News 2008


Uneasy Peace

Politicians in Kenya reach compromise.

The Harvard Independent

By Rachael Becker

06. March 2008

As post-election violence in Kenya continues to worsen, talks between the ruling Party of National Unity (PNU) and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) finally resulted in a power-sharing deal after former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan met with both groups separately.

The parties signed the joint declaration live on Kenyan television in hopes of ending two months of bloodshed. Since the disputed December 27 election, 1,500 Kenyans have died and another 300,000 have been displaced.

ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga was placed in the newly created post of prime minister and accorded the power to help organize and oversee the government alongside President Mwai Kibaki.

In an e-mail to the Independent, Assistant Professor of African and American Studies Nahomi Ichino expressed her skepticism about the effectiveness of the new position: “The post of prime minister has somewhat loosely defined powers, and that leaves lots of room for conflict with the president over jurisdiction.”

Each party blamed the other for rigging the election and inciting the massive wave of violence that has rocked this once stable central African country. According to official counts, the incumbent, President Kibaki, defeated opposition leader Odinga by a slim margin of 230,000 votes out 8.9 million votes cast.

The PNU and ODM are roughly affiliated with the Kikuyu and Luo tribes, respectively, and the controversy has pitted the two ethnic groups against each other, stirring up racial tensions that have rarely been a major problem in the past.

While the PNU accused Odinga of tampering with the election in his native province of Nyanza, the most obvious problems were observed in Central Province, the native province of President Kibaki. According to the European Observer Mission, the results from three districts within the province were blatantly falsified.

In the city of Kerugoyo, there were 10,000 more votes than voters, and in the neighboring cities of Lari and Kandora, the results forms had been noticeably changed by the time the election commission received them.

Amid the political turmoil, violence has been a problem across the nation. Both organized crime and more opportunistic crime have risen, straining the limited resources of the country’s infrastructure.

Three major militias, including one the government has been fighting for over 20 years, have wreaked havoc since late December.

The extremist religious group Mungiki, banned by the Kenyan government, has reemerged, recruiting Kikuyu teens from urban slums in an attempt to reestablish ancient tribal traditions and seek revenge on members of other tribes suspected of killing Kikuyu people.

Largely in response to the lack of police protection against the Mungiki, some members of the Luo tribe have formed a group called the Taliban (no relation to the Afghani regime) to prevent the killing and eviction of their people by the rival gang.

A third gang, the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF), gained control of the Mount Elgon District in the western part of the country. The SLDF is composed of members of the small Sabaot tribe, and — unlike the other two gangs — operates only in one rural area. The group is believed to be responsible for over 400 deaths in various raids on villages. They have also set up their own rival government in the district, even imposing a tax on residents.

In slums outside Nairobi, where 50 percent of the population is unemployed, robbery has become a problem; the poorer are robbing the poor in order to survive. People in the Rift Valley have been battling over good farming land, with violence occurring along racial lines as police activity has diminished.

An increased rate of sexual assault has also been observed. According to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, the number of women seeking treatment for sexual assault and rape increased by over 50 percent during the month of January. The hospital believes that the number of women actually violated since the election is much larger, since only a small percentage of women seek medical treatment after an attack.

Displaced women, who along with children make up 85 percent of the total displaced population, are often without their husbands or other male family members for protection, making them easy targets for roving groups of men, and they are often victims of violent gang rapes.

Violence is expected to ease in response to the new political agreement, but the turmoil will have far-reaching effects on the future of Kenya’s political and economic situation.

Because of disruption in agricultural production and displacement of workers, inflation in the country has skyrocketed. Prices for some foodstuffs, such as potatoes, have risen as much as 70 percent. This should ease as transport routes clear, but continued worker displacement will affect prices.

Long-term economic predictions include a loss of $3.9 billion and 500,000 jobs by 2009, according to a group of 300 Kenyan heads of industry.

Ichino expressed some doubt as to whether a mix of government and foreign aid could stall or even stop this process. “Foreign partners could provide funds for the government to spend money quickly (expansionist fiscal policy, like the stimulus package here), but the business of foreign aid is very tricky,” she wrote. “There is a long history of failed programs all over the continent.”

Tourism, once Kenya’s top source of foreign income, is also expected to take a heavy hit. 20,000 Kenyans directly employed by the tourist industry, which brought in $1 billion last year, have already lost their jobs as a result of dramatic decline in the tourist trade. Associated industries, such as taxi companies and restaurants, are also suffering and are expected to incur heavy economic losses.

Along with the new post of prime minister, the PNU and the ODM will each choose a deputy minister. Ministers can only be removed by a parliamentary vote and are autonomous from the president.

The deal was met with relief both in Kenya and abroad, but distrust still threatens to throw the country back into chaos. The new agreement has yielded more power to the opposition than President Kibaki originally said he would agree to and both parties are suspicious of the each other.

Ichino expressed her own doubt about the stability of the new coalition, writing, “I’m somewhat skeptical … because these are all old politicians who have a long history of having worked together and fallen out together before.”

However, Professor Ichino also stated that this election could serve as a warning to future politicians, both in Kenya and in other counties. “The Kenya case showed other presidents that electoral processes that look compromised might be riskier than they thought,” she wrote.