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Kenya in Turmoil
January 2, 2008 6:07 AM   Subscribe

In 2002 Daniel arap Moi, widely considered corrupt, was replaced as president by Mwai Kibaki, promising reform. Kibaki was up for re-election last Sunday. Alleged election counting fraud has lead to tribally based violence in Kenya - 300 people are dead in the last few days. Recent comments from the challenger seem to be threatening a deliberate increase in the level of violence.
posted by shothotbot (54 comments total)

 
Raila Odinga should just get their Supreme Court to appoint him. It seems to have worked out really well for us.
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:18 AM on January 2, 2008


Oh, god, this is terrible. Poor Africa, these ethnic rivalries just keep cropping up, fueled by power-hungry "leaders" and "rebels" and such, stoking up fear and hatred for their own nefarious ends. It's so terribly sad. And sadder still that a relatively stable country like Kenya is seeing this happen now.

This, like Rwanda and and other genocidal scenarios, always makes me wonder: what would Africa be like today, how would all these many distinct ethnic groups organize and relate to each other now, had it not been for the European powers' colonizations, and their leaving behind a patchwork of arbitrarily drawn nation-states? Of course we'll never know, but there's no doubt that many of Africa's current social problems stem from that history.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:25 AM on January 2, 2008


In December 2002, when Mwai Kibaki was first elected, I was living in Kenya. I spent the holidays out of the country in Zanzibar, partly out of concern that this very situation might erupt.

It didn't. The election results were clean-cut in favour of the opposition, and Moi - who, at his worst, was a tyrannical thug who tortured journalists, squandered billions, and drove his country into the dust - left without a fuss. (It was never fully explained why.) Mwai Kibaki, by contrast, seemed a courtly, peaceable old gentleman - the furthest thing from a thug you could imagine. (By contrast, Raila Odinga - the challenger in the current election - always had something of the autocrat about him.)

When I arrived back in Kenya, the country was in a state of jubilation. Moi had been in power since 1978; Kenyans my age had never known anyone else as their leader, and the excitement of change was intoxicating.

As we ground through a border checkpoint a few days into the new year, a man walking alongside the bus saw me leaning out the window. He looked up and yelled, "WHO IS THE PRESIDENT OF KENYA?"

"MWAI KIBAKI!" I yelled back. There were yells of assent from the crowd. The man grinned and flashed me the v-for-victory hand sign that the opposition had adopted in those days.

The news this week breaks my heart.
posted by bicyclefish at 6:28 AM on January 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


Mr. Zero, it ain't always all about Bush, so please restrain yourself.

Where is the UN. You'd think by now they'd have some sort of SWAT team flying 24/7/365 over these places...
posted by Gungho at 6:28 AM on January 2, 2008


Mr. Zero, it ain't always all about Bush, so please restrain yourself.

Sorry. I was being lazy and just went for the low-hanging fruit.
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:36 AM on January 2, 2008


In seeing this in the news I wondered: would less violent ethnic rivalry help this at all, diffuse tension in other ways? For example more football matches? In Kenya and other places where this happens are sports allegiances divided across ethnic lines or is it cross-ethnicity?
posted by XMLicious at 7:13 AM on January 2, 2008


The world seems to be rather hell bent, these days. Interesting times. South Africa is a bit weird just now, also, but maybe that won't erupt, although it might split the ANC party.
posted by Goofyy at 7:20 AM on January 2, 2008


In seeing this in the news I wondered: would less violent ethnic rivalry help this at all, diffuse tension in other ways? For example more football matches?

Oh come on.

The best way to quell this sort of thing, I think, is the Rule of Law, and a working civil society. As long as things are going well, or are at least stable these things stay quiet. Look at Iraq under Saddam, there was hardly any Sunni/Shiite violence, but once things became unstable people gravitated towards older tribal structures.

The same thing happened in Yugoslavia when that country fell apart. Old ethnic divisions flared right back up.

I think that as long as the modern, pluralistic society is able to provide the things people expect from society, it will work. When it fails, people will seek something else, try to figure out who their friends are and form 'alliances'.

That's my view anyway.
posted by delmoi at 7:25 AM on January 2, 2008


As Pat Buchanon observed in an article about the troubles in Pakistan...

What does democracy mean in a country where 60 percent of the people are illiterate and parties are fiefdoms of families and political instruments of religious radicals? As Burke reminded us, "It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."

