Thursday, January 31, 2008


By Cernig

I confess to knowing next to nothing about what's going on in Kenya right now but I plan on changing that, starting today. I'm going to be doing a lot of reading.

As the African Union's commission chairman said today, Kenya used to be "the hope of a continent" - a third world nation bootstrapping it's way to success. Now it's a mess, with over 850 dead and a de facto civil war after contested elections. The AU commission chairman told a summit of African leaders:
"If Kenya burns, there will be nothing for tomorrow...Today, if you look at Kenya you see violence on the streets. We are even talking about ethnic cleansing. We are even talking about genocide. We cannot sit here with our hands folded."
I know a fair bit about Iraq and Afghanistan because both the US and UK are militarily involved there. I follow events on Iran, Syria, North Korea, China, Russia and others because both nations are involved in negotiations or might get militarily involved there. But I'm embarrassed as hells that an African success story can turn into a failed state almost overnight and I don't know enough to comment. Time to rectify my mistake.

Update The IPS' archive of recent reports on Kenya's chaos seems a good place to start. Especially this "Kenya’s Problem Goes Beyond Ethnicity and Elections":
There is more to Kenya’s post-election violence than a bungled vote count and so-called tribal rivalries. As protests degenerate into organised ethnic violence in Rift Valley towns and countryside, the root-cause of the unrest lies elsewhere.

"We must tackle the fundamental issues underlying the disturbances -- like equitable distribution of resources -- or else we will be back here again after three or four years," former U.N. chief Kofi Annan told journalists in Nairobi’s Serena Hotel Sunday, after talking to survivors of the violence which has claimed over 1,000 lives and displaced some 250,000 people since the December election.

Though Annan’s mediation to initiate a structured dialogue between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga is making progress -- Kibaki and Odinga shook one another’s hands last week and vowed to continue a dialogue to resolve the crisis -- the wave of violence has taken on its own dynamics.

Even if Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and Odinga, a Luo, were to make peace and reach a power-sharing deal down the line, the chronic economic and political root- causes of the tribal violence would not go away.

"Its characterisation as a tribal enmity is simplistic -- access to land, housing, and water are the real issues that appear in the guise of ethnicity and are triggered by political disputes," said a Danish aid worker who was part of an emergency assessment team in the Rift Valley. "There is an unmistakable class dimension to the turmoil in Kenyan society," the aid worker said, wishing to remain anonymous.

"Only one category of people had come out to protest against the electoral irregularities: the poorest of the poor, the jobless, and the landless. People from only one class are seen to be committing violence and registering resentment against poll cheating," says Millicent Ogutu, who works at a Nairobi-based media company.

In Nairobi, the only sites of trouble throughout the post-election spree of violence have been the slums of Kibera, Mathare, and other shantytowns. This pattern is visible also in other troubled regions, such as Kisumu in Odinga’s home province of Nyanza, and in the Rift Valley towns of Eldoret, Molo, Nakuru, and Naivasha.
It looks like Kenya's success was more akin to a swan's swmming - everything placid on the surface and a whole lot of undignified kicking going on underneath.

No comments: