News 2008


Kenya: will peace and democracy survive?


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 state.

Historical grievances

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.

'Sham democracies'

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 democracy universally.

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 coming years.