By Kai Lawson-McDowall
NAIROBI, Kenya – “The 2007 Kenyan Elections was by all definitions a scandalous abuse of power, matched only by the ethnic hatred, an appalling disregard for humanity and a product of the deep corruption in an already dysfunctional government.” – Dr. Bruce Lawson-McDowall, PhD, British Department for International Development
Assuming you have read the first sentence – and yes, it’s my dad who said it – I’m certain you will have retained a general understanding of the violence and its repercussions in the Kenyan elections next week. But something I am also aware of is that this is only a general understanding, a mere familiarity with such events.
Many may lack a detailed knowledge of the true audacity and reason for this horror. There are many possibilities and outcomes for the new elections in Kenya. Yet the March 4 vote is already tainted and strained by Kenya’s former violence and tension six years ago.
In order for you to understand, I think it’s important that international readers comprehend the corruption perpetrated by the leaders and figureheads who fomented this violence.
In 2007, Mwai Kibaki won the presidential elections. Kibaki had already been president since 2003, and in his initial selection, was considered a major decisive force in Kenyan Democracy.
As president, Kibaki was seen as a fresh chapter after Daniel Arap Moi’s prolonged, dictator-like grasp on political power in Kenya for 24 years.
Kibaki claimed his intentions on Jan. 26, 2007, forming an alliance of various political parties who wanted his re-election.
Kibaki’s party become known as the Party of National Unity. But Kibaki faced major opposition and challenge against his political rival, Ralia Odinga, who had formed the political party known as the ODM, or the Orange Democratic.
Odinga had also maintained a high level in the government as chief of Roads, Public Works and Housing from 2003 to 2005.
Despite the long, elaborate political careers and history behind Kibaki and Odinga, most of the Kenyan public only cared about the ethnicity, or the tribal/ religious beliefs, of the two politicians.
Almost every Kenyan sustains, for example, Maasai, Luo or Kikuyu tribal ties. Obviously a candidate’s ethnicity must have some relation to why an individual would elect them, and the reason is simple – shared beliefs and enforcement of such ideas, and mainly, selective perks and special treatment.
That means if you are a Kikuyu, you shall receive higher standards and perks due to your shared ethnicity and faith, and those of a different ethnicity shall receive less benefits assuming their tribal leader is not elected. Although corrupt, this tribal preference was another incentive for power and a reason for the corrupt actions and events that occurred during the violence in 2007.
Now that the ethnic vein of Kenya was throbbing and the pre-prepared violence was organized, all that was needed was a definite win.
Although highly complex and almost unexplainable, it is believed that Kibaki had rigged the polling and used indirect force in order to win the 2007 elections, taking 4.58 million votes, beating Odinga’s 4.35 million.
Kibaki won by a suspiciously large percentage of the vote as opposed to the general average margin of victory.
Although extremely controversial, Kibaki was quick to swear himself in, and despite his obvious electoral fraud, talked loosely and truthfully about the “reconciliation” and “rebirth” of Kenya. Soon after Kibaki’s rushed and secretive swearing in, many ethnic groups felt cheated and angered by such actions, which in turn, lead to the epic violence of the 2007 elections.
Obviously, the elections would not have been so horrific and notorious if not for the immense wave of violence that followed, which left 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced.
Besides the serious effect on the Kenyan population, it also struck a major vein in the already tense and hostile relationships between the ethnic groups of Kenya. Although at first the violence seemed an unorganized rabble, the reality was far from the initial appearance. It turned out that the three waves of concentrated violence was organized specifically to relieve and exploit this ethnic hatred.
The first wave included spontaneous destruction and looting by youths, generally young men, in the slums of Nairobi and against specific ethnic groups and people of certain beliefs, such as Kikuyu and supporters of the Party of National Unity.
Second was the violence prior (in part) to the actual elections organized by tribal leaders and local figureheads, aimed mainly at Kibaki and his questionable victory.
The third wave involved retaliation by government supporters and Kikuyu militias that targeted migrant workers around the country believed to support the governmental opposition.
The police also instigated the violence, due to rampant corruption in the Kenyan police, and did not attempt to prevent violence. Some cops used brutal, over-excessive force to stop protestors.
Obviously, this violence has repercussions, as well as a serious effect on the Kenyan economy. But the question still remains, “How will it affect in 2013?”
The simple answer is potential. Now that this violence has been created, and was effective and deadly enough for the high government officials to seize power and wealth, why shouldn’t they attempt something of similar magnitude again?
As well as this potential, there is also an ethical vendetta to be settled. The various ethnic groups of Kenya and their broken, violent relationship was a driving force behind the electoral violence. The feeling still festers at the center of their deeply entrenched, yet secretive hate. There is a desperate desire for victory, privilege and power, all useful benefits to the already-impoverished Kenyan majority.
As tense and unknown as the possibility of electoral violence in 2013 is, however, I’m fairly certain that whoever is reading this article is safe behind the high concrete walls, surrounded by security guards, topped with a small panic button in your house to call in your entourage to escort you to safety.
Basically, whoever has the opportunity to read this is more or less impervious to electoral violence in Kenya.
We live in our own sheltered community, high up upon the social ladder of Kenya, sitting by itself, untouched by the disasters of election.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Kenyan population, they do not share the same luxuries that we do, cramped into small huts dense in the middle of a volatile slum, relying only on their luck and apparel to save them in the worst-case scenario.
Worst of all for these people is the uncertainty. The two major parties, Odinga’s of Cord (Luo) or Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee (Kikuyu) are for all intents and purposes, tied.
For we do not know who will win, or if Kenya shall collapse into violence.
This electoral tension is also elevated by the precarious politics of the 2007 violence.
As the internationally-aware community knows, Kenya’s two major presidential candidates have been called to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity. That creates the decisive question, “What if the presidential victor is actually convicted?”
This one question is an unwelcomed complication for the already-tight presidential race, and raises an imperative question for the future of political and democratic Kenya.
However, something that we can be certain of is that, if violence explodes uncontrollably over Kenya, we shall be at home with a gourmet beverage, in our pajamas, lazily browsing our computers, as we watch the horrible violence on our flat screen television at home, safe from the brutality, prejudice and more brutality to come.