Thursday, January 31, 2008

Going home

Longonot_2_4_web_3 Somewhat rested, with more perspective and a little trepidation, I am preparing to return to Kenya this weekend.

It has been challenging to watch international media coverage of the conflict. Media houses broadcast an endless stream of images of towns aflame and men with panga wounds to the head. There is little transparency about the Annan-led negotiations between ODM and PNU. They give thin coverage of the human struggle of people living in poverty in rural and urban Kenya.

From friends in Kenya, I hear that the situation in Nairobi is relatively calm, but that there are flare-ups of violence in areas that have not seen much conflict to date.

Some people who have been sent out of the country by their employers have returned or are due back this weekend. Others who have been on the ground the entire time are talking about a new way of working, about armed guards on work and home compounds.

But there are some positives. My flatmate went to her Brazilian dance class downtown on Monday night. Journalist friends say domestic media are working together to try to cover the conflict without exacerbating the violence.  People are doing what they can to move forward despite the sense of suspended animation.

Today I got this message from a Kenyan friend who is generally optimistic. I think it speaks volumes, so am sharing it with you.

"The mediation process is ongoing but both sides are bogged down by their hard-line positions.  Many of us are holding our breath because we know that an uneasy calm prevails only because Kofi Annan is still in Nairobi. The day he gives up and boards his plane home, all 34 to 40 million of us would want to be on the same ride out of Kenya."

When I return, my intention is to continue to focus less on news updates and more on personal stories and perspective. If there is something in particular you would like me to write about, please post a comment or send me an e-mail.

If you have any suggestion for media outlets that might want to pay me for my work, I would be glad for those suggestions as well!

Salcedo_shibboleth_2Before I leave the UK, I have to keep a promise to a friend in Canada. I'm going to visit the Tate Modern. I'll see what's on the walls, but am more interested in Shibboleth, an installation by Doris Salcebo.

It's a great crevasse down the floor of the Modern's giant installation space. It is intended to respond to "a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world."

Shibboleth will perhaps be a chance for new reflections on bridging the deepening divides in the nation bisected by the great Rift Valley.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fairness and justice: a perspective from abroad

Carol moved from Kenya to the UK more than 20 years ago. As the post-election confusion has unfolded, she has been doggedly followed the news and blogs from Kenya. She also tends her own blog, A Political Mugging in God's Own Country.

She describes herself as "a mother of three children and keeper of two cats. Studying international politics at uni and a writer diametrically opposed to Fukuyama's 'End of History' analysis."

She has graciously accepted 8 Month's invitation to write about her perspective on the current conflict

On Fairness and Justice

Kenya's people are bearing huge losses of life and property since the political fallout following the declaration and swearing in of Mwai Kibaki as president of Kenya, on December 30, 2007. 

Fairness and justice matter to Kenyans. The majority have clearly expressed their grievances with what they see as an election "stolen" from their democratically-elected leader, Raila Odinga. For 45 percent of the population, the democratic process now seems a sham.

The youth make demands for their president, Raila Odinga, with slogans such as "No Raila! No Peace!"  Joel Oduor, a demonstrator from Kisumu, express it this way, "We want Kibaki to resign and pave the way for our rightful President Raila Odinga."

These calls are coming from the slums, historically the hotbed of political activism, and from the regional stronghold of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. Street demonstrations are spilling over into violence, in part because members of the General Service Unit of the Kenyan armed forces have used lethal force on demonstrators.

In response to these challenges, Mwai Kibaki has instituted a ban on all live media broadcasts. Some Kenyans see this as an effort to prevent Raila Odinga from mobilizing angry and disaffected youth who support him.

In addition, the government has banned all demonstrations. Under Kenya's constitution people have the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. The police say a ban on all rallies is necessary to prevent "criminal elements" from taking advantage of the situation.

It is ironic that this is happening under Kibaki, whose first administration lifted restrictions on freedom of speech and introduced progressive democratic reforms.  When I visited Kenya last February, there was palpable optimism and pride in the country's democratic gains. The media was freer than even that of the UK. It seemed anyone could say anything. And now this.

