Killing Democracy The Kenyan Way


In the continent of troubled politics, and attached misfortunes, Kenya had for long been the aphorism for stability and democracy. Much of this touted stability came from western endorsers since the country, under Kibaki’s time, had become one of the fastest growing regions of Africa. Hosting several UN agencies and multinationals, Kenya was a keen supporter of Bush’s war on terror. However, these hopes have been belied in the recent upheaval which has exposed the fissures that existed in the country. Kibaki replaced Daniel Arap Moi as the president of Kenya in 2002. The recent elections in December 2007 have been the cause of the ongoing bedlam. Kibaki has been accused of blatant rigging by the opposition leader Raila Odinga. The election commissioner, Samuel Kivuitu, has also admitted to the uncertainty of who actually has won the election. The results of the election were reported on 30th December, three days later than the decided date, which resulted in sharp criticism and hostility. The ensuing violence has claimed 300 lives and Kenya, a country known for accepting refugees, has witnessed migration of several thousands of its own population to adjoining states in the last one week.

Most opinion polls had given Odinga a clear majority but even so, Kibaki managed a thin victory, rousing accusations of doctoring the votes. International monitors, including those of the European Union have also expressed their reservations as regards the unbelievable ‘100%’ turnout that was officially reported in several regions. A more careful study of the situation shows that the divide is both political and social in nature. The major clashes have been between Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and Odinga’s Luo group and others associated to his Orange Democracy Movement (ODM). Kibaki is said to have indulged in blatant nepotism and most of the economic prosperity accrued to his own kinsmen, of the Kikuyu tribe, while he slowly and surely carved out a despotic role for himself. The country has rich ethnic divisions, containing over 40 tribes, with the Kikuyus being just 17% if the total population. Most of the towns have mixed inhabitants.

Kikuyu and Luo militias are currently brandishing the streets, looking for targets to lynch and murder. However, the divide is not just based on ethnic lines but also on economic disparity, the paradigmatic sever of the bourgeois and the proletariat in play. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have turned in $ 800 million annually, banking on the growth prospects of the country. Most of this money has been lost in corruption with several ministers accused of amassing millions of dollars. The ostensible 6-7% rate of growth has not seen any amelioration of poverty rates, and free education has been of little consequence for a people who are more worried about their survival in the face of dismal scarcity of resources. Kibaki has failed the people on many counts, and two out of every three Kenyans live in slums. There have been no signs of the promised greater employment programmes. Recently, the stalls on which they rely on for their food and supplies were removed to plant expensive flowerbeds, a move that caused immense discontent and resentment against the government.

Kenya is a young country and the three million adolescent voters that were added for these elections have evidently repudiated the political elites for their laxity and negligence in the governance of the country. It’s difficult to see how President Kibaki would manage the crisis in light of the above observations. Seething economic discontent, mixed with considerations of race and ethnicity, will prove a volatile problem to contain. The ODM holds the majority of seats in the parliament, adding to the difficulties. For now, one can prudently point out that unless the gap between the wealthy bourgeois, the ‘wabenzi’ as they are called in Kenya, and the desperately poor is not closed, Kenya will continue to boil for years to come. Rigging of votes is the only the visible face of the problem; the actual crisis lies in deeper, structural differences amongst the people. Political democracy has to be equaled by economic equality for the bloodshed to stop.

Rashmi Singh