kenya’s political history of turmoil

If it happens in Africa it must just be the primal instinct based in tribalism. The mass media has been covering the situation in Kenya as a near exclusive tribal and ethnic conflict without accounting for the history of Kenya’s political turmoil and where ethnicity is put into a colonial context. The crisis in Kenya is not solely ethnic and tribal. It is a crisis based on democracy and fueled by past divisions created by British colonial rule.

What we have seen recently is a devolution of ‘democratic’ elections into ethnic conflict. The Presidential incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was made President in previous elections as the opposition candidate was declared unable to run by the constitution. Moving into the most recent elections Kibaki did not have the majority support. However, in the end tallies of votes Kibaki came out ahead of the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. Odinga was running with his Orange Democratic Movement behind him. European Union observers declared Kibaki’s second term as stolen when the national vote counts came back different than the district vote counts, putting Kibaki as the winner. What we then saw was a devolution of a ‘stable democracy’ in to “tribal” conflict. But, before we can even begin to grasp what this means in Kenya we have to examine and understand Kenya’s history of colonial violence and created ethnic tension.

In 1888, the British took over the area known as Kenya as part of the 1885 Berlin Conference that divided the land area of Africa between the major European powers. The Germans formerly controlled the land. The colony known as British East Africa remained uninvolved in World War I. By the twentieth century 30,000 white British settlers began establishing themselves in the fertile highlands growing coffee and tea and commanding unjust political and economic power in the country. The highlands had traditionally been home to the Kikuyu people, who were forced off of their land and had to then seek jobs on their own former land under the employ of white settler farmers for a meager wage of newly imposed British currency. This injustice set off the start of the Mau-Mau rebellion lead by the Kikuyu people and the Land and Army Freedom movement in 1952. The country was placed under martial-rule. The British Long Rifles, the Home Guard (Kenyan soldiers), and the British army backed by Winston Churchill‘s command came together strongly against the movement and killed 42% of the rebel fighters. The capture and execution of Dedan Kimathi in 1956, the Mau Mau leader, essentially ended the rebellion. The Kikuyu rebellion was destroyed. The British consciously divided the Kikuyu and Luo people for fear that they would be too strong of a unifying force against their colonial empire. The Kenyan elites were able to take power with the election of the Kikuyu elite, Jomo Kenyatta.

The first elections in Kenya were in 1957. To the dismay of the British, the election was won by Kenyatta backed by his Kenya African National Union (KANU) party instead of the ‘moderate’ Africans the British had hoped for, but this was their own product of favoring the Kikuyu. Upon Kenyatta’s death Daniel arap-Moi took power, stepping up from his Vice Presidential role. His succession to president was strongly opposed by the Kikuyu elite, known as the Kiambu Mafia. He held power in uncontested single-party elections from 1978 until 2002. Moi dismissed political opponents and consolidated his power. He put down Kikuyu coup attempts through execution of coup leaders. Moi was central in the perpetuating Kenyatta’s single-party state, reflected in the constitution. In his 2002 and 2007 election wins, Moi exploited the mixed ethnic composition of Kenya and with a divided opposition of smaller tribes – Moi won. Moi represented an ethnic minority, the Kalenjin, that kept the Kikuyu out of power for many years. I am not sure if we are to assume the role of Moi as Vice President to Kenyatta was to appease the ethnic minority, but the Kikuyu’s role as a benefiting elite was lost with Moi’s succession.

Kenya’s 36 million people are divided among more than 40 ethnic groups, each with its own identity, cultural traditions and practices, and separate language. The main groups are Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), Kalenjin (12%) and Kamba (11%), according to government figures. Now we see the colonial policy of “divide and conquer” lives on. The tradition of corruption in Kenyan politics continues and Kikuyu is pitted against the various ethnic groups. However, this is a created ethnic conflict in a country where ethnicity and politics are conjoined. Kenyatta was a Kikuyu elite created by the British colonialism, Moi was essentially a dictator for 30 years, and Kibaki undemocratically stole power and now for a second time. Instead of a conflict rooted in tribalism this conflict, “suggests that the undemocratic historical trajectory that Kenya has been moving along was launched at the inception of British colonial rule more than a century ago.” What is most surprising is not that there is now an ethnic conflict in Kenya, but that it did not happen sooner.

