Fear and Loathing in Nairobi
The carnage that followed
The Kenyan middle class is particularly prone to this sort of exceptionalism. Due to an enduring sense of civic pride, middle-class Kenyans bristle when visitors from neighboring countries commiserate with them over their political troubles.
Kenyan exceptionalism was in many ways a myth waiting to be shattered. Early in 2008, the Ugandan writer and commentator Kalundi Serumaga wrote about the Kenyan middle class' capacity to "normalize the absurd." If anything, the surprise was that it had taken so long for the bubble of normality to burst. Many factors helped foment the violence: rampant corruption from the president on down, some of the starkest economic inequalities on earth, fragmentation of an already corrupt ruling elite along ethnic lines, and a disproportionately young population. The cauldron simply boiled over in 2007.
The failure of the election was merely a trigger for events that would have taken place at some point in the future. There had long been an overwhelming sense of exclusion and alienation among large sections of the populace. For
When the violence abated in
The political crisis that followed the election finally ended on
This model of negotiations leading to a coalition government in the wake of a violence-plagued election is being tried in
FROM EUPHORIA TO CHAOS
In 2002, President Daniel arap Moi bowed out of office after 24 years in power. His candidate of choice,
A state of euphoria enveloped the country; a
In terms of tangible traditional development goals, the Kibaki administration seemed to deliver. A housing boom took off, especially in the larger urban areas; between 2003 and 2007, the
Yet most of the benefits of the growth accrued to the wealthiest 25 percent of the population. Poor Kenyans' purchasing power declined dramatically as basic commodity prices rose. Between 2003 and 2007, the inflation rate for middle-income residents of
The optimism of early 2003 was the result of big dreams, most notably the promise to fight corruption. However, within months of coming into office, the new government was embroiled in huge corruption scandals of its own. Public anger was fueled not only by the succession of scandals but also by the atmosphere of total impunity in which the ruling elite operated. Indeed, it was not so much the loss of money in scams that caused deep-seated unhappiness but the corporatization and spread of graft. Now, outright theft was accompanied by an air of white-collar arrogance and conspicuous consumption. Wrongdoing was excused by the political and business elite as "Africanized enterprise" and dismissed as something only Westerners, with their double standards, complained about.
Viewed from the poorest sections of Kenyan society, the line between graft and enterprise now seemed completely blurred. Within a year of the new administration's coming to power, some of the most influential figures around Kibaki had transformed themselves into ostentatious millionaires. A seething resentment began to infect Kenyan politics.
In addition to being corrupt, the new government failed to fulfill its promise to form a politically inclusive administration to govern an increasingly ethnically riven country. President Kibaki hailed from the Kikuyu ethnic group --
The initial instrument of inclusivity was a memorandum of understanding between the different parties that comprised the coalition that won the 2002 election. These political parties represented all the major ethnic groups in the country save for the Kalenjin community of former President Moi, who remained close to the ousted ruling party, KANU. Kibaki and his closest supporters abandoned this admittedly imperfect instrument almost immediately on assuming office. The toxic perception of an administration that was both shamelessly ethnically exclusive and hostile to the poor spread across the country. As the service and telecommunications sectors boomed, the urban and rural poor got not jobs but inflation. Their resentment was soon politicized along ethnic lines with devastating effects. Kibaki's lieutenants issued hysterical warnings of the dangers of a Luo-led country. Odinga and his allies argued that Kikuyu arrogance, greed, and dishonesty were on display everywhere. The new government had also promised to carry out comprehensive constitutional reform in order to rein in the president's executive powers. It did no such thing.
The result of these broken promises was a fundamental breakdown in the social contract; Kenyans simply no longer trusted their government and its leadership. In an increasingly fragmented political landscape, the bulk of the population that did not hail from Kibaki's region, in central
The 2005 referendum became a dress rehearsal for the 2007 election. The behavior of Kibaki and his lieutenants seemed to confirm the worst stereotypes about the Kikuyu elite that already loomed large in the Kenyan political imagination. The forces that mobilized against this elite were crude, simple, and ultimately deadly for poor Kikuyus in particular, who paid in blood for the incompetence and greed of "their" leaders.
The perceived arrogance of the political, bureaucratic, and commercial elite surrounding Kibaki had engendered an overwhelming nationwide sense of alienation -- a sense of exclusion and loss of dignity among the majority of Kenyans who were not Kikuyu or from associated communities. In the run-ups to the 2005 referendum and the 2007 election, some politicians from the administration perpetuated this perception by uttering outrageous insults toward minorities -- one minister essentially called all Kenyan Somalis a bunch of refugees. In turn, politicians from minority groups rallied support by citing the rhetoric of their opponents and countering with their own tribalist invective. On the stump, they used language comparable to that heard in
It became clear that
A government that had succeeded in delivering the hardware of development -- schools, roads, and growth -- had failed to deliver on the software of nationhood. Ultimately, although the former mattered, most Kenyans valued the latter more. Indeed, had the 2007 election been a referendum on development achievements alone, it would not have failed as calamitously as it did.
