and the Central Province districts. The English colonial forces (Royal Army and Air Force) that had initially underestimated the Mau Mau had begun to reckon with the African fighters especially in 1952 when the British sympathizer and supporter Chief Waruhiu was assassinated. In retaliation, the colonial government banned KANU and arrested prominent Mau Mau leaders including Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai, Kungú Karumba, Bildad Kaggia, and Achieng Aneko.

The above-mentioned leaders and others who later joined the struggle for independence had shared a vision of all-Kenya and pan-African agenda. Kenya at independence, therefore, far from ethnic politics had enjoyed a more comprehensive and inclusive politics, although as indicated above the arap Moi regime betrayed the unifying Kenyan politics and resorted rather to a more divisive agenda and with a propensity to ethnic hatred politics. It is this latter Machiavellian and sinister motive that ultimately gave rise to the present Kenyan crisis.

When I say ‘all-Kenya’ and/or ‘pan-African’, I am not implying that the Kenya national union has forged unity that has completely transcended ethnic differences. After all, Kenya like other African and Third World countries is a multi-national mosaic and there is no doubt that antagonism could prevail among the various ethnic groups (at least 40 of them) that make up Kenya but their differences or interests are not irreconcilable. The logic is obvious: we Africans must respect and tolerate our differences and emphasize our unity and commonality.

So much for diagnosis! What is to be done know? What should the Kenyan prognosis entail? The Kenyan prognosis, for that matter any political prognosis, must at least reflect a plausible scenario and an effective balancing act that can satisfy the two contending rivalries (Kibaki and Odinga) in power sharing.

Following the Kofi Anan brokerage, Kibaki and Odinga finally came to an agreement of quasi-coalition government in which Kibaki will continue his presidency and Odinga assumes the post of Prime Minister. Superficially, the agreement could signal a sound national reconciliation agenda, but deep down there could be some important questions, which may not get satisfactory answers at all.

The Raila Odinga political party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has demanded the formation of a powerful office of the prime minister and two additional posts of the deputy prime ministers. The ODM, at least initially, implied a Prime Minister-led government and a nominal or ceremonial post of the presidency, in which case Kibaki would become a figurehead of state only. This proposal, however, is not feasible given the Kibaki claim of legitimate power and also the present Kenyan government structure as stipulated in the constitution.

Unless otherwise the Kenyan constitution is completely revised and re-written, the people of Kenya cannot simply accept a sudden departure from the politics that they are familiar with. According to the present Kenyan constitution, the President [Kibaki] is head of state and government and is elected directly by the people for a five-year term limited to two terms. The president selects members of the cabinet from the National Assembly and he also appoints the governors of the respective districts (69 autonomous provincial districts) and members of the judiciary including the Chief Justice and High Court judges.

There is no doubt that that the president of Kenya is a powerful political figure and if at all the Odinga/ODM demands are going to be realized, political reforms must be undertaken as necessary prerequisites. I personally am of the opinion that Raila Odinga must be satisfied with the present deal and accept his prime minister office as stipulated in the constitution and then come up with a reform package and present it to the National Assembly. If the latter does not satisfy the demand of the ODM, another option and yet a peaceful political performance would be to demand a referendum or plebiscite conducted by the administrative regions or districts. This kind of peaceful transition will prevent ethnic strife and political instability and will enable Kenyans to master a more civil and constructive national political agenda.



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