Surprisingly, CNN acknowledged the roots of Kenya’s ethnic political troubles. Neither candidate in Kenya’s elections really represented the people or true democracy. Odinga’s (Luo) Orange Democratic Movement was supported by Luhya and he promised to appoint a Luhya deputy if elected. Kibaki’s government has had troubles and scandals dealing with corruption and graft since beginning in 2002. The BBC also gives a more accurate account of the conflict in Kenya. They suggest that the headlines talking of tribalism should better read: “Tribal differences in Kenya, normally accepted peacefully, are exploited by politicians hungry for power who can manipulate poverty-stricken population.” But no one wants to read that. The main stream media has decided to final cover Africa as a front page story only because it provides a striking headline. As Kikuyu flee, the news wants to make Kenya out to be another Rwanda, but I wouldn’t venture so far to say that it has become that terrible. This sentiment of violence influences writers at every level. One student writer can only focus on the violence in her article.

The US has condemned the violence in Kenya. “We condemn the violence that occurred in Kenya as its citizens await these election results, and call on all Kenyans to remain calm while the vote tabulation process is concluded,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement. The US would like to say how terrible it is that Kenyans have been denied democracy. However, I am not sure how we can claim to know democracy. Just as Kenyans, we too have never known real democracy in this two-party system full of government control and corruption. My swahili professor is from western Kenya, he is a Luo. The other day I asked him if his family was safe. He said they were, they had fled soon enough to miss the violence. I asked him about the history of ethnic favoring in Kenya and he said that it all started with Kenyatta. While this all goes on – colonial legacies of ethnic tension, stolen democracy, and a fear of continued turmoil, the US presidential primaries plug along. We as US citizens can only dream of democracy. While Obama, with Kenyan descent, gains popularity and primaries his family in Kenya watches. Will there be democracy gained anywhere? Will stolen votes bring conflict in the US too or maybe we do not have a knowledgeable enough electorate to protest.

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do the presidential candidates know anything about africa?

Since my last visit to the White House webpage on the current “Africa Policy” not much has changed. Our current administration still lumps all African countries together and creates one broad policy to deal with all African governments. On the site there is a list of President Bush’s “Africa Accomplishments and Initiatives.” They include meeting with 25 African Heads of State, visiting Africa in his first term, providing the greatest level of monetary assistance, and promoting health, development, and peace & stability. Possibly a great list, but it all has to put into context. We need to look at what was discussed with African Heads of State, where he visited in Africa, what restrictions there are on his ‘development’ funding, and what constitutes peace and stability promotion?

As can be imagined, the administration has special agreements with certain strategic African governments. For example on my State Department search for the US policy on Africa, I came across a report titled: Foreign Military Training: Joint Report to Congress, Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007. This report, released by the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, highlights the amount of training and funds spent on the “State Foreign Policy Objectives – African Region.” Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Dijbouti, Equatorial Guniea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome Principe, Senegal, Seychells, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia all have recieved military training from the US government and all have a short brief on their strategic importance to US interests in the report. This is all not to mention the increase in US military presence in Djibouti during the Somali-Ethiopian conflict and the increase of ‘trainings’ in the oil-rich Sahel countries.

What will a future president bring to the table when working with African countries? Will he/she have a policy that deals with Africa as a whole, or will there be separate policies for separate countries? Do the current presidential candidates have what it takes to keep Africa at the forefront? The Council on Foreign Relations has just come out with a compilation of where the current candidates stand on issues in Africa. The issues that top the list are: the genocide in Darfur, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and focusing development aid. I have to say that these candidates probably have the best stances on African issues and are more aware of the issues, but that could be more that they need to be, rather than the fact that they are concerned about Africa and the US’s role on the continent. As CFR notes, Africa is seen now as more of a humanitarian issue, but I would argue that African countries are more than just humanitarian issues. They hold economic potential, diplomatic alliances, and deposits of natural resources for which the entire world is searching.

