Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Major causes of the crisis: Analysis from Voice of America - Tues 2/12/2008

Some of Kenya’s leading intellectuals have formed the Concerned Writers Group to urge their countrymen to stop the violence and to educate Kenyans about what it says are the “real reasons” for the chaos. Read the three-part series from Voice of America here:

1 - Elitism and Poverty Drive Kenya Crisis
2 - Land Disputes Fuel Kenya Crisis
3 - Constitutional Void a Major Cause of Post Election Violence in Kenya

1 - Elitism and Poverty Drive Kenya Crisis

By Darren Taylor
12 February 2008

Taylor report - Download (MP3)
Taylor report - Listen (MP3)

Kenya continues to simmer with tension following the disputed December election. Since President Mwai Kibaki was controversially declared the victor over his rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, violence has claimed the lives of about a thousand Kenyans. Thousands more have been displaced to refugee camps and shelters as clashes between people of different ethnicities have erupted. Kibaki is from Kenya’s majority ethnic group, the Kikuyu, while Odinga is a Luo. Peace negotiations are underway, with power sharing seen by some as a possible solution. But former United Nations chief Kofi Annan says it’ll take at least a year for the broader issues fueling the tragedy to be resolved. In the first part of a series on the underlying causes of the crisis in Kenya, VOA’s Darren Taylor examines ethnicity as a key factor behind the chaos.

In a country where there are more than 40 different ethnic groups, the Kikuyu make up more than 20 per cent of the population of about 38 million. There’s long been ill-feeling in Kenya against the Kikuyu, because it is members of this ethnicity, who are close to President Kibaki, who are perceived to control the country’s economy.

In Kenya, this elite is known disparagingly as the “Mount Kenya Mafia” – after President Kibaki’s home area.

Two of the three presidents since independence have been Kikuyu, and analysts say former President Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin, was sympathetic to the Kikuyu because he realized he couldn’t survive without the backing of the country’s largest ethnic group.

In the post-election violence, most of the victims were Kikuyu, but revenge attacks by Kikuyu gangs have since claimed more lives.

It’s in the wake of this mayhem that some of Kenya’s leading wordsmiths have formed the Concerned Writers Group.

“We’ve been going around to the affected areas, trying to calm people, trying to restore a measure of sanity to the country,” says Muthoni Garland, author of several books and a nominee for Africa’s most prestigious literary award, The Caine Prize.

In their pre-election writings, Muthoni and her colleagues warned their fellow Kenyans against stoking the fires of ethnicity. But Garland says it was especially the politicians who refused to listen.

“Both Kibaki and Odinga have played people to win the election. Both sides were guilty of whipping up the hate speech, urging people to take on tribal positions, and to associate with those of their tribe in voting for a particular politician.”

Horrific scenes have flashed on international television screens. Luo and Kalenjin attacking Kikuyu, and vice versa.

Bodies hacked with machetes, terrified people burnt alive, people driven from their homes – simply because they belong to the same ethnic group as the president. But still many Kenyan intellectuals deny that ethnicity is at the heart of their country’s crisis.

Rasna Warah, a columnist for Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, says foreign correspondents have been “too quick” to describe what’s happening in Kenya as “pure ethnic cleansing…. They’ve ignored the socio-economic reasons underlying this tragedy.”

She points out that the main reason for the violence is the perceived “unfairness” of the polls – not because one ethnicity wants to seize power from another.

But Stan Gazemba, winner of Kenya’s premier writing Prize, The Kenyatta Award, says the reasons for the tension between Luo and Kikuyu are to be found in the “clouds of the past.”

He explains that Odinga’s father, Jaramogi, played a key role in empowering the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

“In exchange for the support of Jaramogi Odinga and the Luo, Kenyatta agreed to let Odinga lead the country after his rule. But this never happened. Instead, Kenyatta gave the presidency to Moi. Ever since then, the Luo have felt betrayed and marginalized,” says Gazemba.

In the build-up to the 2002 elections in Kenya, Kibaki, too, secured the support of Raila Odinga and the Luo, by means of a similar agreement.

“But, instead, Kibaki has brushed Raila aside. History has repeated itself,” Gazemba comments.

Again, the Luo of today feel scorned and betrayed.

But Warah insists that the Kenyan catastrophe “has more to do with the inequalities in the country, which are represented regionally – and therefore ethnically – and therefore have transformed into ethnic violence. The real reasons are economic and issues to do with disparities in income and opportunities.”

