Kenya's peace in a conflict zone is a myth
Despite peace and tranquillity in Kenya, Uganda, its neighbour, has been to war on many occasions, wars that led to the killing of thousands of Ugandans and the destruction of millions worth of property. In 1971, Idi Amin seized power through a military coup and for the next decade, the dictator presided over a brutal regime that led to the slaughter of an estimated 300,000 Ugandans. In 1979, Amin was overthrown by Tanzanian forces that launched an offensive together with a group of Ugandan rebels. After the invasion, former President Milton Obote regained power but in 1985, Obote was deposed once again by General Tito Okello who ruled the country for six months. When Okello took power, Yoweri Museveni was waging a guerrilla war from the bush with his National Resistance Movement (NRM) and during the dying moments of Okello’s rule, peaceful Kenya provided a platform where a peace deal was signed between Museveni and Okello. The deal collapsed after Museveni set it aside and seized power with his forces, forcing Okello to flee to exile. After Museveni took over the Ugandan State machine with much jubilation and support from Ugandans, Museveni continued to engage in both internal and external wars. Within the country, he began to fight against a new rebel group calling itself the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) that was being led by Alice Lakwena while Museveni also engaged in fratricidal wars in both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) and the Great Lakes Region. Throughout this period, Kenya was considered a peaceful country due to lack of armed conflicts.
Tanzania, another country that borders Kenya, has been relatively peaceful and there is no recent and major internal or external conflict that can be cited. However, as Idi Amin’s dictatorship turned bloodier with new murders and assassination of opponents, Amin made a big miscalculation and invaded Tanzanian territory with a military agenda of expanding Uganda’s borders. President Julius Nyerere not only repulsed Amin’s forces but also took the war right inside Uganda. At the time of the Tanzanian repulsion, the poorly armed Ugandan army had degenerated to a rag-tag army suffering from war fatigue and disorientation due to lack of direction and war agenda. Eventually, the anti-Amin war by Tanzanian forces accorded Museveni the strategic advantage of moving into Uganda to take over the country’s leadership. Kenya remained peaceful as Museveni moved into Kampala to seize power by force.
Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan
Somalia, another country neighbouring Kenya, is a country that has been at constant war, especially after the fall of the Mohammed Said Barre regime who ruled the country between 1986 and 1991. For more than a decade, Somalia has been without a government because different armed groups have been fighting to control the country. The result has been unprecedented chaos, insecurity, death and destruction. At the time of writing, Somalia was still at war with no clear signals that the war would soon come to an end. Resolutions by the UN and imperialist interventions have been unable to stop the war because of the complexity of forces involved. Consequently, millions of Somali refugees who have left the country since the outbreak of war have moved out through peaceful Kenya. Kenya is itself home to thousands of Somalis (Kenya-Somalis) and the naturalization process of Somali refugees in Kenya has been smooth because of this factor.
During the years of conflict in Somalia, Kenya provided a safe base for peace negotiations in Nairobi, which saw through an agreement that resulted in the election of a compromise President — Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Unfortunately, peace did not return to Somalia as had been expected. This was because the Somali warlords continued to control territory, making it difficult for a new government to be set up in Somalia. Frustrated that Islamic terrorists would continue using Somalia for their operations by taking advantage of chaos occasioned by lack of government, the United States collaborated with the Ethiopian government to attack Somalia and sweep away the warlords. While the strategy succeeded, the problem that was left behind is that members of the Islamic courts, who were displaced by Ethiopian forces, have refused to disappear and fighting continues between these and Ethiopian forces.
Death and destruction continues while ships along the shores of Somalia have repeatedly fallen victim to piracy. Instability in that country continues. Because of the prevailing peace in Kenya, numerous humanitarian operations have been based in Kenya and when the post-election chaos erupted in Kenya, there were serious concerns on how the situation in the country would impact humanitarian operations in Somalia. When the focus is turned on Ethiopia, one is reminded of the thirty-year war between the Ethiopian government and the Eritrean Liberation Movement, a war that ended when Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia and became the newest State in Africa. Throughout this war, there was relative peace in Kenya, save for incidences of the “Shifta war” that raged in North Eastern Province during the 80s. In a crude attempt to contain what the Moi government called the “Shifta menace,” Kenyan security forces massacred more than 400 Somali Muslims who were believed to be supporters of the “Shifters.” The attack occurred on February 10, 1984, and created what is today known as the “Wagalla massacre.”