The responses to policy questions on African issues have no party divide and there is no clear party position on Africa. This is a positive I feel as people are taking stances on what they truly believe as opposed to what they are supposed to think because of party affiliation. Most of the candidates can only say that they have signed or supported a piece of paper, called a bill, to do something in or for Africa. Not many can say they have actually experienced or taken real steps to assist African countries or governments. A few highlights of candidates’ views. Joe Biden supports a 2,500 US force to end the genocide in Darfur – somehow 2,500 troops is going to solve everything. Hillary Clinton is all about education and has a bill before the Senate, she also wants a peacekeeping force for Darfur, supported by either the US or NATO. John Edwards is following Clinton’s lead. Barak Obama has traveled to Africa with Senator Brownback. He supports a no-fly zone in Darfur and is all about divestment from companies operating in Sudan. Bill Richardson has, in my opinion, the best appraoch to African issues. He has personally met with the Sudanese President to push for a peacekeeping force, he calls for a multi-lateral ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa including health, education, and economic assistance. Sam Brownback follows Obama’s lead and also supports US aid going to health initiatives. Rudy Giuliani – don’t even count him as having an approach to Africa – he wants to continue Bush’s skewed programs and has a significant amount invested in companies operating in Sudan. McCain only has broad statements to make and no real ideas. Ron Paul ‘attributes widespread African poverty to “corruption that actually is fostered by Western aid.”’ He’s a keeper (sarcasm). Mitt Romney has praised Bono’s work in Africa, but holds investments in an oil company operating in Sudan. Tom Tancredo co-sponsored a bill on Darfur and sits on the House Sudan Caucus.

If I were a one-issue voter, which I am not, and this were the issue I would be voting (in order): Richardson, Obama, Clinton. Each of these candidates hasn’t said too much in the way of ‘African policy,’ but at least some of them have an idea of what is happening on the continent and plans that have potential to work well. There is so much going on, so much potential, and the US seems to be taking steps backward each day. We need a candidate that recognizes the importance of the world stage beyond the stereotypes and myths of the past. Africa is not a continent without importance, it is not a single entity to deal with, it is not just a humanitarian issue that we can all look away from when it becomes too complicated. We need a candidate that is willing to stare conflict, democracy, disease, corruption, success, and failure directly in the eyes. African countries, governments, peoples we have not forgotten you – let us now elect a leader who will also not forget.

what does genocide mean to you?

We are back again to the age old debate of language and the way it is used – this time however the consequences are much greater. Genocide, how do you define it? In a Slate News, Senator Obama’s comments are noted when referring to genocide. The article, titled “Getting comfy with genocide”, gets deep into the definition of genocide and the consequences of our current use of the term.

Lemkin’s definition, which was finally adopted in 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly, classified as genocide ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.’ It is a definition that has lasted nearly six decades, and it is important to remember that it refers not merely to war between nations or war within nations, however terrible. It is not about the death of soldiers in armed combat or in foreign or civil strife. It is about the mass murder of defenseless civilians—men, women, and children—because they belong to a certain kind of group. And it’s not just a matter of words. The United Nations convention on the prevention of genocide, signed by 138 nations, holds genocide to be a special category of crime that justifies “action appropriate for the prevention and suppression of genocide.” The convention does not exclude abrogation of the sovereignty of a nation engaged in genocide in order to effect a humanitarian military intervention. The problem is that while it’s going on, when it can still be stopped, it’s often not evident just how grave a crime is being committed or whether it will eventually result in genocide if it’s allowed to go unchecked. At what point, for instance, does “ethnic cleansing” become genocide? “Ethnic cleansing” can refer to the forced transfer of populations—bad enough—rather than the indiscriminate murder of them. “Ethnic cleansing,” that hideous euphemism, becomes genocide when it involves mass murder with the intent to exterminate. Genocide is about annihilation.

In the debate candidates were asked how they would handle the genocide in Darfur. Slate News says the real question should have been:

“What would you do if you saw another Rwanda developing? In other words, a genocide that has little to do with previous U.S. intervention and is not our fault in any direct way, but one we could prevent—at a cost: U.S. troops, U.S. lives. President Clinton has apologized for his failure to intervene in Rwanda. Do you agree that the United States should commit itself to preventing genocide anywhere it threatens to occur?”

We have come to talking about the genocide in Darfur in a ‘feel good’ way. We cover it in debates, make up solutions that are not so feasible, and attempt to show how much we care. Is it possible to get comfortable with genocide? I covered that idea that it is very difficult for our minds to fathom the extent of genocide and the amount of mass killing that it entails, but is this the reason that it is so easy for us to be comfortable? This could be part of the argument, but I think it may also lie in the political framing that the world loves to use.