The night Kibaki was hastily sworn in for his second term as Kenya's president, the General Service Unit, under cover of darkness, entered the sprawling Nairobi slum of Kibera, seeking out Odinga's supporters.  Odinga belongs to the Luo tribe and about 45 percent of the Kibera population are Luo.

Kenya's General Service Unit is a highly-trained paramilitary force that the government is using to suppress internal dissent. It is made up almost exclusively of Kikuyus. (Decalo S. p.562 and Dianga J. p.135). One of its primary roles during the current conflict is keeping the two million people who live in Nairobi's slum settlements from spilling out into the streets of the capital.

Eyewitnesses reported Luos were being shot and left for dead by the soldiers. In the meantime, some Luos were exacting revenge for the "stolen election." They were attacking their Kikuyu neighbors, most of whom support their fellow tribesman, Mwai Kibaki. The situation quickly descended into a hobbesian war of all against all. 

Kikuyus fled Kibera's slum in vast numbers, many leaving behind their property and belongings. Homes were torched, women and children were raped, babies killed.  About 75,000 women and children are now camped around the city in make-shift shelters reliant on international aid.  [There is now talk that the government plans to disband these camps. It is not clear where the displaced will go from there.]

On hearing the result of the election, Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement called for a mass demonstration at Uhuru Park, in downtown Nairobi. It was to take place the following day.  People in Kibera were determined to reach the park all the same and at whatever the price.  The General Service Unit's tactics changed from the night before, perhaps because leaders were aware that the eyes of the world were on them. 

Water cannons and teargas were directed at crowds of peaceful demonstrators on Nairobi's streets. At the entrances to Nairobi's slums the soldiers fired live rounds in to the air.  When these methods did not seem to work as a deterrent, they started shooting at demonstrators.

In Kisumu, Deputy Police Commissioner Grace Kaindi justified this by saying of the demonstrators, "They don't know another language except the gun."  The media began to report that many of those lying in morgues had been shot in the back. 

Three weeks ago Kibaki calculated that these measures would help to contain people's anger and frustration. Perhaps he assumed that the uprisings would die down after a few days.  He was wrong. These measures have only sharpened the feelings of anger and discontent directed at Kibaki and the clique that surrounds him, known as the Mount Kenya Mafia.


Looking at Kenya today, one can see a muddle of groups with competing claims.  It is difficult to imagine what might hold the nation together, now these grievances borne of frustration have burst to the surface. The recent violence has deepened cleavages between people of different ethnic communities and economic classes.

What is it that makes Kenya homogenous today, apart from the imaginary border that contains her people? Conflicts over the land itself underpin some of the longest-standing disputes in Kenya.

In the Rift Valley, Kalenjin grievances about land were exploited in the lead up to the December 2007 election.  These complaints go back to the era of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president, and beyond to the colonial administration. 

Following independence in 1963, Kenyatta's government bought land from Kenya's white settlers to redistribute to Africans.  Some Kikuyu set up companies to buy large tracts of land which were then resold at prices beyond the reach of most Kalenjins. Kikuyus displaced by the colonial administration resettled here. They took up farming and prospered while the Kalenjin community, traditionally pastoralists, languished under successive regimes.

In Nyanza Province, the geographical heart of Odinga's support, people have suffered under years of governmental neglect.  They have watched the Kikuyu-dominated Central Province receive the biggest slice of the government's revenue pie.

Forty-four years after independence, Nyanza is still grossly under-developed. On the shores of Lake Victoria, Luos ask why no government has undertaken the task of building a lucrative fishing industry. They say business free people from reliance on the politics of patronage.  Many Luos argue that the Kikuyu have "eaten", so have the Kalenjin, and they believed that under Odinga it would be their turn to "eat."

Along Kenya's coast, people complain that Muslim Kenyans have been unfairly targeted and mistreated because of Kibaki's cooperation with the George Bush's administration's so-called war on terror. Some people along the coast have an interest in seeing the back of Kibaki. 

