Is Kenya on the Brink of Civil War?
by Sophia Gore Browne


Former U.N. Chief Kofi Anann is in Kenya to mediate a resolution between the offending President Mwai Kibaki, accused of robbing the presidency from the opposing candidate Raila Odinga, who was leading in the elections on the 27th December, when a sudden last surge of votes secured Kibaki’s Party of National Unity victory by a narrow margin of 232,000 votes out of 10 million.

“We saw gross and systematic abuse of human rights, of fellow citizens and it is essential that the facts be established and those responsible held to account,” Mr Anann said.

Despite pressure internationally for some form of political compromise and demands by Odinga for a re-election, Kibaki has refused to step down from his position causing what was once considered a stable democracy to disintegrate into violent rebellion.

Cheated, enraged supporters of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement have taken to the streets in a series of protests and outbreaks of violence aimed at Kibaki and his supporters but more significantly victimizing those who belong to the Kikuyu tribe.

Kibaki is Kikuyu and despite the fact ones ethnicity does not define who you vote for, the disputed election sparked a frenzy of violence that has re-ignited inter-tribal conflicts, over territory and rivalries from generations back. Raila Odinga is a member of the Luo tribe which make up10% of the 36 million population whilst the largest group out of Kenyas 40 different ethnic groups are 22% Kikuyu, considered the privileged dominant force in politics and commerce since Kenya became independent in 1963.

As a consequence, what began as a political struggle for democratic government is now reduced to more local forms of ‘tit for tat’ ethnic conflict.

“We have moved out to revenge the deaths of our brothers and sisters who have been killed, and nothing will stop us,” said Anthony Mwangi, in Naivasha.

“For every one Kikuyu killed, we shall avenge their killing with three.”

On Sunday January 27th at least nine more people were hacked to death in Naivasha, Western Kenya, when a mob of Kikuyu armed with panga (machetes) and rungus (wooden clubs) bows and arrows.

The week before a surge of violence erupted in Nakuru, a market town in the Rift Valley, where the population is 90% Kikuyu, many of whom were attacked and had to flee from their homes.

The increasing victims of violence now estimate at 750 dead and 250,000 displaced. People’s homes and churches have been burnt and cases of rape have more than doubled.

Kenyan police have not stabilized the situation, flaring up the fury of the opposition, who consider them to be acting under the command of Kibaki in power. They have been accused of allowing attacks on Odinga supporters and their presence at protests has only stirred up more violence as they let out gunshots over peoples heads. Police were alleged to have fired indiscriminately at unarmed protestors and employed “shoot to kill” tactics according to human rights activists.

In defense, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe insists officers are well aware of their loyalties to the people of Kenya in this political struggle and do not want to harm them.

“Some are drunk on alcohol and others are high on drugs and it is obvious they are innocent, so we are not using excessive force to disperse them,” he said.

Thirteen-year-old Salim Hamed from the Luo tribe was tragically shot by three stray bullets fired by police, sparking outrage which turned his funeral procession into a political rally against Kibaki with demands for the president to step down.

Ahmed Ibrahim Hussein, Salims father expresses fears that this sort of callous injustice can only fuel further aggressive retaliation,

“Such a thing will bring hate to both sides. If his excellency the president does not resign, I fear people will keep on dying.”

Fergal Keane reporting for the BBC claims the tribal issues are only a symptom and the root causes lie in the poverty-stricken streets of the slums like Kibera and Mathare in Nairobi where inter-tribal attacks and murders are rife with 50% unemployed, tens of thousands of aids orphans, a child mortality rate at least 5 times the national average and no reliable supply of water and electricity,

“This population has seen successive governments rob billions from the public purse in well-documented scandal.” He says.

Kenya has a stable history in contrast to other African countries but underlying factors reveal that it is not the success story we are all so keen to see, and that a growing GDP and previous democratic government does not necessarily translate to actual prosperity realized on the ground;

Sixty percent of Kenya’s population earns less than a dollar a day, Kenya has slipped 5 places in the 2005 Human development report, WHO surveys show dropping rates in life expectancy and Kenya is considered to be in the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world.

On top of these hardships the U.S. and U.K., Kenya’s biggest aid donors, have both declared that “it is not business as usual” with the Kenyan government until the election is validated. The E.U. is also on the threshold of cutting funds unless negotiations between the two opposed parties begin to co-operate.

These threats may only need to remain so if there is enough wisdom and self-interest amongst political leaders to prevent the worst scenario. Whilst it may seem unfair to cut back on aid when it will directly affect the blameless and helpless, these threats may force the government to listen and take more immediate action to stabilize an escalation towards inexorable violence.

These funds will be crucial to help citizens recover their lives and homes due to the huge numbers which have been destroyed.

Professor Richard Falk, who is teaching International Human Rights at UCSB, is concerned about the lack of inter-governmental will to help bring peace to the region and the condemnation of one side hindering efforts towards peaceful mediation, which are urgently necessary.

“The main governments of the U.S. don’t want to deploy another occupying peace-keeping force unless invited and although there are good reasons to doubt the claim of Kibaki’s election victory, there are good reasons to fear the consequences of all together repudiating his leadership. It is very important to press quickly for mediated compromise among these two contending leaders who used to work together. The longer this crisis is left unresolved the more likely a massive bloody civil war will break out which will be very hard to stop once it starts.”