Raila's Perfect Storm

Thursday, 23 December 2010
Richard Dowden


What an extraordinary series of events in Kenya this month. First on December 10th the American Ambassador’s brutally frank analysis of Kenyan was revealed by Wikileaks: every single member of the 41-strong cabinet is corrupt, said Michael Ranneberger. And he pledged US support for a new generation to replace the ruling elite.


Next the Kenya parliament produced a report on the 1990 murder of Robert Ouku, Kenya’s foreign minister, which stated that he had been murdered in State House and named Nicholas Biwott, President Moi’s right hand man, as a suspect. It also named the current Internal Security Minister, George Saitoti, as receiving kickbacks in a deal which was one motive for the murder of Ouko.


On December 13th a small group led by Eugene Wamalwa MP tried to test Kenya’s wonderful new constitution which guarantees all sorts of freedoms including the freedom to assemble. They called a youth rally at Kamukunji, the field near the centre of Nairobi which has always been the opposition’s meeting place going back to pre-independence days. The night before the rally the government banned the event – quite illegally under the new constitution. I went along to watch and as the organisers tried to enter the field they were met by heavily armed police who fired tear gas and broke up the rally. The new constitution has failed its first test.


Then on December 15th Luis Moreno Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, revealed the names of six people accused of funding or encouraging the violence that followed the 2007 election in which 1500 Kenyans died and some 350,000 were made homeless. Since the names included two presidential hopefuls, the head of the civil service and the head of the police, Ocampo was clearly not going after small fry.


On Monday, raising the temperature even higher, two people were killed in the centre of Nairobi when a bomb exploded at a bus stop detonated apparently by a suicide bomber targeting a Kampala bound bus. Presumably this was aimed at Uganda for its contribution to the force protecting the Somali government in Mogadishu.


Kenya is used to rough politics, full of deceit, greed and violence. Its politicians regularly use violent racist, sexist and tribalist hate speech to stir up their followers. I was in Nairobi last week and you could feel the temperature rising by the hour but most Kenyans are pretty tolerant and patient and with Christmas coming up there was no sense in taking to the streets. As usual at this time of year Kenya’s chattering classes head home to their villages or to the coast for Christmas and apart from a lot of debate and a few noisy but small demonstrations, the country stayed quiet. But these events will not disappear. They will be very much on the conversation menu at Christmas lunch.


At present the hottest topic is the naming of the six suspects by the ICC. To end Kenya’s almost civil war in 2008, the two sides agreed to form a coalition and their leaders have enjoyed unchecked access to Kenya’s public money. All sides have had their snouts in the trough – hence the comment by the American Ambassador. But while they have been “eating”, the ICC has been digging and targeting those who organised and promoted the violence in 2008.


The list of ICC suspects announced so far creates a fascinating pattern which, intriguingly, fits the political template that allows President Mwai Kibaki to retire next year at the end of his presidential term and gives the prime minister, Raila Odinga, a clear run at the presidency. What a coincidence Mr Ocampo.


The battles that followed the 2007 election took place in three main areas: Western province, the upper Rift Valley and the slums of Nairobi. The power struggle was between supporters of the sitting president, Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and an opposition alliance led by Raila Odinga, a Luo and William Ruto, a Kalenjin (the ethnic group of the previous president, Daniel arap Moi).


The violence erupted in Western province as Luo supporters of Odinga took to the streets in protest at the theft of the election by Kibaki. Most of those killed here died from bullets fired by the police. Hence the naming of the former police chief, Mohammed Hussein Ali. But no Luos were named – their gangs harassed the few Kikuyus in Luo territory, mostly shopkeepers who had their stores looted and burnt, but there were no massacres.


In the Rift Valley the “indigenous” Kalenjin murdered the “foreigner” Kikuyus and their families with machetes, knives or fire. Hence the naming of Mr William Ruto and Henry Kosgei, the two most prominent Kalenjin politicians and a radio journalist, Joshua Arap Sang, who is accused of encouraging his fellow Kalenjin to take up arms. Originally Kalenjin territory, this part of the Rift Valley was colonised by British settlers, whose farms were taken over by the state at independence and handed out by President Kenyatta to his Kikuyu supporters. The ethnic cleansing, which incidentally has occurred at every election since the early 90s, was aimed at restoring that part of Kenya to its “original” inhabitants.  The Kikuyu fought back, led by Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president and currently Finance Minister. He is the leading Kikuyu candidate to replace President Kibaki but Kibaki does not support him. So he is on Ocampo’s list.


Both these battles were mirrored in fighting between Luo, Kalenjin and Kikuyu in the Nairobi slums like Kibera which are divided between different ethnic areas. The different groups went to war to avenge what was going on back home in the Rift Valley or Western Province. President Kibaki could not allow his Kikuyu people to be slaughtered and gangs were organised but the head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura, another powerful Kikuyu has been named by Ocampo, accused of encouraging the police to use force against the opposition.


So the political pattern is that the Kalenjin who ruled Kenya from 1978 to 2002 have been decapitated. The leading Kikuyu candidate for that election, Kenyatta, has also been removed but the heads of the civil service and the police, carry the can for Kibaki, though it is unbelievable that they acted without political direction. It will be interesting to see if they are prepared to go down without naming those who gave the orders.


No Luo has been named so far, leaving Raila Odinga in pole position for the 2012 election.