The Ethiopian-Eritrea war raged against a background of relative peace in Kenya and the Kenyan government ensured that it remained neutral in the war so as not to antagonize neighbours. This brings us to Sudan, another neighbour of Kenya, which has also had its share of wars as Kenya remained peaceful. For almost thirty years, the Islamic government in Khartoum fought the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which had been fighting for autonomy in Southern Sudan. The conflict stemmed from opposition of Southern Sudanese (who are Christians) to domination by Islamic government in Khartoum. Because Kenya remained peaceful throughout this war, Nairobi became the base of choice when the two sides decided to go for a negotiated settlement to the decades-old conflict. The peace deal was eventually signed and some degree of peace was achieved in Sudan. This opened the way for self rule in Southern Sudan.
Raging conflicts in Kenya
From the above summary, Kenya earned its reputation as a “peaceful country” in a conflict zone. From a military point of view, Kenya has been peaceful but from a political, social and economic perspective, a longstanding internal conflict has been raging in Kenya for decades. When elections were rigged, the dynamics of this silent conflict exploded in the streets by way of violence, looting of property, senseless killings and wanton destruction of property to a level that has never been witnessed in Kenya before and to proportions that shocked the international community. Millions of observers inside and outside Kenya could not comprehend how such a peaceful and tranquil country that “has enjoyed prosperity” could suddenly explode with uncontrolled violence just because elections had been rigged.
The battle that has been raging in Kenya and that rarely finds effective expression in the world media is the battle between the rich and the poor, the “haves” and the “have nots,” the exploited and the exploiter, the powerful and the powerless, the wealth grabbers and the robbed, the bellyful wanabenzi and the hungry, the millionaire tycoons and the beggars in the streets, those with food on the table and those starving, the business community and the paupers, the fat land grabbers and the landless, the tiny wealthy ruling class and the army of unemployed youth. A huge but silent conflict has been raging between these different groups and classes of Kenyans and the rigging of elections simply acted as a catalyst to bring this war into the open and before the international community.
The post-election violence that erupted across the country was a result of election rigging but it was also tied to growing inequalities in the Kenyan society, mass poverty, mass unemployment, lack of opportunities especially for the youth, spiralling inflation, starvation of vast sections of the population, poor remuneration of workers who live on starvation wages, lack of housing, which has created huge slums in urban areas, social frustrations, lack of clean drinking water, collapse of public infrastructure due to looting of the economy, corruption in high places, and a host of other vices that have ravaged the lives of millions of Kenyans, especially the youth who were defying live bullets fired by police in the streets in the name of change. The December 2007 election was about the departure of President Mwai Kibaki and the gang of thieves that surrounded the President. Millions of voters who opted for ODM believed that once this economic terror gang was ousted from power, it would be possible to address ways of ending the root causes of the suffering of millions of Kenyans who have to go without food, drinking water and shelter above their heads on a daily basis.
The war between the rich and the poor is grounded on theft of public resources by those in power in the face of collapsing social services across the country and the lavish lifestyles led by the rich using money stolen from the poor taxpayer. Exploitation of Kenyans by local and international capitalists who have acquired every profitable enterprise in Kenya for themselves, corruption within the government by fat cats surrounding the President and the ruthlessness of the so-called “business community” are vices that ODM supporters in the streets expected to be addressed as they voted for the Party.
