Dividing the spoils in Kenyan election
WORLD VIEW:The bloody aftermath in 2007-08 of Kenya’s last presidential election, in which more than 1,100 died and 660,000 were displaced in tribal violence, hangs like a heavy dark cloud over Monday’s vote. Not just in the fear that raw tribal tensions will again flare into widespread killings, but in the persons of presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto.
Both men, polling just behind prime minister Raila Odinga, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the 2008 violence and their trial, now put back by the court to August, could see them, if elected, commuting between Nairobi and the dock in the Hague. It will, at the very least, complicate their country’s diplomacy.
Kenyatta is accused of financing death squads that moved from house to house in early 2008, slaughtering opposition supporters and their families, including young children. Both men say they will attend the court but many supporters see the election as a referendum on the ICC and believe their election would be a mandate for the dropping of charges. The ICC is unlikely to be moved.
Meanwhile, as in other cities, in Kisumu on Lake Victoria, Kenya’s third city, businesses are closing down ahead of polling, their owners fearful of a repeat of the riots that followed 2007. Leaflets have been distributed calling for the eviction of members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu and Ruto’s Kalenjin tribes which have formed an uncomfortable alliance, Jubilee, against Odinga, of the Luo tribe.
The 2009 census recognises 42 tribes in the country of 40 million; six of them account for 71 per cent of the population. The Kikuyu are the largest, accounting for 17 per cent of the population, the Luo rank fourth with 11 per cent, while the Kalenjin are third at 13 per cent (the tribe of Daniel arap Moi, who served as Kenya’s second president for 24 years).
Unfortunately reform, prompted by the events of 2007, which tried to spread power down through the system by creating local governors, has actually created new poles of local contest, opportunities for mischief by cynical politicians for whom tribal mobilisation is a way of life.
Local press report that ethnic gangs have been arming themselves and stockpiling weapons and that more than 400 people have been killed so far in 2012 and 2013 in political clashes. Fears are that the aftermath of the election or the period ahead of the second round could see disappointed candidates engage in brutal retaliation.
Kenyatta, a former finance minister and son of the man who led the country after independence, Jomo Kenyatta, is currently deputy prime minister. He backed current president Mwai Kibaki in 2007 against then opposition leader Odinga, son of the elder Kenyatta’s political nemesis, Oginga Odinga. After the vote, protests by Odinga supporters erupted into widespread blood-letting when he disputed the result. An eventual peace agreement saw Odinga appointed prime minister.
Kenyan politics is less about ideology than carving up the spoils of power in a party system that novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o describes as “regional mafia blocs” in a corrupt state that is “a looter’s paradise”.
The East African Community awaits the election result with bated breath. Regional economies were hugely disrupted by the 2008 election violence and remain dependent on Kenya and particularly its projected growth of 6 per cent a year in the next couple of years. Some, like Uganda and Tanzania, are growing at even faster rates. But they are also less developed and lean on trade, investment and expertise from Kenya, the regional giant.
The country is a key pole for foreign direct investment on the continent, and the African home for many multinationals. General Electric, IBM, Standard Chartered, and Google have all expanded offices in Nairobi recently. But many wary Kenyan manufacturers are delaying investments until after the election.
The country is also on the verge of becoming a major player in the oil industry. The former Irish, now British-based, explorer Tullow Oil recently announced the country’s first potentially commercial flow rates. Tullow’s venture partner, Africa Oil, estimates there are 23 billion barrels of oil beneath two onshore basins. If proven, that would make Kenya the 13th-largest holder of oil reserves in the world, above the US. At today’s prices the reserves would be worth $2.6 trillion, more than 60 times Kenya’s 2012 GDP.
In his manifesto, Kenyatta says 5 per cent of energy revenues will go into local communities and another 5 per cent will fund renewable energy projects. Oil will “benefit all Kenyans”, the manifesto says. If he is elected, few doubt that Kenyatta himself will be among the major beneficiaries.