With the Luo only making up 13 percent of Kenya's population, it made little sense for Odinga to mobilise people along strictly tribal lines.  To win with a clear majority Odinga needed to make appeals that cut across lines of ethnicity.  He mobilized these many disenfranchised groups behind ODM's calls for change and his promises to clean up corruption. 

This was a good strategy at the national level and ensured that Odinga's ODM won in six out Kenya's eight provinces [candidates need to win a majority of the votes in at least five provinces to win the presidency] but it was marred by politics at the local level. (Klopp 2001)

For instance, in the Rift Valley, it made little sense for ODM's William Ruto, a Kalenjin, to appeal to his constituency on broad national issues. Instead, he championed local causes, in this case Kalenjin grievances over land. He campaigned on a similar platform in previous elections. For Ruto to disavow ethnic difference in the 2007 race would have been disingenuous. 

It was politically advantageous for William Ruto to politicize ethnicity by emphasizing Kalenjin identity as being distinct from other tribes in the region.  According to Kikuyus who have fled Rift Valley in recent weeks, Ruto preached hatred against the Kikuyu. Now some members of the Kalenjin community have led the massacre of Kikuyus in the region.

Problems of legitimacy

If we can look beyond ethnicity and political affiliations, the problems afflicting Kibaki since his swearing in at the end of 2007 rest squarely on the fact that he does not have the consent of the majority to rule. 

By consent, I mean the principle that in a democratic society, a government's right to use state power is granted by the people over which that power is exercised. That consent relies on moral authority and trust.

In Kenya, consent has been shattered beyond recognition during the past three weeks. So has democratic reform, which seems to have been usurped by a clique of power-hungry old men for whom democracy is a hollow concept. 

Kenyan institutions such as the judiciary, have been exposed as corrupt entities incapable of dealing with other governmental rot that has been revealed in recent weeks.  The shame is, there are many talented Kenyans who could reverse this situation but they are currently being held back.

Mwai Kibaki actions, or more accurately, inactions over the past three weeks have ensured that he has lost the trust of ODM supporters.  Odinga, through his tactical errors, has not been able to reach out to flagging Kibaki supporters. In fact he has alienated many among Kenya's middle and upper classes.

Odinga's error was to go to the electorate with promises that the "national cake" would be distributed more fairly than had been done under Kibaki. Odinga trafficked the perception that the Kikuyu had been the sole beneficiaries of government revenues under Kibaki. 

It is surprising how quickly this campaign succeeded in turning Kikuyus into the national "other."  Sadly, the majority of Kikuyus, like most Kenyans, live on less than 600 USD a year. They are hardly enjoying the prosperity they have been accused of.

Approximately 60 percent of Kenyans live in poverty, surviving on less than two dollars a day. Poverty cuts across lines of ethnicity. While Kenya's political elite point to the five percent annual economic growth that Kenya has experienced under Kibaki, they do not acknowledge that this has come at a price for Kenya's poorest citizens who have seen widening of the gap between rich and poor.

All Odinga managed to do was mobilise the poor against the poor. This is why I say he made a tactical error.

No doubt there are Kikuyu in the political elite who have benefited under Kibaki but Kenya's political elite is multi-ethnic who have more in common with each other than they do with the poor and vice versa.  Similarly, Kenya's multi-ethnic poor have more in common with each other than they do with the elite. 

What we are really witnessing is an inter-elite conflict which has led to deaths, displacements and disenfranchisement of poor Kenyans across the country. Kenya's poor are deprived of a leader or a movement capable of addressing their diverse grievances and aspirations.

Listening to the voices of the powerless can humanise all of us.

Odinga can not possibly hope to lead a social movement that excludes the 22 percent of the Kenya populace who are Kikuyu.  He must acknowledge his campaign has so far engendered fear, terror and mistrust.  Why was he unable to foretell that his actions would lead to this? 

At its heart, this conflict is about resources. In a country where wealth was distributed more equitably, tribalism would never arise.

