Next for Kenya
Int. Herald Tribune
11. March 2008
A month ago, as killing, burning and looting swept through Kenya,
the chances of a peaceful solution looked remote, and many pundits
were predicting another Rwanda. Fortunately, the patience and
personality of Kofi Annan, combined with arm-twisting by the U.S.
and Europe, has resulted in a political deal. Now comes the hard
An accord between Kenya's political elites is a necessary first
step to national recovery, but it is not sufficient. Ordinary
Kenyans are worse off today than they were before the contested
elections. Despite Kenya's economic growth in the past several
years, few of the benefits have trickled down, and the country
that many foreigners know as an exotic safari destination is still
the third world. Life expectancy is 52 years, annual per capita
income is less than $1,300, and there's a 6 percent HIV prevalence
Although much has been made of the ethnic dimension of Kenya's
recent troubles, ascribing the violence to enmity between Kikuyus
and Luos misses the point.
Tribalism may be convenient shorthand for what ails Kenya, but the
real problem lies in a fierce competition for resources,
If Kenya is to recover from its bloodletting and begin healing, it
must tackle the issue of land access. As everywhere in Africa,
land is not mere real estate, but it is inextricably tied to
tradition, identity and prestige. Thanks initially to British
colonial policies, Kenya has what has one of the world's most
warped patterns of land distribution.
The post-colonial government of Jomo Kenyatta used land for its
own purposes, currying favor with wealthy supporters by allowing
them to acquire plantations at bargain prices, and wooing the poor
by encouraging them to settle outside their traditional areas.
This approach also was adopted by several of Kenyatta's successors.
Frighteningly, as Kenya's population continues to explode - it has
doubled since 1980 - there are millions of additional people who
have neither access to land nor the skills to find a job in the
Kenya is not the only place where economic inequity and social
unrest have set deep roots in the fertile soil of landlessness.
But its leaders now have the opportunity to galvanize both
domestic and international support to take on this most pressing
Chris Hennemeyer, is Washington Africa Regional Director for
International Foundation for Election Systems