She says Kenya’s current constitution gives “enormous powers” to the president, to the extent that he can “basically decide who controls the country’s wealth.” Hence there’s a perception in Kenya that Kibaki is “doling out riches” to the Kikuyu at the expense of the country’s remaining ethnic groups.

“It cannot be ignored that Kibaki’s government has come to show a distinct favoring of Kikuyu interests – especially at the tail end of his regime. He’s made some terrible mistakes regarding this,” says Binyavanga Wainaina, a Caine Prize winner and founder of Kenya’s premier literary journal, Kwani.

However, Wainaina appeals for people to remember that the vast majority of Kikuyu who’ve been killed, maimed and displaced are “innocent and poor” and aren’t part of President Kibaki’s “Kikuyu elite.”

Warah agrees and says since Kenya got independence from Britain in 1963, most Kikuyu have suffered just as much as the country’s other ethnicities. They also live in slums; they too struggle to survive.

“Kenya is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Ten per cent of the country’s population controls nearly half of the country’s wealth,” Warah says.

Gazemba adds: “What we’re dealing with is also a class conflict between rich and poor. We have a certain clique of rich Kikuyu here who always play the tribal card whenever they feel like their interests are threatened. That’s where the ethnic element comes in.”

President Kibaki has always maintained that his administration is dedicated to improving the lives of all Kenyans, regardless of their ethnicity.

But Gazemba says the cost of living for all in Kenya has been steadily rising.

“Yet we have been bombarded by messages from the government that the economy is picking up, that people’s lives are improving. But the truth is that the economy has been improving for the wealthy, and not for the poor.”

Wainaina states that what’s really inflaming the unrest in Kenya is poverty, rather than ethnicity.

“I have so many people telling me the basic costs of flour, of sugar, of cooking oil have risen to a point that their salaries or whatever income they’re earning cannot meet their monthly needs.”

Warah, though, remains “immensely saddened” by some Kenyans’ eagerness to focus on the “surface differences” between them, instead of uniting in the face of their shared suffering.

“I don’t think most Kenyans wake up in the morning and say: ‘I’m a Kikuyu’ or ‘I’m a Luo.’ I think people wake up in the morning and say: ‘I have to pay school fees,’ or ‘I have to go to work,’ or ‘I don’t have money for rent.’ And if you look at all the communities that live in the slums of Nairobi for instance, they are extremely diverse – ethnically diverse. And people have co-existed for years, and have suddenly turned on each other because of a stupid election.”

Odinga and President Kibaki are reportedly close to reaching a power sharing agreement that may bring peace once again to Kenya. But Warah says even if this happens, she’ll continue to be haunted by one question: Why has neither leader “forcefully condemned” the brutal ethnic violence that has been committed in their names?

“Oh God, I wish I knew the answer to that,” she sighs. “The whole of Kenya is asking that question. And we still don’t know why. Perhaps it’s in their interests to have a trail of blood of blood behind them. I don’t know. It’s the million dollar question.”


2 - Land Disputes Fuel Kenya Crisis

By Darren Taylor
12 February 2008

Taylor report (MP3 1.54MB) - Download (MP3)
Taylor report (MP3 1.54MB) - Listen (MP3)

High-profile efforts to secure a lasting peace in Kenya are continuing. Conflict broke out after President Mwai Kibaki – of Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu – was declared the winner of December elections. Supporters of his rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo, then went on a rampage. Almost a thousand people have been killed and thousands displaced. Some of Kenya’s leading intellectuals have formed the Concerned Writers Group to urge their countrymen to stop the violence and to educate Kenyans about what it says are the “real reasons” for the chaos. In the second part of a series on the crisis in Kenya, VOA’s Darren Taylor focuses on land and colonialism as major causes of the unrest.

Rasna Warah, a columnist for Kenya’s leading Daily Nation newspaper, says land – or rather the lack thereof – is one of the primary reasons for the tragedy in her homeland.

“Kenyans associate a lot of value to land, to land ownership. There are spiritual reasons for it, there are ancestral reasons for it, and a sense of identity is very much linked to land. So land has taken on far more importance than it would in other countries, for instance – simply because it has so much emotional value,” Warah explains.

She says this is particularly true in the Rift Valley, an area that’s seen some of the worst brutality in recent weeks.

“The so-called indigenous ethnicities there were perhaps feeling that the foreigners, who were (perceived to be) the Kikuyu, were taking over the land that rightfully belonged to them.”

After Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963, the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, allowed members of his ethnic group, the Kikuyu, to settle in areas that had previously been home to other ethnic groups – like the Luo and Kalenjin.