Lack of legitimacy

The problems besetting Kibaki stem from the fact that his legitimacy relies on how the people view his right to govern.  If close to 50 percent of the population believe he has stolen the election, how can he expect to be given consent to govern? This is a problem. 

By continuing to avoid being seen in public, and by refusing to acknowledge that the elections were flawed, he encourages the view that his claims to govern are illegitimate and further undermines the notions of democratic consent on which his governance must rest.  In other words, having compromised the democratic process he has undermined his own claims to govern.

Kibaki can not regain legitimacy through coercion. The Kiberan chant of "Democracy or death" is testimony to that. People have made up their minds that the value of attaining democracy outweighs the potential cost of dying in the process.

For too long the poorest Kenyans have been denied work, resources, services and protection by the state. This is a country where a degree holder can work as a night-watchman.  A change in power represents their best hopes of reversing this situation.  Raila Odinga expressed that hope. 

Kibaki can only offer the political status quo. For now, he is tied to placing a fence around the slums and to guarding their exits.  He has also shown that he is prepared to continue to exclude the disenfranchised from the political process by refusing for so long to meet with Odinga.

Kibaki must lift all bans on live media broadcasts. He must allow people the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. He should prohibit the GSU from using live rounds on innocent demonstrators.

Most importantly, Kibaki must remember that it is only through fair face-to-face negotiations that legitimacy can be conferred.  Kibaki ignores this at his peril, and at the peril of countless Kenyans who seem wiling to die for economic equality and true democracy. 

Decalo S., (p562), Modalities of Civil-Military Stability in Africa, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4. (Dec., 1989), pp. 547-578.

Dianga J. W., (p.135), 2002, Kenya 1982, The Attempted Coup: The Consequence of a One Party Dictatorship, Pen Press, London.

Klopp J.M., Ethnic Clashes" and Winning Elections: The Case of Kenya's Electoral Despotism, Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Etudes Africaines, Vol. 35, No. 3. (2001), pp. 473-517.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Politics and history: a perspective from the present

Asc_signDavid Anderson is faculty at the African Studies Center of Oxford University. He first went to Kenya in 1979 and has been studying, writing and teaching about politics and history in Africa since then.

He generously took an hour out of his busy schedule to share his views on the political situation in Kenya.

The transcript below is very long but, I think, very interesting. Please feel free to comment.

How surprised were you, personally, by the duration of the violence that we have seen since the election?

I wasn't surprised at all. Violence has characterized Kenyan politics since at least the 1960s, and arguably earlier. From the early 1990s, that violence became increasingly instrumental to the political process itself.


Yes, in that the Moi government purposefully deployed violence as part of its electoral politics. This is not a matter of debate or speculation, it's a matter of fact. That fact was confirmed even by a parliamentary committee. The great, great sadness of Kenya's politics is that no one was ever prosecuted for it.

Why was the international community so surprised?

Because they don't watch what they are doing. The international community is only concerned about a story once it becomes newsworthy. I returned from Kenya in mid-December and told anyone who cared to listen what was going to happen. Because as those in Nairobi knew only too well, both parties had a plan B. In both cases, plan B would result at the very least in civil disturbance, in the very worst case in violence. And it was obvious, if the polls were anywhere near right, that plan B would be necessary.

Now no one in the British government was very interested in that until the [situation escalated]. So the problem in world politics is getting people's attention before something happens.

How would you characterize the international community's perception of Kenya pre-December 30th?

I think those who work for donor groups and international agencies engaged in the process of fostering democratization and humanitarian rights in Africa and elsewhere inevitably play a double game. They want to encourage the development of the trends and changes they want to see. At the same time, they are aware that they do not live in a perfect world, that inevitably there will be gradualism, limitations to be accepted.

In the case of Kenya, those constraints have been heavily inflected post 9-11 by Kenya's role as the crucial regional ally for the west in its war on terrorism.

So whereas up until 2001, American and British pressure in Kenya was fairly acute, to the extent that, in 2000, within two years of the 2002 elections, some European governments were seriously considering pulling the aid plug on Kenya. But by the end of 2001, that had completely changed. There was no way anyone was going to put Kenya under that much pressure. And every Kenyan politician knows that.