Amongst the harmful legacies of colonialism on the African continent, the lingering belief that democracy produces good government in these nations appears to be one of the most harmful.
posted by three blind mice at 7:26 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh come on.

I wasn't proposing a solution, I was genuinely asking whether other outlets for inter-ethnic tension help reduce the incidence of violent ethnic conflict. Yeah, obviously the ideal situation is that there's a stable government in place that can prevent violence.
posted by XMLicious at 7:36 AM on January 2, 2008


Remember how the Greeks were a bunch of squabbling feuding city-states in antiquity, then they started having this shindig called the Olympics, then a few years later they took over the world to the point of invading India and Afghanistan? Do you see where I'm going with this?
posted by XMLicious at 7:45 AM on January 2, 2008


Do you see where I'm going with this?

Yes! Yes I do! You're saying Kenya is preparing to invade India and Afghanistan! That's exactly what you're saying, right?

I knew it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:00 AM on January 2, 2008


Resource Wars, part 34,513...

As long as Africa is resource rich and comparatively weak from a military standpoint, this is going to happen over and over again. Ironically, one of these countries acquiring nuclear weapons would create precisely the nightmare scenario that would finally force Europe and American to engage the continent seriously and with an eye to stability.

As three blind mice points out, democracy does not produce good government, it produces popular government. The U.S. for all it's cheerleading of democracy has succeeded because of all of the checks on democracy, the bizarre electoral process, varying degrees of "democracy" among the three branches, etc. And even then, the U.S. was no stranger to sporadic military uprisings that culminated in the civil war.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:03 AM on January 2, 2008


I've seen reports that the death toll now numbers in the thousands, others that its "only" around 300. Any Africa experts have a recommendation on reliable sites to check, or other resources to stay informed? Right now I'm mostly relying on the BBC, and I honestly have no idea how good their coverage is.

As far as democracy goes, its a good system but simply having elections isn't enough, you've got to have guarantees of rights, checks and balances, and all the rest or else you just get a popularly elected dictator.
posted by sotonohito at 8:05 AM on January 2, 2008


Remember how the Greeks were a bunch of squabbling feuding city-states in antiquity, then they started having this shindig called the Olympics, then a few years later they took over the world to the point of invading India and Afghanistan? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Maybe they could try Christianity, look what Europe accomplished with the Crusades.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:08 AM on January 2, 2008


I was genuinely asking whether other outlets for inter-ethnic tension help reduce the incidence of violent ethnic conflict. Yeah, obviously the ideal situation is that there's a stable government in place that can prevent violence.

This is where you go wrong: that there's a stable government. The very idea that "stable goverments" can democratically be formed within deeply divided and tribal African societies seems absurd. How many times does the world have to witness this same experiment before we can conclude that it doesn't work?
posted by three blind mice at 8:15 AM on January 2, 2008


Maybe they could try Christianity...

Uh, Mr_Zero, with all due respect, you're going for that low-hanging fruit again, plus, you should probably be aware that they've been "trying" Christianity for a while now...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:18 AM on January 2, 2008


TBM but what's the alternative? The steady stream of vile dictators hasn't done Africa much good either.

Breaking up the random nations and trying to establish new nations based on tribal territory? It sounds, well not good but perhaps less bad, but I don't see it as being all that practial.
posted by sotonohito at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2008


The very idea that "stable goverments" can democratically be formed within deeply divided and tribal African societies seems absurd. How many times does the world have to witness this same experiment before we can conclude that it doesn't work?

I agree, but is there an argument for saying that you will almost certainly not get a stable government, but even an unstable government that exists peacefully for a while is better than [insert alternative form of government here] or chaos? Even if early democracies do no more than give local politicians and power players another playing table, another set of rules to negotiate by, it can be useful to have politicians using democratic means rather than alternative less pleasant means to conduct their business.
posted by YouRebelScum at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2008


U.S. for all it's cheerleading of democracy has succeeded because of all of the checks on democracy, the bizarre electoral process, varying degrees of "democracy" among the three branches, etc. And even then, the U.S. was no stranger to sporadic military uprisings that culminated in the civil war

It's more than that Pastabagel. Alexis de Toqueville observed that Americans were profoundly democratic by nature and "Democracy in America" was rooted in every home and town square. In short, the government of America was a reflection of American society.

