25 February 2013

Flash back to January 2008 (#6): Basic reasons for a month of chaos and violence

One week from today, Kenyans will go to the polls again.

Campaign posters are literally everywhere in Kenya!

Most of you remember what happened after the last election in December 2007. The following post is from my blog, dated January 29, 2007.

1. Inequality and poverty – Kenya is the world’s 10th most unequal country in the world and ranks among the poorest on the globe. 10% of the population controls 43% of the nation’s wealth.

2. Land hunger – Kenya is an agricultural society; unresolved injustices regarding land go back to colonial and pre-independence days. This has caused deep-seated bitterness that is always simmering just below the surface.

3. Ongoing ethnic clashes – Unresolved wounds (that go back many generations) have continued to fester. The decade of the 1990’s saw many flare-ups and eruptions of ethnic clashes. The flawed 2007 presidential election exacerbated these ever-present and underlying tensions.

4. Poisonous politics – Elections are not issues-oriented; for the most part “tribal mathematics” governs the outcome of all elections. Politicians have mastered manipulation techniques.

5. Failure of leadership – Corruption is rife among Kenya’s political leaders. There is no firm commitment to democratic principles, nor is there any evidence of selflessness or statesmanship. Rather the leaders can be seen as solely greedy for power and the spoils that accompany it.

6. Long overdue constitutional reform – Kibaki was elected in 2002 with an overwhelming majority and a sense of euphoria. He was given a mandate to generate a new constitution in his first five-year term; he failed to do that.

7. 2007 presidential election – The fact that it ended virtually in a dead heat, plus the perception that it was rigged and “stolen” were both the final straw.

Additional factors:

1. Most of the participants in the rioting, mayhem, destruction, and murder are idle, unemployed young men who have lost hope. They have nothing to do and nothing to lose.

2. Vernacular FM radio stations enflame feelings of hatred.

3. Hateful text messages make the rounds via cell phones, adding fuel to the fire.

4. Frequent use of repressive and brutal force by the police and military has aggravated volatile situations.

5. Violence is along tribal lines, pitting one ethnic community against another. Then a cycle of revenge reprisals develops.

6. Recent outbreaks in Rift Valley province have appeared to be organized. The ethnic militias were quickly mobilized and seem to function in a pre-determined manner.

“Concentration of authority marks almost all present political systems

which have become unwieldy and top-heavy:

be they capitalistic, socialist, or communist systems.

The individuals count no more,
though as voters they are styled as masters.

They present themselves at periodical elections for casting votes

and then sleep away until the next one.

This is the only political action the individual performs
once in a stipulated period…

The individual has little or no voice
in the shaping of the policy of government.

In a welfare state or a totalitarian regime

the individual is reduced to the position of a dumb,
driven animal in human form.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

For decades, Kenya has been one of the most stable countries in the continent. It was even seen as the “jewel of Africa”. Many Kenyans had the sense that they lived in a paradise of peace, a rare oasis in the midst of warring nations. In fact, the irony is that Kenya is known for brokering peace deals for her warring neighbors. However, it’s now apparent that this sense of peace was false.

At least a quarter of a million people are now internally displaced, having been violently chased from their homes. Many of those homes were destroyed. These people (many of them women and children) now seek shelter in emergency camps at churches, schools, police stations, fairgrounds, etc. Again, there’s another irony to be seen. Kenya has been known for offering sanctuary to her neighboring country’s refugees for many years.

II Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

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