At any rate, it is pointless to argue the fine points of language; the definition of genocide – and actual work to stop genocide. This can be done in the same ‘feel good’ manner, but it can also include actions that everyone can take at home. Currently, Michigan’s congress is working on bills of divestment from corporations that operate and support the government of Sudan. This would cut off a great deal of funding to the government of Sudan and hinder the country’s ability to further the killing of their own people. The bill has passed the Michigan House of Representatives and is not working to pass the Senate. This bill is expected to be much harder to pass in the Senate, so if you live in Michigan call your senator and ask them to support this bill. There are numerous advocacy groups around the world. Michigan State University’s campus has one such group associated with a national organization STAND: Students Taking Action Now Darfur. Check out what the MSU STAND: Spartans Taking Action Now Darfur chapter is doing and learn more about the genocide in Darfur. We can say “genocide is bad” as much as we want to, but it is still there looming, killing, waiting for us to completely forget – don’t allow yourself to forget.

barack, blessing in disguise

He is too black, he is too young, he is not experienced enough, he is just a political phenomena now, he can’t hold his popularity for 2 years. . . Barack Obama a man of many talents, attributes, and ideas – mired in petty complaints and cries against his ethnicity and youth. Seeing as so many have written about Barack Obama’s potential as a presidential contender I figure I might as well jump on the bandwagon and start tooting my horn on what I think of Obama and his potential for a change in the US Africa policy. Are you ready to listen to the tune of a fast changing world? Listen to those drums, the beat goes on.

Barack Obama presents for many a great hope for America. A change in our misguided political system. A dream of beautiful coexistence. He has written two best selling books and recieved a grammy, besides gaining the support of so many common Americans. For me Obama embodies progress, he embodies the advancement for all people to finally become equal, he represents the dreams and hopes of a country torn in so many social and political directions. Many see his youth and political inexperience as a downfall – I see it as his greatest attribute. We are not a country of large, old, white men. We are a country of young movers and shakers. If the old graying white men can no longer stand up for what they believe in and what the people believe in, then maybe it is time for them to step down! Obama can and does bring a new and refreshing perspective on American politics and problems. He is now mostly an outsider and sometimes that is what we need most when we cannot recognize our own faults and short-comings.

Hillary Clinton, now the front-runner in bidding for the democratic candidacy, recently was interviewed by NPR. In her interview she stated that she did not believe that he could keep up his popularity for 2 years until the election. To paraphrase what she said, Obama represnts a dream that has yet to collide with harsh reality. She understands that he represents the aspirations of many Americans, but she says there is no way he can sustain expectations and the media scrutiny has yet to bring Obama back to earth. I am not so sure what she represents for me or what she will even be able to do for me, but for the time being Obama embodies my ideals and passions more than anyone who looks like me, a privileged, white male.

Barack Obama also represents a great hope for Africa. In a previous post I noted the growing popularity of Obama and his dedication to Africa with his ‘Africa Tour’. If America ever does elect a president with black and African heritage, I can see a great turnaround for the US Africa Policy. Currently it is in the state of sheets of paper and statments – no action. Many Africans wrote on the BBC ‘Have your say’ piece that no matter what color his skin is he is still American, so Africa is still at a loss. Some noted that skin color has no bearing on whether you are good for Africa or not, it is no factor in raising support for Africa. Others note that there are numerous Africans in high US goverment positions and they have done nothing substantial for Africa (ie: Powell, Rice). However, I feel with Obama’s current support of Africa and his heritage in Kenya that he will create a big change and shift in at least a reformed Africa policy. Another important issues to take note of is Obama’s ethnicity. He is not black, he is not African-American. He is an American born of a Kenyan father and American mother. He is a mix of ethnicities just as the majority of people are today.