So their bargaining position increased enormously. They realized that they actually didn't need to play the game as cleanly as they might otherwise have done. And they knew that they could get away with brokering solutions that would have otherwise not been acceptable to their international partners.

So since 2001, Kenyan politics has actually got dirtier. The west and the donors have turned a very blind eye to it.

Who gains from this faulty perception of Kenya as a democratic and developmental anchor?

So long as the myth persisted and nothing too dramatic happened, then no one internationally was harmed by it. Although, the Kenyan people and their desire for democracy were severely thwarted by it.

How? Can you give me an example?

In the sense that, we moved into a phase where Kenya's civil society is extremely energetic, engaged and pro-active. It has filled, more than filled, the democratic space that has been made for it.

But it has a political elite that still makes its calculations not on the basis of how many votes it can garner through persuasion and discussion, but how many votes it can garner through political deals and brokerage.

"The push for coalition government actually moves us backwards."

The old guard of autocrats who ruled Kenya for so many years are still there. And their political residue is still there. As the elections have become tighter, more closely run affairs, people commanding relatively small groups of support have greater degrees of power.

In the current campaign, once it became clear that Mwai Kibaki was, indeed, in trouble and that Odinga's opposition might just win, PNU at once began cultivating support among those that they might not have otherwise not have counted as their friends. That brought several old guard politicians back into play and it allowed them to get their hooks into the electoral process.

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that their participation is the sole reason for what happened, but their engagement with PNU certainly didn't help.

In an era of coalition politics, where people need partnerships in order to get power, the Kenyan political elite is likely not to become less autocratic, but to become more autocratic. The push for coalition government actually moves us backwards, not forwards, in terms of democratic institution building.

Why do the West and Kenya's neighbors need at least the image of Kenya as a stable democracy?

We have to be a little careful here. Although you have described it as an image and in my answer, I have been inclined to endorse that, for many of the people involved at senior levels in world organizations and donor groups, it is a reality. Kenya is seen by them as the most stable of their African partners. That may be a relative term but it's an important one.

Also, Kenya is a country they have felt that they can do business with and do business in, in that most things in Kenya are negotiable. Those things are seen by the West as being substantive and important. And even if Kenya is somewhat frayed at the edges, it is the least frayed at the edges of all the alternatives.

So why is Kenya valuable in its current state to the West and its neighbors?

It's still valuable because the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, for example, in 2006, could not have taken place effectively without support from Kenya. And without the bases and the logistic support that the Kenyan government has provided by allowing American and (as far as I am aware) British security forces to operate from Kenyan soil.

Kenya is seen as a very important ally in regional organizations, the East African group in particular but the African Union also, in acting as a broker for Western opinion and in being a sounding board through which the Americans and British in particular can find out what other African governments are doing and how they might behave.

I read somewhere that you think that this conflict is not actually tribal...

It is very interesting when you analyze the voting behavior of the Kenyan people, the very mixed results you get. In some constituencies, in some areas, Kenyans vote ethically, strongly ethnically. But in other areas, they don't vote ethnically at all and never have done.

It's an immensely complex picture and it's often mediated by much more contemporary and current events. People will vote for other reasons than ethnicity and frequently do. And the more urban they are, the less ethnic they tend to be.

All these things need to be factored in because they help us to realize that what has happened since the 2007 "results" were announced, has been an up-swelling of reaction, but that it has had different formulations in different places.

This is not simply the usual academic lament that it is all much more complicated than you realize. It is actually a description of the reality.

So even in the Rift Valley where my colleagues and I have been doing considerable work to try to understand what has been happening, it is quite clear in Rift Valley there are at least four quite different sets of conflicts going on. They are motivated by different people with different causes and different issues at their heart.

None of them, as it happens, are intrinsically to do with the ballot results. They are all mobilizations and activations of other kinds of dispute for which this provides a wonderful camouflage and excuse.

Now, of course, that kind of detail is much too complicated for international agencies to deal with. They don't want to get to that kind of grained understanding. But Kenyans understand it all too well.