This brings to mind the comment of an Iraqi friend who said "Democracy in Iraq? We don't even have democracy in our homes. The Iraqi family is a dictatorship. How can this work?"

I say that the corruption and imcompetence of democratically elected governments across the African sub-continent is a reflection of the society that votes them into power. It is the curse of democratic people to get the government they deserve.

Africans appear to need more than the government they deserve.
posted by three blind mice at 8:33 AM on January 2, 2008


TBM but what's the alternative? The steady stream of vile dictators hasn't done Africa much good either.

That's the only question on the final exam. I don't have an answer, but I do know that if you keep repeating an experiment and you get the same result contrary to theory, the theory is probably wrong.

The theory of good government through dictatorship has had enough failed experiments that we can discard it as wrong. But, by similar empirical evidence, the theory that democracy is the solution to Africa's problems of goverment ALSO appears wrong and it should be discarded to make room for something else.
posted by three blind mice at 8:44 AM on January 2, 2008


You're saying Kenya is preparing to invade India and Afghanistan! That's exactly what you're saying, right?

No! Don't you get it? Professional Soccer is preparing to invade India and Afghanistan! "Football" is just a code word that the European spies use.
posted by XMLicious at 9:04 AM on January 2, 2008


Is it just me, or doesn't anyone else think Mwai Kibaki sounds like "Wacky Backy" from the mouths of non-African newsreaders?

On a more serious note, my personal view is that literacy and the establishment of a functioning middle class are the keys to stability rather than necessarily resolution of ethnic divisions. Without that you've got a large, pliable and often disenfranchised group of people who'll back any old schmuck who promises to make their lives better (to the detriment of "the others").

That doesn't prevent a dictator coming to power (Hello Germany!) but it does help prevent disorganised chaos.

Zimbabwe had the literacy, but not the middle class (IIRC) and it's no coincidence that tyrants often purge the professional class when they come to power. Those dictators that don't purge the middle class only manage to retain its support when they have, or create an obvious enemy on which to focus (Hello Iraq!).

So there you go: for stability literacy and the middle class are critical but not sufficient. If you want democracy as well remove the casus belli, typically (although not always) a neighbouring country. The Yugoslavian case is interesting but still follows the pattern because "Yugoslavia" was essentially an artificial state.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:33 AM on January 2, 2008


Kenya isn't doomed, politically. Kibaki won his first term as president on promises of cleaning up corruption (which he has obviously gone back on) and the support of now-opposition leader Odinga. Everything looked peachy, but he went back on all his promises (he has overseen endemic corruption and reneged on power sharing agreements). Kenyans voted him and his cabinet out for it (something like 16 of his 20 cabinet ministers lost their seats in parlament), in favor of someone who would do what needs to be done.
(Someone, at least, who they *hope* will do what needs to be done. Odinga has a bit of a violent history himself... who knows what he would actually do once in power. This is the second election, though, where he has headed an ethnically diverse bloc of voters.)
Kenyans aren't fools; they voted better and they deserve better. Kibaki is trying to frustrate that vote (rather blatantly) and THAT is why the opposition is pissed.
posted by wilsona at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2008


C'mon. At some point we have to stop blaming the white man. Blaming European colonization is not going to solve a fucking thing. At some point these former colonies have to pick up the gauntlet and take responsibility for what is happening there. That is the only way thing are going to get solved.

And now democracy is the problem? Yeah. Tribal societies will work SO much better than democracies in the modern context. I mean tribes led by strongmen and chiefs never go to war with each other or anything. Please.

These wars are nothing new to the continent. The level of intensity and casualties are. One of the big problems is it's far too easy to inflame tribal and ethnic rivalries with modern propaganda and media and then far too easy to carry out slaughter with modern weapons. We need to stop people from selling them weapons.
posted by tkchrist at 10:08 AM on January 2, 2008


I love how it's tribalism when Africans do it , but "sectarian violence" when it happens in Ireland.
posted by wuwei at 10:11 AM on January 2, 2008


In Ireland, you've got people from one religious sect battling another, hence sectarian. In Kenya we're seeing people from various tribes battling each other, hence tribalism.
posted by cell divide at 10:17 AM on January 2, 2008