After years of suffering under one rotten regime after another — Kenyatta, Moi, Kibaki — and after decades of tolerance, Kenyans who voted for Raila Odinga as President believed that the country was ripe for a new breed of leadership that could help transform the country after old guards who joined politics in 1963 converted the country into a private business enterprise where they could act illegally and at any front without accountability. These political gangsters have been enjoying an upper hand in the politico-socio-economic conflict because of two reasons: control of the State machine and lack of political organization and mobilization of exploited Kenyans to fight back. When ODM came into the scene, the organizational element of the downtrodden in Kenya also fell into place. In the eyes of ODM supporters who were mainly the youth, prospects of an overthrow of the rotten Kibaki-controlled Kikuyu ruling class that took over from the equally rotten Moi-controlled Kalenjin ruling class that in turn, took over from the rotten Kenyatta-controlled Kikuyu ruling class became real. The cumulative anger and frustration resulting from a protracted mass struggle against the rich owners of capital is what exploded in the streets across Kenya when it dawned on millions of youth that their expectations would not be addressed because Kibaki and PNU had stolen Raila Odinga’s Presidency through Kibaki-appointed ECK to illegally return to power in order to maintain the unacceptable and retrogressive political status quo.
Basis for future conflicts and social explosions in Kenya
Under Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki, Kenya has been a country where everything has been on sale including Justice in the courts and basic social services because of corruption. There are hospitals for the rich and the poor. There are schools for the rich and the poor. There are social gathering places for the rich and the poor. There are markets for the rich and the poor. Almost every aspect of life in Kenya is divided into rich vs. poor categories. Of course, this is the situation in every country where the political system of government is driven by rotten capitalism. The purpose of this analogy is to argue that below the aura of peace in Kenya, a fierce war has been raging from below and it had to take the rigging of elections by forces considered by the masses of the Kenyan people who voted for change as the “enemy forces” in order for the real dynamics of this war to explode in the open and to send pundits and an assortment of experts into a spiral of political analysis.
A rich man can escape prison in Kenya after committing an act of murder but a poor man will go to prison for shoplifting. Security forces are used by the State to keep the peace in the interest of the rich who have grabbed the country’s wealth and who continue to tread on the poor with impunity. Once one of their members have stolen from the poor and became a millionaire or billionaire, the thieving ruling class has notoriously bored the poor with Commissions of Inquiries to investigate how one of them stole but at the end, what the poor have witnessed in Kenya is that the rich never face justice but escape with all sorts of crimes including economic crimes that are responsible for lack of medicine in hospitals or lack of equipment in leaning institutions. Others have even escaped with political assassinations.
This gang of thieves who call themselves “government,” together with their imperialist allies, have resolved to keep the poor in Kenya in perpetual poverty, a situation that has been understood by sections of the poor whose political consciousness continues to grow by the day. While millions are landless in Kenya and others are squatters in their own country, the rich land grabbers have set aside huge chunks of idle land across the country. The Kenyattas, Mois and Kibakis are all members of this exclusive club of land grabbers and enough documentation already exists to enable any serious government to address the question of landlessness in Kenya. This is not to suggest that the conflict between the rich and the poor is unique to Kenya. As mentioned earlier, the problem is the same in several countries around the world that have been ravaged by capitalist class rule. The difference in the situation is that commentators were quick to point out that unlike other countries, Kenya has been peaceful. The truth is that the peace being trumpeted in this context has been an artificial peace because conditions for peace have not been in existence in Kenya for decades and this is how the situation will remain if key issues that led to the election of ODM are not addressed either by present or future governments.
The struggle against the corrupt one-Party dictatorship of Moi, the struggle for the re-introduction of political pluralism in Kenya, the struggle that removed Moi and KANU from power and the struggle against Kibaki and his Mount Kenya Mafia cartel have all been waged within the context of a war for a better Kenya where every Kenyan can have access to food, clothing, shelter and personal security. This battle has not ended with the formation of a Grand Coalition and the continuation of this battle will form the basis of future conflicts and social explosions in Kenya.
Raila Odinga’s Stolen Presidency:
Excerpt from Chapter 19: Consequences of Election Rigging
The myth of peace in a conflict zone exposed (pgs 349-354)