Violence still threatens after
Kenyan peace deal
By Ann Talbot
12 March 2008
President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and opposition leader Raila Odinga
signed a power-sharing agreement brokered by former United Nations
General Secretary Kofi Annan on February 28. Both parties to the
agreement expressed the hope that it would bring an end to two
months of intertribal violence and state repression that have
claimed at least 1,500 lives.
However, at least 19 people have been killed since the deal was
signed, and the figure is expected to rise. Many bodies are
thought to be lying uncollected because further clashes are feared.
Violence has continued in the Rift Valley area. Further ethnic
cleansing was reported in Narok and Kericho. More people flocked
to the camp for displaced persons at Naivasha, where approximately
16,000 people are already sheltering from earlier violence.
Official figures estimate that some 4,600 people have fled from
the district of Laikipia in the Rift Valley after four days in
which houses were torched.
As the official opening of the Kenyan parliament got under way, it
was still not clear how the power-sharing agreement would work.
Rival militias are said to be arming themselves in readiness for
The US government has retained its travel warnings for Kenya. “We
are yet to lift it. The advisory still stands. When we lift them,
it will be made public,” Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said at
the annual dinner of the Kenya Law Society.
Odinga, who is to become the first prime minister in Kenya’s
history, joined President Kibaki in a display of unity at the
Karen Golf and Country Club, where they distributed the prizes in
the Tusker Kenya Open Golf Championships. They used the
opportunity to allay the fears of investors. “It required me and
Kibaki to sort out the Kenyan poll problem,” Odinga said. “Kenya
is safe for tourists to come.”
“As ambassadors of goodwill, I appeal to you to market Kenya in
your home countries,” Kibaki told the golfers, “not only as a
peaceful country, but also as a tourism and investment destination
Kibaki and Odinga are eager to reassure businessmen because
tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for Kenya. Kenya lost
US$6 million as a result of the cancellation of conferences.
Standard and Poor’s gave Kenya a B+ rating for investment last
year. When the post-election violence began, they put Kenya on
credit watch. Fitch, the rival ratings agency, expects a further
downgrading of Kenya’s status this year. This is a serious
situation because the government intended to carry out some major
privatisations and to become the first East African country to
launch a Eurobond.
It is still not clear how the power-sharing agreement will work.
The uncertainty gives ample scope for conflict between the
participants, which may spill over onto the streets.
The constitution must still be amended to create the post of prime
minister. Kenya has had an executive president since independence
in 1963. How the president’s powers will be shared with the prime
minister remains uncertain. Some commentators have suggested that
the president may control foreign affairs and the prime minister
domestic affairs, as in France.
On Thursday, parliament will begin the process of implementing the
deal with the National Accord and Reconciliation Act. It will be
the first of four bills intended to end the violence.
Kibaki and Odinga must begin to appoint a cabinet. It is thought
that Odinga will demand the posts of finance minister and justice
minister for his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Justice
Minister Martha Karua has been one of the fiercest defenders of
President Kibaki and led his Party of National Unity (PNU)
negotiating team in the talks that preceded the agreement. She
opposed the idea of a coalition up to the last minute. It was a
torrent of abuse from Karua that led Annan, now head of the Panel
of Eminent African Personalities, to suspend the talks at one
The post of finance minister, presently held by Amos Kimunya, may
be even more hotly contested since it holds enormous powers of
patronage. It will be a key post in relation to the corruption
scandals that have plagued the government of Kibaki. If Kibaki
loses the right to appoint his own man to finance, his political
power will have been considerably curtailed.
Currently, the two parties are almost balanced in parliament. But
five by-elections are due that may alter the situation. These
elections will become intense contests that may at any point
result in further violence.
Immense external pressure was put on Kibaki to accept the
agreement. He only agreed to power sharing when President Yoweri
Museveni of Uganda turned against him. At one point in the talks,
Museveni asked all Kibaki’s advisors to leave the room. The two
men were closeted together for three hours, after which Kibaki
emerged looking chastened, according to observers.
Museveni is said to have spoken just as bluntly to Odinga.
Uganda’s landlocked economy was suffering from the blockade on
trade to and from the port of Mombasa. How far Museveni’s threats
went is not known, but he has shown himself willing to intervene
militarily in other Africa countries before. There were rumours
that Ugandan troops had been seen in Kenya.