Aye, and there's a difference in what the participants themselves claim, not just the onlookers. In Ireland, the claim from those participating in the conflict is that their identity is keyed to religion (plus national issues). In Kenya, as far as I have read, claims of identity go chiefly to ethnicity rather than tribe (among a number of other claims, which depends on who the Kenyan is speaking to and the circumstances surrounding the discussion) - Kikuyu, Masai, whatever. So if it's the claim from the participants in the country, is the different terminology so stupid? Guess you could use factional dispute, but you do lose some content.
posted by YouRebelScum at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2008


It's a shame, there are no reliable, objective news outlets. They are all torture journals and war chronicles but none offer insight. Tkchrist I wish I had the eloquence and intellectual girth to take you apart. But I will say this. Your lazy point about "don't sell these people weapons" is utterly stupid.
posted by Student of Man at 10:33 AM on January 2, 2008


tkchrist Considering that most of those African nations didn't get out from under the colonial boot of Europe until the latter half of the 20th century, I'd argue that the colonial history of Africa can hardly be tossed out as one of the causes of the problem. There are, of course, other causes but it takes a country a long time to recover from colonial oppression even under the best circumstances, and none of the African nations have had anything resembling the best circumstances.

Hell, even today in some African nations the most valuable and productive land is *STILL* in the hands of an elite composed of the decendants of the European colonial powers. Don't tell me its not a factor kimosabe.

Its got nothing to do with blaming white people, and everything to do with blaiming colonial people. That the two sets almost completely overlap [1] is irrelivant, its the colonalism, not the whiteness that's important.

As far as weapons go, I'd rather the US forbade its arms manufacturers from selling to any foreign power. The arms dealers can cry me a river about their lost income; screw 'em.

[1] Hello Japan!
posted by sotonohito at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Agreed, the fact that he got all defensive and patronized Kenyans says something about him. And if one knows anything about how the world works ( which I'm sure you all do) you would easily deduce that arms dealing is integral to economics and trade, I mean, were not even talking about the black market.
posted by Student of Man at 11:09 AM on January 2, 2008


As long as Africa is resource rich and comparatively weak from a military standpoint, this is going to happen over and over again.

Kenya isn't particularly resource rich, though, and this isn't really a situation where postcolonial (nod to sotonohito) western interference has played a large part, I don't think. No one to my knowledge is backing one side against the other. The whole colonialism narrative, while true, isn't necessarily the dominant story in everything that happens in Africa.

I would also be careful about attributing this to "ethnic rivalry." That's the angle the western media always goes for, of course, and it's clearly a component here, but it's not the whole story.Yes, there is a longstanding rivalry between Kikuyu (Kibaki) and Luo (Odinga). The Brits expertly played them off against one another, and after Kenyatta came to power at independence, a lot of resentment began to gather against the Kikuyu, who were viewed as grasping hypercapitalists, whereas the Luo were viewed (and view themselves) as the intelligentsia. But this rivalry never took the form of ethnic hatred or violence--indeed, most Luos I know find the idea of ethnic violence appalling.

When Moi came to power, this dynamic chaged somewhat. Moi is a Kalenjin, a loose term for a group of peoples who are neither Kikuyu or Luo, and who have traditionally been relatively powerless. Moi came to power partly on the basis of not being Kikuyu, and worked hard to keep the country fragmented while he was in power so that the larger peoples wouldn't work together and take back control--which is precisely what happened in 2002 when a Luo-Kikuyu coalition brought Kibaki to power.

The point here is that ethnic politics is a major factor in Kenya, but it's not the same as ethnic hatred. And I'm not sure it's as big a factor now as press reports are making it out to be. Eldoret, where some of the worst violence has occurred, is in neither Luo or Kikuyu territory. I've heard reports of Luo-Kikuyu groups in Nairobi working together to resist the violence, and Kibera, the "slum" where the violence first exploded, is not predominantly Luo or Kikuyu. Certainly when I was there in the mid-90s people weren't wearing their ethnicity on their sleeves (the Rwanda genocide happened when I was there and everyone was sickened at the idea that people would be massacred just for being Tutsi).

I think this is more an economic explosion than an ethnic one. Slums like Kibera are mind-bogglingly big and poor, and there is a lot of resentment aimed at the "big men" who rule the country in a very ostentatious and corrupt way. And Kenya has been hit very hard by HIV, to the extent that a whole generation has come to adulthood in the cities essentially without parents. In many ways, it was an explosion waiting to happen.

