News 2008


No return to era of assassinations

03. Feb. 2008

THE MURDER OF TWO MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT in a span of three days has raised questions about whether Kenya has really outgrown the culture of assassinations that were a common feature of political life from Independence till the early 1990s? The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) — whose members Mugabe Were and David Kimutai Too were shot dead — have claimed that the killings were political assassinations, while the Kenyan police hold a different view.

While the Kenya police are still carrying on with investigations of the two murders and have even made statement as to the possible motives, the fact that two politicians belonging to one party were murdered in a span of three days was inevitably going to be seen in political terms.

The killings may well be coincidence, but they came at a time when the country is politically charged and when the international focus is on Kenya. The truth is that these two murders have done great damage to the image of the country, internationally.

In the run-up to the elections, various opposition politicians, including Raila Odinga, had expressed fears for their lives on many occasions, but these statements were generally dismissed by both the police and the public on the premise that Kenya had made major strides in democratic governance and would never revert to the dark days of political assassinations.

But nobody is now sure whether Kenya has indeed moved beyond the era when politicians perceived the gun as the only way to silence their opponents, both at the local and the national level. Since the historical 2002 election when Kenyans elected a popular president, followed by the successful 2005 referendum, Kenyans had assumed that they had developed their democratic institutions beyond reproach. Then the 2007 election, which was supposed to be an improvement on 2002, turned out to be a major fiasco.

Could Kenyans be burying their heads in the sand, believing that no politician can be assassinated in the 21st century?

THE REACTION TO THE OUTCOME OF THE December 27 election and the subsequent violence has shown that the Kenyan body politic is unsuspectedly fragile, and any slight provocation could result in uncontrolled violence. As things stand, it will take Kenya a long time to restore sanity following the killings and the evictions that have taken place since December 30, when the disputed results were announced.

It would be foolhardy to the police to dismiss the allegations of political assassinations offhand, only to regret it later. Already, ODM is brandishing a “hit list” that includes eight of their members, among them the latest victim, David Kimutai Too.

While this may well be a ploy by the ODM to make political capital out of the two murders, at the same time they are locked in a delicate mediation with President Mwai Kibaki over the disputed election results. The police must thus take these allegations seriously because if they come to pass, Kenya will be plunged into political chaos from which it will be difficult to recover.

Kenya is fortunate in that there have been no assassinations for the past 18 years, ever since the murder of former foreign minister Robert Ouko. On the other hand, none of the political murders since Independence in 1963 has been conclusively solved.

Such kind of scenario could encourage those who want to eliminate their opponents to act with impunity, as well as giving credence to those who want to cry wolf for political gain.

It now prudent for the police and other security agencies to ensure that talk of political assassination does not arise in the future, by providing adequate security to the politicians.