So when [a staff person from the Kenyan Human Rights Organization] claims that violence in the Rift Valley was paid for and organized by politicians, she is right. But that that doesn't mean that that is what happened everywhere.

The danger in saying that the conflict is purely ethnic comes from the fact that the international media seize upon it and then present the conflict purely and simply in those terms. Before you know it, Kenya is being presented as the second Rwanda. All the subtle understandings are lost because the comparison is all that then matters.

I think we have a responsibility as commentators, who know Kenya better, not to fall into that trap and to argue against any simple-minded, witless journalist who wishes to make that point.

Is there some kind of comparison that is more fitting, that people in the developed world might be familiar with? Is there something that you would compare it to?

Let me firstly say that the correlation of the Rwanda comparisons that were touted in the press fell exactly in relation to the murders in the church in Eldoret. That single event did more than anything else to trigger those comparisons.

However, the explanation that violence is to some extent controlled by politicians, is to some extent payed for, that people in the Rift Valley in particular sent text messages encouraging others to "finish their work" (which is a direct parallel of the Rwandan case) all of those things do invoke the images of Rwanda to some extent. But I think it is the wrong comparison.

Kenya's struggles are much more localized in their focus and driven by much more intimate politics. I think that there isn't an obvious comparator that one can reach for. What you can do is give an explanation of a political system and what has happened to it.

That explanation begins with Moi [Kenya's President from 1978 to 2002].It begins with Moi's reaction to being pushed into multi-party democracy in 1989. His reaction was to say that this would engender tribal violence in Kenya. He made that comment explicitly. He then made it come true by arming his own militia, training them through his own military and police, and sending them into action against communities that he victimized.

"Violence is not an event. It is a process. It takes on a life of its own."

He and his supporters did this predominantly in the Rift Valley. It's not surprising that three of the main sites of the violence in the last two weeks are the sites that he inaugurated that violence in, in 1992.  Violence is not an event. It is a process. It takes on a life of its own. Violence breeds reaction and further violence, whether defensively or aggressively. That, in turn, provokes a further response.

We are now in a cycle of violence in these places that has very little to do with the actual politicians and has now become more to do with people's own sense of shame, fear, vulnerability and anxiety. That is a very dangerous position to be in.

So we have classic instability when people don't feel that they are secure, they don't feel that the organs of the state can protect them, therefore they have to protect themselves. So we move into the realms of vigilantism and militias. And in that situation, unscrupulous politicians will thrive. Frankly, Kenya's Rift Valley province has more than its fair share of unscrupulous politicians.

Now you add to that, in Kenya's case, the issue of constitutional reform and you get a very combustible mix. The constitutional reform issue has revolved around the whole debate about devolved powers. For Kenyans, that revives all the issues around majimboism.

Attempts by noble and honest commentators to retrieve regionalism from the carnage of a majimbo debate have been very earnest and very worthwhile but they have not succeeded in capturing the public imagination. The public still sees majimbo as a violent, ethnocentric campaign to cleanse some parts of Kenya from people who were not born in that part.

That, for Kenyans, is a very serious and real political conundrum. It seems to me that most Kenyans do want some kind of local government, even if they are not sure whether they want some kind of devolved government. Unless they can sweep away the majimbo debate and discuss local government and regional representation with a clear head, we are likely to be trapped in the traffic of this violent politics for a long time to come.

Taking a step back from the straight political discussion, how would you characterize tribalism in Kenya, as compared to other East African states?

We do now have some ways of doing that empirically. There are creditable and credible sources that try to measure it. The best one, to my knowledge, is Afrobarometer, that has conducted questionnaires in may different African countries, dealing with peoples voting habits.

"People in Kenya really do express their identity, first and foremost, in national terms"

If you look at the Afrobarometer findings for Kenya, what you see is people in Kenya really do express their identity, first and foremost, in national terms. They are Kenyan before they are anything else. And the figures for Kenya on this particular question are just about the highest in Africa. So Kenyans are more nationalistic than almost anyone else.