Sorry to be so rambly. My main point is, I think, it's complicated, and in ways that are fundamentally local, and the standard stories of "tribalism" and colonialism that always get trotted out when something bad happens in Africa just aren't adequate.

(Oh, and please note I didn't call any of these peoples "tribes." They're not tribes.)
posted by rodii at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Your lazy point about "don't sell these people weapons" is utterly stupid. Yeah good thing you didn't take me apart. BTW. I said we "need to stop people from selling them weapons." A subtle but important difference from "stop selling Thesepeople" you so casually threw out there.

And perhaps you are not aware but Africa is awash in cheap weapons. And, according to the UN, it is one of the biggest problems in generating violence.

Student of Man, You want to use me as your whipping boy for everything wrong with Africa that you think the "west" doesn't get? Go ahead. But your anger is sorrowfully misplaced.

Don't tell me its not a factor kimosabe. Who said it's not "A" factor.

God damned you guys need to learn to read.

The point is what GOOD does it do on the ground. Tell me?

You want to deal with the LEGACY of colonialism. Great. But. It's Africa that has to deal with it. Not Europe. It's Africans with African solutions. They have to stop tolerating outside interference in their governments.

Yes Africa is still being exploited... China [1] in the African oil producing states for instance.

But the fact is it's Africans allowing and committing this type of intense corruption and violence now. We have to stop tip toeing around it and qualify every horrible event by tangentially talking about colonialism. Because frankly that smells of making excuses becuase we are afraid of some other truth here. And that truth is ultimately there are no excuses for these atrocities that Africans are comitting.

And most people, when they say "colonialism" they mean "white people" so let's not dance around that either. We use all sorts of code when talking about Africa like are afraid of dealing with some race angle. Well. We should not be afraid of dealing with race. White people are the ones who colonized Africa and they are have sewn the disastrous seeds for what is happening now. But the gauntlet is STILL Africa's.

So. You have to convince them. Africans. Appealing to the collective guilt of Europeans won't do anything. It won't. The people in Europe that matter - they don't care. And they never will.

Anyway. African leaders are the ones selling out thier people now.

As far as weapons go, I'd rather the US forbade its arms manufacturers from selling to any foreign power. The arms dealers can cry me a river about their lost income; screw 'em.

I agree. But the AK-47 is not made in the US. Most of the small arms in Africa are not from the US. They are from China and Russia. But any involvement in arms trafficking by the US should stop immediately.

[1] Hello Darfur.
posted by tkchrist at 11:34 AM on January 2, 2008


Sorry to be so rambly. My main point is, I think, it's complicated, and in ways that are fundamentally local, and the standard stories of "tribalism" and colonialism that always get trotted out when something bad happens in Africa just aren't adequate.

Exactly.
posted by tkchrist at 11:38 AM on January 2, 2008


my girlfriend moved to Nairobi about three weeks ago. she has, for the most part, not been allowed to leave her apartment and the downtown area of Nairobi is currently off limits. blog
posted by splyn at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been working for several years with some charitable organizations in the Eldoret region, which, as rodii noted, is where some of the worst violence has been taking place. Thousands of people have been fleeing their homes in fear and taking refuge in churches, schools, police compounds, etc. On Tuesday, a mob set fire to one of those churches, killing 35 of the people who were hiding inside. It's just horrible.

I recently got an email forward from one of the doctors at the Moi hospital in Eldoret, updating us on the situation there. I'll post some of it here in the interest of giving a human face and soul to the stories coming out of Kenya right now:

Dear Friends,

I find comfort as I take a moment amid the madness here to catch you
up a bit on what we see on the ground.

First, let me assure you that [we] are safe and fine. We
feel fortunate in getting the US community out of here for the time
being. Our British friends will fly out on a charter today if we can
find fuel for the plane.

....Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to run clinics since
there are no matatus [van-taxi] running. It took almost three hours
for one of our pharmacist to walk by foot to give us access to drugs.
Most staff are busy securing safety of loved ones and most patients
are either afraid or can't travel. We will have some fairly unique
decisions to make if we can't move supplies around safely and soon.

I took heart in an ER this morning when I no longer needed to step over a
body.

Eldoret is quiet today but all roads in and out remain blocked by
unpredictable gangs. Many residential areas of Eldoret are insecure
and many of our friends are simply scared to death. We are doing all
we can to help with the food and shelter needs of our Kenyan friends
seeking safety.