Kenyatta, did this, says Binyavanga Wainaina – a winner of Africa’s most prestigious literary award, The Caine Prize, and founder of Kenya’s premier literary journal, Kwani – after taking possession of most of the prime land left behind by the British settlers and keeping it for himself and his allies.

Wainaina is at pains to point out that the majority of Kikuyu never received any property.

“There’s a case from the Kikuyu side that can say that the Kikuyu lost more land during colonialism.”

Warah explains: “In the process of giving (the land) back to the Kenyan people, it got appropriated by a certain clique, or a certain elite, the Kikuyu elite. It was not equally distributed among all the Kikuyu people. So in a way the Kikuyu, they don’t control all of their own land either.”

Kenyan author Muthoni Garland adds, “Over the years, the Kikuyu have been transplanted in other districts and regions of the country, simply because they were squatters in their own land. Because after independence, the Kikuyu elite, rather than the Mau Mau rebels, inherited the land left behind by the British. Therefore the Kikuyus have been transplanted to other districts such as the Rift Valley, where they are perceived to be aliens who were brought there.”

Stan Gazemba, a winner of Kenya’s top writing prize, The Kenyatta Award, is convinced that land is the “defining factor” of the country’s present-day troubles.

“In the past, there were a lot of secret dealings aimed at moving the Kikuyu, who were too crowded in central Kenya, to other parts of the country that had been vacated by the colonial settlers. And this has bred tremendous animosity –the fact that Kenyatta took the Kikuyu into the Rift Valley made the Kalenjin, who were the original inhabitants there, feel like their land had been taken away from them. And this aspect is emerging once again in the skirmishes that are happening. The Kalenjin are claiming that they are repossessing their stolen land.”

Warah is convinced that the roots of the present crisis are also to be found both in colonialism, and the Kibaki administration’s adoption of a “colonialist constitution” and its repeated rejection of a draft constitution that addresses issues such as land inequality.

The Kibaki government has repeatedly argued that Kenya needs more time to formulate an adequate constitution.

Wainaina says some blame for the current Kenyan tragedy must be laid at the door of colonialism, but he says this “with a caveat: The same tactics of divide and rule that were employed by the British colonialists to rule Kenya have been adopted by the present rulers. It’s become fixed in Kenyan minds that this is how a political structure is made. In Kenya now, a weird kind of feudalism exists, where a certain class has simply replaced the white colonialists, occupying the same land and frequenting the same places in society, with the same politics – with the same strategies even – with even a similar brutal police force and riot squads.”

But Garland is reluctant to place a lot of responsibility on colonialism for what’s happening in modern-day Kenya.

“I just think that 45 years after independence, colonialism is just too easy an excuse,” she says.

Garland agrees that the British did “terrible things” but says it’s time for Kenyans to “stop looking backwards,” and to start taking more responsibility for the “mess” they’re in.

“We, and not the British, should be in charge of our future,” she says.


3 - Constitutional Void a Major Cause of Post Election Violence in Kenya

By Darren Taylor
12 February 2008

Taylor report (1.77 MB) - Download (MP3)
Taylor report (1.77 MB) - Listen (MP3)

A group of leading Kenyan intellectuals says one of the major causes of the current crisis in their country is their government’s refusal to adopt a new constitution. Violence exploded in Kenya after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of elections held in late December. Supporters of his chief rival, Raila Odinga, accuse the president of “stealing” the election from Odinga. Efforts at ending the conflict are ongoing, but almost a thousand people have already died and thousands have been driven away from their homes. In the third part of a series on the situation in Kenya, VOA’s Darren Taylor focuses on the Kenyan leadership’s failure to embrace a democratic constitution as a key driver of the crisis.

“A massive part of the tragedy is Kenya’s failure to adopt a new constitution. The Kibaki government has really frustrated all efforts to adopt a draft document that seeks to give Kenyans more freedoms and more control over the country’s wealth and resources,” says Stan Gazemba, winner of the East African nation’s top literary prize, the Kenyatta Award.

“The biggest problem is not ethnic cleansing. The biggest problem is the failure of the constitution and the perceived failure of the state,” says Binyavanga Wainaina, winner of The Caine Prize for African Literature and the founder of Kenya’s Kwani literary journal.

Rasna Warah, a columnist for the country’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, says Kenyans are basically being governed by means of a “colonial” constitution.