Along with all this talk on progress and Kenya comes the World Social Forum in Nairobi. Over 80,000 delegats from all over the world will convene to address a wide spectrum of social problems facing the world, including a focus on African issues. This year is focused on the issues faced by deprived Africans. The forum started with a march, which began in the large Kibera slum of central Nairobi. Progressive movements are growing all over the world and in this case Africa. The World Social Forum describes itself as a platform for ordinary people to exchange ideas opposed to a world dominated by capitalism and imperialism. In keeping with an organization opposed to prescriptive solutions to the challenges facing the world, the multitude of meetings and activities are what is called “self-organised”. People are the solution to all the world’s problems, no large plan for positive change will ever work. Do you believe in equality? Do you believe in equal rights for all people? Are you acting progressively?

a promise fulfilled, land rights deferred, the new UN, and spreading violence

An election promise, a first for Africa, a hope for a better future. The Ugandan government in cooperation with private donors will begin offering free secondary schooling for high performing children. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s “President” of 20 years, made a promise in his re-election bid to offer free secondary schooling for needy students. The education ministry has said there has been a high demand for secondary school after universal primary education was introduced in 1997. Of the 350,000 primary school students only about 40% are absorbed into the secondary school system due to the need for help at home, lack of funds to attend, or a number of other reasons. Incredibly the Japenese government will be providing teaching expertise and a grant from the African Development Bank will allow for the construction on facilities. This is an amazing development in Africa with the role of advanced education moving to the forefront. I am glad that Mr. Museveni has recognized the importance of secondary schooling. I can see this as a great hope for Uganda’s future and Africa’s future. While I was in Uganda, in 2002, we traveled to so many schools. Schools which were small brick structures with open squares for windows and doors, schools which had maybe a few benches and possibly a black board, schools that were jam-packed with young children who had walked many miles (as far as 8 miles) without shoes, schools where one teacher had as many as 80 students. We visited so many schools and met so many inspiring and dedicated students. They really wanted to learn, when you compare that to students here in the US, there is a drastic difference in academic drive at such a young age. With all the schools we visited there was just one that continues to stand out in my mind. Near the end of our time in Uganda we visited an orphanage and montessori school for children affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The children welcomed us excitedly, sang welcome songs, performed dances, and then demonstrated their academic poweress. These students could read, point out many countries on the map, and do simple math among many things – take note these students were only preschool age! Preschool and they already knew where they were in relation to the globe, where the US was, how to add 10 and 2, and how to sing and dance their traditions. And yet even with so much hope, there is a great despair. Being HIV/AIDS orphans means that more likely than not most of the students are also positive for HIV. These children have no access to medications or treatments, they do not possess great financial means to survive. And I wonder, are these inspiration little geniuses alive today? Did they make it past their fifth birthday as many do not? Will they be able to benefit from the free secondary schooling program?

Late last year there was great hope that people would cease to be exploited by their governments. That has now been called into question in Botswana. The San people, more wrongly referred to as the Bushmen, were granted the rights to their ancestral lands, which now reside on the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), in the Kalahari Desert. However, even though the Botswana high court determined that the San were forcibly removed to make way for tourist and economic development, when the San went to begin rebuilding their community they were turned away at the gates being told that they did not have clearance. Governments will no longer exploit their people? There is hope and fear for the future. Another great hope for Africa is the appointment of Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy Secretary General of the UN. Today she became only the second woman in history to be appointed to the position. The AU special envy on Sudan welcomed the appointment as do I. There is hope that African issues will remain a top priority for the UN in the years to come.

In less hopeful news, there is increased violence in Chad due to the Janjaweed’s attempts to drive people from their homes. Spilling over from the Sudanese conflict in Darfur, this conflict is beginning to threaten the regional security of Central Africa. Is that not enough to intervene? In a recent poll (because they are so reliable, and I can’t remember the source) 64% of Americans support sending US troops into the Sudan to help qwell the violence. I agree, what a better use of our massive military budget – saving lives, repairing the US’s tattered image, and bringing peace to so many people. Behold, emerging on the US political scene. . . Barack Obama! An American born of a Kenyan father who was an immigrant and an American mother, Obama brings a beautifully refreshing and hopefully new approach to American politics. Besides speaking to the people, Obama also has a great place in his heart for Africa. With his father being from Kenya it makes sense. Just last year the Illinois Senator went on an African tour visiting South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Chad – discussing the issues of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the growing violence in Darfur, refugees from the Sudan conflict, the Kibera slums, and Africa becoming a new haven for terrorists. I wonder if he is in favor of the Africa Command? Obama presents a great hope for American political reform and rebirth, but also Obama presents a great hope for Africa and bringing about a more focused and effective and involved US African Policy that is not afraid to invest in the continent.