We can find food as of today since a few markets reopened. And we have
our farms. Can't get the food out to patients so will harvest food to
help feed our compound and the many refugee centers that have popped
up in churches and jails.

We have seen some things over the last few days that cannot be
described in this note. We have witnessed sad evidence that we as a
human family have a lot of growing yet to do. When you think a moment,
you realize the IU-Kenya Program is at its core symbolizes what is so
critically needed by Kenyan leadership... This program puts love and
compassion front and center. We are unable to stop what is now happening,
but we are rock solid in keeping to our core message.

Deep in our heart, [we] believe Kenya will find a way to
move back from the abyss now staring them in the face....

posted by bookish at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2008


Agreed, the fact that he got all defensive and patronized Kenyans says something about him.

What and who are you talking about? Says what about who?

If you are saying I was defensive of patronizing ANYBODY you are way off base and I think just looking for a fight where there isn't one.
posted by tkchrist at 12:20 PM on January 2, 2008


(Oh, and please note I didn't call any of these peoples "tribes." They're not tribes.)
posted by rodii at 2:29 PM on January 2

What are they?
posted by shothotbot at 12:36 PM on January 2, 2008


my girlfriend moved to Nairobi about three weeks ago. she has, for the most part, not been allowed to leave her apartment and the downtown area of Nairobi is currently off limits. blog
posted by splyn at 3:06 PM on January 2


Best of luck to your girlfirend, splyn. You must be worried sick. Her blog is an interesting read.
posted by shothotbot at 12:37 PM on January 2, 2008


What are they?

Good question. They're... "peoples" or "nations." The Luo, for instance, have several tribes within the larger Luo grouping, one of which was originally not even Luo. We don't have a good word for it, but many of these "peoples" are bigger than many nation-states.
posted by rodii at 2:50 PM on January 2, 2008


I hope your girlfriend is OK, splyn. What part of town is she in, do you know?

By the way, when I said ethnic hatred wasn't a big thing in Kenya, I lied. There's one group that has often been the object of violence--Indians. I haven't heard anything about how the Indian community is doing in all this. They're usually the first ones to feel it.
posted by rodii at 2:53 PM on January 2, 2008


thanx for the well wishes. She is doing well under the circumstances, and although i am not sure what part of town she is living in, she says that the violence is a few miles away from her apartment. no immediate danger, but her work did go over evacuation plans today.
posted by splyn at 3:04 PM on January 2, 2008


Kenya has nearly a lakh Gujaratis and they're worried.

Oh, and I forgot the whole dynastic succession aspect of this too. Once upon a time, Jomo Kenyatta was Kenya's first president and Oginga Odinga was the first vice president. Kenyatta and Odinga had a falling out and Odinga formed the first opposition party, KANU, along with Tom Mboya. Odinga eventually left KANU and founded yet another party, the KPU, and Mboya was assassinated. Eventually KANU triumphed under Moi and Odinga was on the outside of the party he created. Odinga was in and out of government and jail until his death in 1994, although he did found one more party, FORD (which immediately split into FORD-Asili and FORD-Kenya :). Finally all the non-KANU parties joined forces to beat Moi's candidate in 2002 and elect Kibaki.

So Kibaki is in many ways Odinga's political heir... but Raila Odinga is his son, and Kenyan politics is less like inter-tribal conflict and more like soap opera.
posted by rodii at 3:46 PM on January 2, 2008


I say that the corruption and imcompetence of democratically elected governments across the African sub-continent is a reflection of the society that votes them into power.

Africa is certainly the last ranked continent by almost any measure, but I really think statements like this ignore the major advances that have been made even in the last decade.
posted by dhartung at 7:12 PM on January 2, 2008


Coincidentally, I notice that Kenya has had very rapid population growth over the past decade. Its human population has grown about twice as quickly as the UN was projecting a few years ago; it's increased more than 15% just in the past five years. There is now something like 0.05 hectares of arable land per capita, which is low enough that one might reasonably assume it's getting difficult to feed everyone without substantial food imports. I hear on the radio that some of the violence is partly motivated by disputes about land ownership. Not that I know much about the situation, but that aspect of it looks like maybe it deserves some further investigation from those trying to understand this.
posted by sfenders at 6:41 AM on January 3, 2008


I haven't heard anything about how the Indian community is doing in all this. They're usually the first ones to feel it.