“The constitution we have inherited, the laws that we have inherited, are colonial laws. The way the country’s resources have been distributed, the way justice is dispensed, the way our institutions are governed – are our colonial legacy. Nobody bothered changing the laws for more than 60 years. And now we’re paying the price of that.”

In 2002, as part of his campaign to be elected following the dictatorial rule of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi, President Kibaki promised his compatriots a new, more democratic constitution within 100 days of his taking office. Kenyans duly chose him to lead them but are still waiting for him to follow through on his pledge.

Consequently, says Warah, “we’re managing the country using laws that are archaic and irrelevant and not responsive to the new needs of Kenyans.”

President Kibaki has consistently argued that Kenya “needs more time” to agree on a revamped constitution. But at issue, say analysts, are the immense powers granted to the president in terms of the present constitution.

“The problem is that the president in this country is bestowed enormous powers,” says Warah.

“When you become president, it’s a sort of winner-takes-all situation. The enormous powers held by the presidency are the reasons why the presidency is so contentious, are the reasons why people want to be president. Because it allows you to use the resources of the country the way you see fit. There are no constitutional provisions to ensure that you don’t do that.”

The presidency is therefore seen as a route for the election victor – and by extension his ethnic group – to riches.

“This is why so many people in Kenya, and especially the Luo, are so angry about the elections fiasco. They expected that with an Odinga victory, more resources would come their way,” says Muthoni Garland, another of Kenya’s top authors.

“Because the presidency comes with so many discretionary powers, it’s assumed that the ethnicity of the president will determine which ethnic group benefits,” adds Warah.

“The institutions that would curtail excesses of the presidency don’t exist. So the fundamental problem is that the laws, the constitution and the institutions of this country do not ensure equity and justice.”

She says Kenya’s post-election calamity “would never have happened” had the country had a “just and fair” constitution in place.

“If the presidency had less powers, it wouldn’t be so threatening. It wouldn’t matter who was president, because the institutions (such as the judiciary) would be functioning, the laws would be just, the president would not be allowed to get away with deciding how public resources are going to be spent. There would be an equitable distribution of resources in law, and in the constitution. So that no matter who became president, everybody in the country would be taken care of,” Warah explains.

Wainaina says the Kibaki administration reneged on its promise to deliver a new constitution – simply because it knew it would restrict the president’s powers “severely” and they “feared an erosion of their wealth and political standing.”

But he describes as a “myth” that all Kikuyu voted along ethnic lines during the December election.

“(Kenyans of all ethnicities) knew the constitution was failing us. We knew the idea of having a president was merely an imperial being – similar to the whole idea of the governor of the colony, with power over life and death, above the law, able to shut down parliament when he wants. We voted against this; we voted in the hope of change,” Wainaina emphasizes.

He says most Kenyans want a constitution that “allows civil society to take more control, that reduces the president’s power and puts more control in the hands of the people themselves – like the judiciary and other organs – and installs checks and balances against the abuse of executive power.”

“We no longer want a godlike president,” Garland affirms.

She says having an all-powerful president has created a “sense of paranoia” in Kenya, “because when you’ve got someone who’s clearly ethnically partisan, then he can clearly abuse whatever powers he wants and really oppress groups he perceives to be opposed to him.”

This “poisoned atmosphere,” Garland says, characterized the run-up to the December polls, and erupted into open conflict after the disputed election results were announced.

Wainaina says: “A lot of the (political) games that have been played the last few weeks are trying to obscure the real problem: We’ve had constitutional failure. The constitution cannot carry this country anymore.”

Garland laments a “dearth of statesmanship” and “quality leadership” in her homeland.

“Our terrible constitution has allowed inferior people to dominate Kenyan politics. Kibaki’s greatest failure has been his inability – or refusal – to get us a new constitution. What we’re seeing now is really the results of that frustration.

All the inequalities that have always been there have become more glaring, because Kenyans are better educated, and also all the corruption that’s endemic in the very poor systems of government has created the situation that we’re in.”

But Gazemba is optmistic that in the future Kenya will embrace laws that improve the lives of all in the country.

“The idea (of a new constitution) is not going to go away. Because now the masses know that this thing needs to be reclaimed by the people. Our destiny can no longer continue to be held by one individual. The way it is at the moment – if the president sneezes, the entire country catches a cold. This has to end. Kenyans must be in greater control of their destinies.”

Gazemba’s convinced that Kenya’s post-election crisis has set the scene for his compatriots to again strive for a better constitution – one that puts faith in rule of law, rather than in an almighty president…whoever that leader eventually turns out to be.


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