Pressure also came from Canada and Europe, with leading Kenyan
politicians threatened with travel bans and having their assets
seized. The fact that Switzerland came on board was important,
because many of the Kenyans have Swiss bank accounts where they
salt away their illicitly acquired wealth. The same threats hang
over any of Kenya’s political elite who attempt to disrupt the
Most important was the pressure brought to bear by the United
States. While President Bush was touring Africa, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice was in Kenya holding talks with Kibaki and
Odinga. “It simply isn’t going to be business as usual until this
crisis is resolved,” she said.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer
warned of targeted sanctions if the two parties failed to sign a
Kenya is not in a position to break its ties with the West because
its economy is so closely geared to markets in Europe and to North
American tourism. Whilst the growing influence of China and other
non-Western powers in Africa allowed Kibaki to hold out against
making a power-sharing agreement for some time, the West has
eventually been able to exert decisive pressure on Kenya’s
political elite and business class. This was especially true of
the newer layers of entrepreneurs who have moved into the digital
and financial sectors in recent years.
But the agreement does not address the underlying problems. Even
if the two main political parties wished to make power sharing
work, there are fundamental political, economic and social issues
that have still not been resolved.
Packing flowers for US$2 a day rates as a good job in Kenya, and
such jobs are hard to find. Many of Kenya’s predominantly young
population are unemployed or work sporadically in the unofficial
economy. Kenya’s 6 percent economic growth rate in recent years
has deepened the division between rich and poor. The majority of
the population have not shared in the boom.
Unemployment was estimated to stand at 40 percent even before the
post-election violence. Unemployed youth and students, who see
limited prospects for themselves despite their education, made up
the militias that terrorised many districts. Politicians from both
sides were able to hire them to drive out the supporters of their
rivals while keeping their own hands clean. Members of other
tribes or ethnic groups have become scapegoats for the economic
deprivation that so many suffer in Kenya.
Land remains a key issue, despite the flow of population into the
towns and the development of the economy because of the high
unemployment levels. It is often the only means of gaining a
certain measure of economic security.
In the Rift Valley, which has seen some of the worst violence,
British colonialism has left a legacy of inequitable land
distribution. This fertile area was part of the so-called White
Highlands where British colonial settlers seized the land of the
nomadic Maasai herders and the Kalenjin to establish vast estates.
After independence, the predominantly Kikuyu elite were able to
acquire most of this land and lay the basis for their continued
domination of Kenyan business and political life.
Local tribes that have been excluded from landholding in the Rift
Valley supported Odinga’s ODM in the election in the hope of
securing a redistribution of land. Even before the election, party
officials and local elders were planning a campaign of ethnic
violence to drive out the Kikuyu. Those who suffered were
comparatively poor farmers, rather than the wealthy absentee
The Kikuyu who settled in the Rift Valley had in many cases been
driven from their land by white colonial settlers. They do not
have a homeland to go back to as the pro-ODM Kalenjin militia
On its part, the Kenyan government appears to have turned to the
Mungiki, an illegal secret society that exacts tolls from minibus
taxis and levies protection money in urban slums. The BBC has
alleged that senior government figures met with leaders of the
Mungiki at an official presidential residence. The BBC claims that
sources inside the Mungiki have said that it was a renegade group
that met with the government. Eyewitnesses maintain Mungiki were
involved in attacking non-Kikuyus with machetes. A policeman told
the BBC that police on duty at roadblocks were told to allow
certain minibuses through, although they were filled with young
men who appeared to be armed.
A Kenyan government spokesman has declared that these allegations
are “preposterous.” Only last year, there was a police crackdown
on Mungiki operations. But Kenyan human rights groups and church
sources are convinced that Mungiki members were operating
alongside the police in some areas.
Politicians have turned to the Mungiki in the past. President Arap
Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta appealed to it the 2002 elections, and the
ODM turned to it during its 2005 campaign for a constitutional
As long as the question of social inequality is not addressed,
there will be the basis for political violence in Kenya. And the
power-sharing agreement offers no prospect of reducing the
disparity between rich and poor or providing jobs for the
For the politicians, the power-sharing agreement is just that—an
agreement to share power and the privileges that go with it, at
least for the time being. Odinga spoke about social inequality in
his election rhetoric and demanded change, but the main change he
is concerned with is securing wealth for himself and his
The ruling elite of all parties are incapable of resolving the
problems inherent in the legacy of colonialism. The fact that they
have had to turn in the present crisis to foreign powers
demonstrates that Kenya remains a semi-colonial country, whose
independence has always had a very limited character.
Bush may not have been able to personally visit Kenya as he had
originally intended to do, but, at a time when US power in Africa
is being seriously challenged by China, Kenya has found itself
being drawn even more tightly into the US orbit. The US is
determined to maintain its hold on this country, which is
strategically vital to its interests in East Africa and beyond.
The contending parties in Kenya may be reluctant to allow street
violence to reach the levels that it has in recent weeks because
they both want to maintain US support. But the agreement will only
ensure a temporary cessation in the conflict because the
underlying issues have not been resolved. They cannot be resolved
under the auspices of a colonial power that is engaged in an
explosive campaign of military expansionism. For the US
administration, this nation of 37 million people is no more than a
cog in its military and intelligence machine.