Kenya: will peace and democracy
By Adam Hyde
Thu Mar 6, 2008
The power sharing agreement that has ushered in tentative peace
after more than two months of violence in Kenya has been dubbed by
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown a "triumph for peace and diplomacy."
Two big questions remain. First, has a sustainable peace been
secured or will the violence continue? Second, while it represents
a triumph for diplomacy, does the agreement also represent and
legitimise the failure of Kenyan democracy?
Kenya, since elections on December 27, 2007, has been engulfed in
a series of clashes that have spanned the majority of the
country's territory, resulting in the death of around 1,500
citizens. In what has been overwhelmingly labeled 'tribal conflict',
it has become increasingly confusing as to what the root causes of
the violence are.
On January 25 in the town of Naivasha, approximately 85km north of
Nairobi, violence broke out when a group of local matatu drivers
who had previously been forcibly removed from their land in the
Rift Valley, and supported by others harboring similar grievances,
staged attacks on local police officers. The officers were
apparently relatives of those who had carried out the evictions,
according to a local pastor. Thus, some of the election violence
has been opportunistic - it has provided a guise under which to
vent underlying grievances that have been festering within the
The root causes of the conflict are not ethnic, but are historical
grievances related to land and resource distribution.
The failure to address these grievances has now resulted in a
situation where violence is continuing, regardless of the
power-sharing agreement. Indeed, only days after the signing of
the agreement, designed specifically to bring peace, clashes over
land in the country's western region of Mount Elgon erupted,
resulting in the death of at least 12 people, including 6 children.
For peace to remain, the new coalition government, the creation of
which has been facilitated by former UN Secretary General, Kofi
Annan, must first draw clear lines of executive authority so that
there can be predictability in the relations between the two
strongmen, Mwai Kibaki, leader of the Party of National Unity and
Raila Odinga, leader of the Orange Democratic Movement.
Further, the new government must address, comprehensively, the
conflicts over land and resource distribution, which provide the
fuel inciting the ongoing aggression. It is intended that these
issues over land and resources will be carefully considered in new
legislation, which will bring the new government structure into
effect. If these grievances can be addressed, then a sustainable
peace may be achievable.
An issue of wider significance however is that of democracy. The
power-sharing agreement is a legitimate compromise reached by both
parties to secure peace, and to move forward with managing the
state. Thus, while it represents a success for diplomacy, it does
not represent a success for democracy, which would have required a
re-election or at least a recount to take place.
The events in Kenya highlight the West's tolerance for so called 'sham
democracies.' As highlighted in Human Rights Watch's World Report
2008, such 'sham democracies' are tolerated for purposes of
political expediency, but this tolerance is severely undermining
the credibility of the term itself, bringing into question the
West's commitment to facilitating and nurturing legitimate
While it is obviously not possible nor desirable to enforce
democracy upon other sovereign states, established democratic
nations should be making a sincere effort not to simply accept
such false democracies without so much as a whisper.
But it continues to happen. Again, over the last weekend, whilst
mildly criticising the electoral inconsistencies and fraudulent
events of the Russian elections, European states and the US
endeared on the new Russian regime its acknowledgement and support.
Countless examples can be offered.
Democracy is more than a tool for ensuring international markets
remain stable and open for international investors. Without real
democracy, the type we are not demanding, human rights and the
interests of a poor majority will continue to be sidelined, as
they have been, time and time again.
Peace cannot be sustainable in the long term where historical
grievances are not addressed. But while democracy in Kenya has
failed this time, hopefully the new coalition government can
address these grievances and democracy can be restored in the