Jan 21, 2008
Kenya has been shaken by anti-government riots following the presidential elections on December 27.
The president-dictator, Mwai Kibaki, in fact lost the elections. But he declared himself the winner, imposing a kind of coup. Like a match set to gunpowder, his announcement set off a wave of anger in the poor population of the shantytowns of the capital, Nairobi. The one who benefitted most was Raila Odinga, a former minister in Kibaki’s government. Odinga became the opposition candidate as head of the Orange Democratic Movement.
The revolt spread to villages in other provinces outside the capital. The population’s response to this massive fraud orchestrated by the government was street demonstrations, attacks on stores, and confrontations with the forces of “order.” Police repression killed at least 600 people and caused some 250,000 to flee their homes.
The Unity Party of Kibaki has ruled Kenya for decades. Those in the upper echelons of the regime control and divide the profits from the tourist industry, Kenya’s main, if not only, economic wealth. Corruption is everywhere, most notably at the top of the power structure.
Kibaki’s regime was finally discredited in the eyes of the population by two cases of corruption in which hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen from the Kenyan treasury. This scandal allowed the former minister Odinga to appear as the man for change in the eyes of the poor masses.
In 2006, the Kenyan population learned about millions of dollars spent on the purchase of luxury cars for those at the top of the regime. The sum spent could have paid for the education of 25,000 children for a dozen years! In Kenya, the population packed into the shantytowns of the large cities lives with NO water or electricity; these Kenyans living on a dollar a day have also confronted the daily upward spiral of prices on basic necessities.
The recent Kenyan elections, both presidential and legislative, were carried out in a very tense social and political climate, with the regime largely discredited. The electoral campaign itself led to 70 deaths as a result of confrontations between supporters and opponents of Kibaki. The legislative elections allowed the population to vote out some corrupt ministers. At least 20 ministers were voted out, replaced by the candidates of the opposition, who took over three-quarters of the seats that were up for election. The presidential election looked like it might turn into a rout for Kibaki. The partial results from 183 out of 210 districts gave the victory to Raila Odinga. Nonetheless, Kibaki dramatically proclaimed himself the winner.
To assure his election, Kibaki had his supporters stuff the ballot boxes. He ordered a total black-out on information, cutting off radio and television transmissions, and using the military to expel journalists from the conference center where they were covering the election results. He deployed massive forces of repression – the police, the presidential guard, the special forces and the regular armed forces, even prison guards – in order to damp down the revolt developing in the streets. The army fired live ammunition on the demonstrators in cities and towns, particularly in the slums that are known as bastions of opposition. The number of victims climbed from 300 to 600 – officially. But such numbers are certainly understated.
The press, the regime in power and even the opposition have presented the recent confrontations in Kenya as if they were a conflict of ethnicities: between the Luo, the ethnic group to which the opposition candidate Odinga belongs, and the Kikuyu ethnic group of President Kibaki. This explanation was offered after a massacre of dozens of villagers, burnt alive in a church by some Kikuyus. Certainly different political groupings have played on ethnic loyalties – and this has added to the conflict.
But such an explanation for events in Kenya means closing one’s eyes to reality.
The appearance of democracy, with a multi-party facade, was put in place in Kenya to attract foreign investors. The facade has crumbled under the firepower of the military and the police. To maintain themselves in power, such forces put an end to the electoral farce with a bloodbath.