On March 4th the international community once again turned its attention to Kenya, as the nation aimed to regain some pride after the debacle of the last elections in 2007. Over 1000 Kenyan people lost their lives and countless others lost their homes as the country erupted in unforeseen ethnic violence, hundreds of thousands from the Kenyan diaspora scattered around the globe (my self included) huddled around televisions in anticipation of what would unfold in our beloved Kenya, would we let tribal divisions once again ruin the country, or stand together as one in peace and unity.
On 2nd January of 2008 “Amka Haraka, Amka Haraka” were the yells Ian Mwas or Goofy as he is known by to his friend was awoken by. “All I remember is my mother shaking me violently, telling me to get up, she was screaming that the estate is on fire”
For Ian who lives on a poor estate on the east side of Nairobi. The violence of the highly disputed election had reached his estate, he tells me he ran outside to the sight of a local shop up in flames, with a mob carrying machetes and shouting things in their mother tongue.”I was scared for my life”. This is the moment reality hit me Ian tells me, the shock still noticeable in his voice.
These sporadic acts of violence would be carried out all across Kenya for the next two months, threatening to drive the country into civil war. The election results had divided Kenya in two, with ethnic groups joining together. The Kikuyus (the tribe that former president Mwai Kibaki hails from) had been accused of rigging the votes in order to secure another five years in office. While Raila Odinga from the Luo tribe, the Kikuyus traditional rivals or enemies, was the leader of the opposition the ODM. This added even more plot to the story. The disputed fact in the whole matter not being Kibakis victory, but the way that he won. On December 30th Odingas lead shrunk by about 38,000 votes almost by overnight, he accused Kibakis government of fraud and urged him to defeat. After the news had broken that Kibaki had claimed a victory by 232,000 votes, the electoral commission declared that there had been irregularities within the election, but it was not for them to look at, it was for the courts. Violence immediately erupted across the whole country aimed at Kibakis clan the Kikuyus. This violence continued for six weeks, with the UN having to intervene, calling for a shared government between Kibaki and Odinga. This has been fairly successful enough for the past five years, but with the next election rapidly approaching, what does the future hold for Kenya as a democratic nation?
The presidency in Kenya is held in such esteem, seen by many as the jewel and most developed country in East Africa, the presidency is seen and held somewhat in the same steed as the monarchy in modern Britain.There seems to be a monarchy system developing within the Kenyan presidency system, with sons of former presidents at the front of the line to take over from the predecessor. Uhuru Kenyatta now president is son of the first Kenyan president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, and the second president of Kenya Daniel Arap Moi, has a son who has also recently won a seat in parliament, raising fears of the hierarchy system being employed by those in charge. Pictures of the president hold proud places in offices all around the country. The president is loved and adored by all citizens and highly respected. Even though he does not make a lot of executive decisions he plays an integral role in the development of Kenya. It is a highly sought after seat, and now that Uhuru Kenyatta has gained it, it will be interesting to see how he develops the country’s infrastructure. I had the pleasure of watching him give a speech yesterday at the Somalia Conference in Central London . And he struck me as an extremely well spoken and confident man. He reassured the British diaspora that he was working in conjunction with the high commissioner in order that Kenyans living outside of Kenyas voices were heard.
Edward Ochieng, an employee of Widows and Orphans international, an NGO in the western coast city of Kisumu was sceptic about the upcoming polls, I spoke to him before and after the polls, before the polls he had this to say : ” The mood in the city at the moment is a subdued one, but at the same time one of excitement, we expect Odinga to claim the presidency once and for all, and dis-spell this myth that only Kikuyus or Kalenjins can lead the country.” As Edward came to London for a leadership scheme I had the chance to discuss with him the issues to do with this election. Being a Luo himself, I could sense the odium in his voice, that he felt like his clan had been robbed for the last 50 years since Kenya was freed from the British colony. “Since I was a child Kikuyus and Kalenjins have ruled the country, not giving the rest of us an opportunity or a chance, Kenya needs change.” He duly added that he would be voting for Raila Odinga his fellow tribesmen. Speaking to Edward shortly after the elections he was not impressed with the result for the election at all “We have obviously been robbed once again (by we he is referring to his Luo clans men) I don’t know how long this will continue to go on for.” Having spoken to many Kenyans concerning the voting, I have the feeling that voters were once again swayed to vote in their ethnic lines, instead of voting for who was the correct political candidate.
There were a few other candidates forgotten in the whirlwind that was the showdown between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. Politicians such as Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua and the charismatic Mohammed Abduba Dida. Each of whom did not manage to gain over 100,000 votes. It is argued that Peter Kenneths approach to Kenyan politics, and ideas are ahead of his time in terms of the Kenyan political landscape. It suggests that voters are still voting with in tribal lines and not really analysing what each nominee has to offer to their individual needs. To me this issue of tribalism is a problem that will not be eradicated for many decades to come. When Kenyans realise that even that the president can not make executive decisions in favour of one tribe and dis-spell another, that he plays only a minor role in the development of laws and funding. Only then will Kenyans elect a leader that they think will help Kenya move forward.
Kenya has still not fully recovered from those two devastating months with the UN estimating 180,000€-250,000 people are still living in makeshift refugee camps around the country, the Kenyan shilling also suffered a sharp decrease in value the longer the violence continued. Kenya’s status as East Africa’s powerhouse has slowly been regained and Is set to continue. Even with the unease in the country right now, politicians, musicians and activists all made an active effort in stopping such horrid violence occurring again. Popular artists such as Camp Mulla and Nonini joined together to do their part to avoid further bloodshed, with the message being ONE KENYA. Political activists in late 2012 held peaceful protests through Nairobi and in other major cities. Even the two main competitors were pictured holding each others hands aloft in a victory stance, both have said if they are defeated they would go quietly without even a word.
Raila Odinga chose to not accept the IEBC’s independent decision, but chose to settle his qualms in a peaceful manner, taking his queries to the courts. He urged his supporters to be calm and wait for the IEBCs decision concerning the voting process. On March 30th in front of a hushed courtroom, the Kenyan court upheld the IEBC’s decision to award Kenyatta the presidency of Kenya, instantly a sigh of relief swept through Kenya, everyone was keen to avoid a runoff, plotting the two main contenders against each other once again in a straight vote off.
The west also had a very close eye on these elections, it is believed that if Raila Odinga had won then America and Britain’s agenda in East Africa would have been safe for another five years. But if Uhuru managed to clinch the victory, the US and Britain have slightly distanced themselves from the President with one news article recently calling Honorable Kenyatta “Kenya Criminal President”. Uhuru Kenyatta , and his vice president William Ruto are still being waiting trialling at the Hague for crimes against humanity, after being accused of arranging death squads to reign terror in the last elections. Kenya’s youngest ever leader though seems none phased by these accusations, and remains adamant that he will clear his name, and finish his term in office.
This is such an incredibly testing time, for a country that has given the world so much, but with the deep divisions in the country, and the sub text of clan divided running all throughout Kenya, I am really thankful and happy that these elections managed to pass without any bloodshed or wrong doings from any parties. Hopefully the citizens of Kenya can put aside tribal differences and hopefully Uhuru Kenyatta can now lead Kenyans as one forward as the nation embarks on its 50th jubilee,
God bless Kenya.