A non-partisan journal of the left.

The Truth About Kenya

Fri 1st Feb 2008

Enter Kofi Annan and Graca Machel. Exit: decades of long-held belief systems that gave the ODM party in Kenya a reason to riot. And keep rioting. Raila Odinga versus Mwai Kibaki, in a showdown that for the time being, does not seem to have an end. Some are questioning whether Kofi Annan can really be the difference. After all, if Desmond Tutu could not get Odinga and Kibaki to speak to each other, what hope does Annan have?

At least Odinga and Kibaki have now met and even participated in the aprés-talk-press-hand- shake-photo-opp, however with Kibaki making statements like, "As I pointed out after being sworn in as your duly elected President of Kenya," and Odinga's party members making statements like, "It is ...clear to the country that Mr Kibaki has no intention ... of embarking on this journey with the people of Kenya," can real progress be made? It would seem that Kenya needs its own road map to peace, a lasting peace that creates the kind of prosperity it had seen in days prior to the election last December.

Stating the blatantly obvious, Annan's experience as Secretary General of the United Nations has allowed him great negotiation practice. This will be very useful in a "he-said-he-said" game with each party not willing to end what truly is an exercise in ethnic cleansing, until someone says, "you are right, I was wrong, you win."

So what happens now? Ideally, any democratic government would allow a fair and free election with a proper recount. Nonetheless, what has been happening in Kenya since late December can only be a sign that Kenya is not ready for "real" democracy. After the events of the past two months, there can never really be a free and fair election if people are willing to kill, with alarming alacrity, because others voted for the "shenzi" ("stupid one"). If that is the case, then democracy can really hold no true hope of a lasting reprieve in Kenya.

The truth about Kenya is this: its national papers made an unexpected and remarkable appeal to its readers by issuing a joint print calling for an end to violence. Mediators were called simply to get Odinga and Kibaki in to the same room. Hundreds of thousands are displaced or homeless due to burning, looting and pillaging. Endless appeals by aid agencies and governments alike to stop the violence persist daily. Kofi Annan's every movement is widely broadcast. Open borders with Tanzania and Uganda to stem the tide of refugees in a strange reversal of fortune. More people are starving than before the strategically located shops were burned to the ground or vandalised beyond repair. Ethnic purging on a scale unseen since the Mau-Mau rebellion of the 1950's. Kenyans are simply not thinking. Burning people alive and hacking others to death for the right to say "This is our country!"? Kenya has not belonged to the Kenyans since imperialists tried to remake it in to a colony of slaves or fight off the advances of Arab and Indian merchants converting others to Islam and Hinduism. And even after independence from Britain, rampant levels of corruption have lead to foreigners calling Nairobi "nai-robbery." If corruption is so mainstream that it is remarkably visible to outsiders, then Kenya does not even stand a chance of movement towards becoming a fair and democratic nation. The truth about Kenya is that there can be no peace when the government has alienated its people for so long that discontent is no longer rational; it becomes rage.

The road to repair is going to be an incredibly long one, necessarily filled with extraordinary acts of forgiveness. Whether a power-sharing deal is brokered or one leader hands power over to the other, Kenya will have much explaining to do. Especially Odinga, upon whom new light is being shed regarding having had advanced knowledge of the violence which may have been encouraged by certain members of the ODM. For now at least, there was a hand-shake. And a smile or two. This is not to undermine the extreme ethnic violence and bloodshed facilitated by the police forces in Kenya. Rather to bring hope to what seems a hopeless situation.

Three options have been tabled by Odinga: The first is for Kibaki to resign and hand over power to Odinga. The second is to hold another election, free and fair. Lastly, for Odinga and Kibaki to share power and then hold an election at some point in the near future. Odinga, by virtue of having "won" the election must stand his ground. However, Kibaki has been officially sworn in. Laws are laws even in a lawless society. Kenya still has a judiciary; that judiciary must not dispense with its purpose while it watches its country deteriorate into an ethnic genocide. Whatever the outcome, one thing has become abundantly clear: the crisis in Kenya is not about who won the election; it is about deep-seated tribal hatred and long dormant anger and frustration. Let us hope that this time, should a country such as Kenya escalate in to a regime of ethnic cleansing, the world does not sit idly by and watch only to make a documentary about it ten years later and say "we should have done something...."
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