I know what you mean. There appears to be much resentment in Nyanza between the Indian community and the Luo. It's probably down to the fact that Indians own much of the land there and a good chunk of the business and trade.

This time last year, I was living just next to Nyalenda - one of the larger "slums" in Kisumu just the other side of the ring road. Naturally, we were gutted by the results after such a positive start. On my birthday - 28th December - Raila had a lead of over 1 million votes and most of the cabinet had lost their seats (and Moi's sons were failing to get elected). The BBC world service had said the result wasn't declared and that Kibaki still had a "mathematical possibility" of winning.

By the time I had shaken off my hangover on the 29th, somehow Kibaki won the election. My partenr and I knew this would lead to trouble...

We'd finally managed to track the majority of our Kenyan friends down by yesterday and they are all safe and sound. When I talked to them about the way the media here in the UK is attempting to draw parallels between Kenya right now and the build up to the genocide in Rwanda, at least two of them burst out laughing. I was glad to have cheered them up, because they're all feeling a bit grim right now.

Odinga was clearly denied his election vistory. I think everyone must know this by now.
posted by davehat at 10:56 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


one might reasonably assume it's getting difficult to feed everyone without substantial food imports.

This is a big problem and has been for while. Most of the country north of Mt. Kenya and east to the Somali border is desert or unproductive semi-desert or savanna, and a very long-term drought"--read desertification--has been making things worse. There is actually a fairly small amount of good arable land, and much of that is under tea or coffee, which is mostly for the export market. So yeah, the situation is precarious, and the cities in particular are highly dependent on the kind of stable economy that lets aid and imports flow. That's one scary thing about the current unrest. Kenya's had a strong economy, but if things go pear-shaped it's hard not to worry--not so much about another Rwanda, as davehat says, but about another Ethiopia. Hopefully the government will find it hard to duplicate the particular combination of evil and incompetence that Mengistu's Ethiopia displayed.

I hear on the radio that some of the violence is partly motivated by disputes about land ownership.

Land rights and land reform are one of those perennial hot buttons. During the colonial days British settlers appropriated (and still own!) a lot of the best land (the "White Highlands") and expelled many people. The Kikuyu were the hardest-hit, which is part of what propelled them to political activism, the Mau Mau, and eventually independence. But then the same thing happened all over again under Kenyatta, who resettled Kikuyu in non-Kikuyu lands and the cycle continued under Moi... and the displaced people move to places like Nairobi and Eldoret, forming giant slums, which are where this whole thing exploded. There's a lot going on here--environmental crisis, a looming food crisis, competition for land, kleptocracy, personal score-settling--all tangled up in a giant hairball of bad. :(
posted by rodii at 3:00 PM on January 3, 2008


(Misawa Dave. How do they like Barack Obama there in Luoland?)
posted by rodii at 3:05 PM on January 3, 2008


This just in from CNN.com: 'Genocide on a grand scale' in Kenya, opposition leader says.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 PM on January 3, 2008


And this from BBC, on the resort town of Mombassa: Kenyan coastal paradise smoulders.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:55 PM on January 3, 2008


I have a Kenyan friend here in Sydney who maintains a blog about cricket in Kenya. I spoke to him on New Year's Eve just as he and his wife were getting on a plane to head home for a visit. We haven't heard anything back yet. I'm hoping they're okay.
posted by web-goddess at 3:12 AM on January 4, 2008


Probably nobody's following this anymore, but here's a decent, slightly naive discussion of what this mess looked like from the Luo perspective a few months ago. Things played out a little differently that the writer hoped, but this is what the politics looked like back when it was just politics.

For more/yet another subtext, see majimbo. The more I think about this, the more it seems to be about land.
posted by rodii at 7:57 AM on January 7, 2008


Here is a Foreign Affairs article,Kenya after Moi , from 2004 which highlights the fragility of democracy there. And an update , Kenya's Great Rift, by the same author dated today. From the update:
The violence that has engulfed Kenya since the disputed December 27 election has deep historical roots and it will take more than a recount or the formation of a national unity government to resolve the crisis.
posted by shothotbot at 4:45 AM on January 9, 2008


My friend in Kenya has finally posted to his blog.
posted by web-goddess at 1:45 PM on January 19, 2008


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