More Scenes from the Democracy in Kenya
The post-election violence in Kenya continues, reaching ever greater depths of depravity.
SYLVIA MUDEGU knew she was in grave danger in the violent aftermath of Kenya’s disputed presidential election when there was a tremendous hammering on the door of her home.The explosive violence now shattering Kenya stands as a sharp rebuke to those who held Kenya as a model for African democracy.
As she heard the sound of wood breaking, she put her hand over the mouths of her children Esther, 18 months, and Rose, 3, and hid behind a curtain. “Don’t move. Don’t make a noise,” she whispered.
Minutes later the 20-year-old woman was begging for her life. Men wielding sticks and machetes poured into her house, a two-room tin-roofed shack in a malodorous slum on the eastern side of Nairobi, grabbed her hair and dragged her outside.
All around, she saw homes on fire and people fleeing as arsonists and looters tore through the slum taking vengeance on anyone perceived to have voted for President Mwai Kibaki.
Kibaki is a member of Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu, and the attackers went on the rampage believing he had stolen the election from his challenger, Raila Odinga, in order to stay in power for five more years. Odinga is the leader of the smaller Luo tribe.
Mudegu knew what to expect next. The men from Odinga’s Luo tribe would rape her. With other women, she was taken to a stream by the edge of the slum.
“They raped even the old women,” she said. The screams went on and on. “One girl was 12, and at 12 you know how to scream loudest.”
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As rival mobs were hacking each other with machetes the cruelty of the violence could be seen in the gaping wounds that nurses were washing and bandaging in Nairobi’s hospitals.
There was one teenage boy whose body was perfectly whole except for a calf severed to the bare bone. He had been brought from the slum in a wheelbarrow and his eyes were still wild with fear. Another had a wound in the back from a police bullet. The city morgue was heaped high with bodies.
On Wednesday, during a momentary lull in the fighting, a woman gave birth to a baby girl in the street amid the cheers of the crowd. She had been trying to reach a nearby dispensary but stopped for fear of being killed. Then the fighting began again.
“I cannot believe this is my country,” said a Kenyan businessman when he saw the misery. “We saw these pitiful scenes with refugees from the Sudan and Rwanda and now we are seeing them here in the heart of our own capital. It is unbelievable.
The election was projected as a milestone in Kenya’s advance to a more mature democracy. In 2002 Kibaki had put down the first marker on this path when he won a multi-party election that ended Moi’s autocratic rule. Odinga helped in his victory. But the two fell out and became political opponents.Kenya, which has been colonized by both Europeans and Arabs, and most recently by the British, had been considered one of the most stable nations in Africa, a refuge from the insanity that plagues its neighbors and a hope for the continent's future. But, in fact, the appearance of stability in Kenya is now exposed as illusory and the tribalism that marks the rest of the continent now waters Kenyan soil in blood.
On December 27, Kenyans voted, with Odinga consistently ahead in opinion polls. He won a parliamentary majority, but two days after election day, delays in counting for the presidential contest and rumours of electoral fraud sparked riots.
Last Sunday, Kibaki was declared the winner by 231,728 votes, even though Odinga had led by a substantial margin in preliminary results. Kibaki was sworn in secretively as 152 European Union observers declared the election deeply flawed.
Aggrieved at having apparently been cheated out of power, Luos went on the rampage against Kibaki’s Kikuyu supporters. Even mobile phone text messages called for violence. “Let’s wipe out the Mt Kenya mafia,” they read, a reference to Kibaki’s power base. “Kill two, get one free.”
The speed of Kenya’s unravelling has been breathtaking. In Africa, one country after another has been racked by political violence, massacres, corruption and civil war. For 44 years, since independence from Britain, Kenya was largely the exception.Tribalism is the normal condition of human existence. One of the greatest acheivements of Western Civilization was to weaken familial and tribal loyalties among Europeans - and even then only imperfectly - just enough to permit the rise of individualism and democratic states. This took centuries of trial and often hideous error in Europe, and only recently resulted in success, mostly in northern Europe and its colonies. The post-colonial nations of Africa may have inherited the legal and governmental structures of the former colonial powers, but not their culture, largely because Europeans never succeeded in establishing sufficiently large European populations in Africa. As European influence has ebbed, indigineous tribal identities, and hatreds, often exploited by the colonial governments, have reawakened, exposing both the deep fissures of African societies and some unpleasant truths about human nature. Group identification isn't only for Africans. It is a basic feature of human behavior. Competition between groups - especially ethnic or tribal groups - can be extremely violent because the stakes are perceived by group members as being very high. This is true everywhere.
It is true that Jomo Kenyatta, its first leader, and his successor, Daniel arap Moi, countenanced little dissent and plundered the national treasury. But viewed against the savagery that descended on its neighbours – Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Rwanda – Kenya was a success story. It was an economic hub and a top tourist destination.
Hidden away were problems, however. Kenya is a mosaic of 42 tribes. But since independence the Kikuyu have dominated politically and economically.
Political patronage enabled them to settle across the country outside their densely populated traditional homeland near Mount Kenya. While poor Kikuyu drove communal taxis or ran street stalls, the wealthier ones owned the big businesses.
Their growing presence and economic power attracted resentment, especially in the Rift Valley in the west.
In the last elections many Kalenjin, the original Rift Valley inhabitants, backed Odinga. Other minor tribes threw in their lot with the flamboyant opposition leader, hoping for a better deal under a Luo president. This led to the closest-fought election in African history.
Without a rapid solution, Kenya’s image as a haven of stability will be shattered. Thousands of western tourists have already been warned to keep away. The country’s billion-pound tourist industry is in jeopardy, and the unrest threatens Kenya’s impressive recent economic growth.There is a pointed warning here, both to those who foolish propose democracy as the solution to all problems, and to those (usually the same group) who favor mass immigration of non-Westerners to Western nations. If the indigineous population of Kenya cannot help but fracture along ancient tribal lines, what will happen in Western nations whose ethnic makeup had been transformed by mass immigration and identity politics into a mosaic of disparate colors and ethnicities, in which the once dominant racial group is no longer dominant enough to hold the others in check?
Although the violence softened at the end of the week, few expect the killing to stop until Kibaki and Odinga negotiate a compromise.
“The level of hatred is very high,” said a Red Cross official. “Violence of tribal origin is the worst. It knows no limits and is extremely difficult to quell.”