Instead of entering the polls with the wind in its sails, Kibaki's coalition instead faced a contest of trust. Their opponents in Odinga's
VIVA THE YOUTH
As violence spread across the country in 2007, Kibaki and Odinga realized that they might lose control over their own respective foot soldiers. Indeed, the postelection violence was largely due to
The Swahili term for "government" is serikali, derived from the words siri (secret) and kali (fierce). The government in
For the first time in
When confronted by the spiraling violence, the "big men" of
All of this served to dramatically delegitimize the state, setting the stage for a massive shift of power from the center of government to the grass roots. The postelection violence devolved power to the youth suddenly, unintentionally, and organically, with implications that Kenyans are only just beginning to come to terms with.
The youth groups involved in the violence -- from civil-society organizations to vigilantes -- had their confidence buoyed by the violence and their potent part in it. Patronage and violence are the methods by which some of the most influential politicians in the Kenyan government today rose to prominence, and those who have mastered the art have tended to gain fantastic fortunes -- a lesson not lost on the young. Indeed, several individuals implicated in the postelection violence have since been rewarded with cabinet positions.
The magnitude of
The government's current efforts to manage groups such as the Mungiki are unprecedented in Kenyan history. What is clear is that the state still controls the means of violence but is no longer perceived as having a monopoly on it or the capacity to induce paralyzing fear. Also, the power of the state's security forces has been seriously eroded: their legitimacy has been undermined, and they suffer from poor morale, a lack of coherence, political and ethnic polarization, systemic corruption, and a general lack of confidence. Only the military has managed to retain its discipline and command.
Despite its ambitious reform agenda, the Kibaki-Odinga coalition government has been undermined by a lack of legitimacy, and policy paralysis has reigned. The government's planned reforms fall under Agenda 4 of the National Accord: constitutional, institutional, and legal reform; land redistribution; poverty alleviation; the redress of inequality and regional imbalances; the reduction of unemployment among young Kenyans; national reconciliation; and greater transparency and accountability in the management of the affairs of state. In reality, Agenda 4 is a laundry list of every developing country's challenges. And in
Given these challenges, the coalition government has struggled to deliver change. Western ambassadors often demonstrate greater public enthusiasm for the reforms than do
Meanwhile, violence as a model of political action has become normalized to a disturbing degree in some of the most cosmopolitan parts of the country, where different ethnic groups are the most intermingled.
Unfortunately, the election and its violent aftermath revealed that some of the virulent ethnocentric views prevalent in
THE ROAD TO RECONCILIATION
The threat to domestic stability remains as well. As the state has retreated -- delegitimized by a botched election and its inability to protect its own people -- the appeal of youth gangs and what some would describe as Islamic fundamentalism have grown. No Tomahawk missile can destroy this ideology; Kenyan nationhood must become the more compelling idea.
A liberal democracy in the Western mold will not emerge from
Available at Amazon.com:
- Stopping Nuclear Proliferation Before It Starts
- Veiled Truths: The Rise of Political Islam in the West
- Steps to Stop Iran From Getting a Nuclear Bomb
- Iran: The Nuclear Containment Conundrum
- Iran: The Right Kind Of Containment
- China Is the Key to Handling Nuclear North Korea
- Coping With China's Financial Power
- What China's Currency Reform Means For Investors
- Russian-American Obstacles Overshadow Obama-Medvedev Meeting
- Russia's Courtship of Silicon Valley
- Ukrainian Blues: Viktor Yanukovych's Rise and Democracy's Fall
- Russia: Prisoners of the Caucasus
- The Afghan Challenge Is Far Tougher
- New Guard, Old Policy on Afghanistan
- Fear and Uncertainty in Afghanistan
- Afghanistan: Bribing the Enemy
- Afghanistan Poses Difficult Challenges
- Defining Success in Afghanistan
- Sad Stan, Famous Petraeus
- The Challenge of Reconciliation in Kenya
- The Tyranny of Unity in Zimbabwe
- Mexico: The New Cocaine Cowboys
- Under Santos Colombia Could Rise to the Next Level
- Autocrats' Latest Weapon: Indirect Censorship
- Latin America's Rich Should Be More Generous
- Castrocare in Crisis
(C) 2010 Foreign Affairs