When you ask them about tribal identity, they also identify with that quite strongly. So the point is, they are both, but they really do see themselves as Kenyan. Now I think that is profoundly important. Although they want their regional identity recognized, acknowledged and properly respected, they don't want not to be Kenyan. There has never been a secessionist debate in Kenya. Majimboism has never been about separation, it's been a debate about resource flows, about who gets what and whether it is actually fair.

What hope do you have for a more issues-based political discourse in Kenya?

It would be very pleasing indeed to imagine a political future where Kenya's political parties were organized around issues of principle, ideology and social order, that we had visions of the future as it were. There are Kenyan politicians, I think, who have that now, but they are not yet in the majority. And I think it is going to take us another two decades to get there.

We've had two decades so far in which we have managed to entrench electoral politics as a democratic institution. And this election has not been stolen from Raila Odinga, it has been stolen from the Kenyan people. That is the point. It doesn't matter who won the ballot. It's been stolen from the people who bothered to go and vote.

We've had 20 years of building up elections. Can we now, in the next 20 years, build up the institutions that will allow politics to take an ideas-based route. That will involve strengthening things like the electoral commission, strengthening parliament enormously. The Kenyan parliament, to be honest, is a joke. It seriously needs reform. Kenya does need a new constitution. It has to have one. The failure of Kibaki's government to achieve that, now looks much more important than it did when the government lost that vote.

How would you compare the run-up to December 27th, to the run-up to the 2002 election? In 2002, the world community was saying, "Kenya's done it. Here it is: Democracy."

That's because the world community wanted to believe that it really was a new era. If you look at the serious analysis of that result, all of us analysts who knew Kenya better were much more cautious. Most wrote about the beginnings of a process, not the end of a process. Many of us did say that the hard work lay ahead, not behind us. Having removed the old guard from power, they were still standing in the wings.

And Kibaki is not quite "new guard"...

Indeed not and there were some of us who made that point as well. Kibaki's government in 2002 was appallingly conservative. It was a government of, for and by the middle classes, intended entirely to secure a set of vested interests that were already well-ingrained and well-established.

That was said at the time by many analysts, but it wasn't what the international community wanted to hear. They wanted to champion Kenya as Africa's most mature democracy. They wanted to support the transition, in the genuine hope that by supporting it, you would encourage it along more quickly.

That is where the real naivete and stupidity comes. Because, of course, the African politicians in Kenya are all-too-well aware of what the limits of their powers may or may not be. And they have, in the 2007 elections, exploited the fact that the West and the international community have assumed that Kenya is OK. The electoral practices we have seen in 2007 have been far worse than anything we've seen before. 1982 was pretty bad but this beats it.

What that tells you, if you look at it chronologically, they did it in 1992 because they needed to win. By 1997 and 2002, they were aware that people were watching and you have to be more careful. Some of the practices were more constrained by institutional impositions put in place by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and others. By 2007, they thought, "What the heck. We know how to get around these things."

"What politicians have learned is how to fudge election results."

There is a learning curve here, is what I am suggesting. What politicians have learned is how to fudge election results, what you do in order to avoid oversight. Oversight has also diminished. As international observer groups have come to feel that Kenya is OK, they need further observers. If you recall, the Kenyan government had some debate late year about how many observers Kenya would let in.

When you know so little about the local politics, you have no idea what shenanigans will go on. Some people who were on observer groups simply have no idea of the extent of what went on.

Is that why it's taken so long for the international community to come out with statements of concern about the electoral process and results?

That has a rather different explanation. Kibaki's haste to have himself confirmed in a second term and the fact that the head of the electoral commission was pretty much forced into doing it, tells you something very significant.

What Kibaki was doing there was trading on the fact that the electoral commissioner's reputation was high internationally, that people would generally want to support him, that he was seen as a leading member of the Commonwealth electoral commissioner's group, etcetera, etcetera.

Kivuitu's reputation in Kenya in 2007 came under serious challenge because of what people knew was going on in the interference with the independence of the commission. But externally, international groups felt they should support Sam because he was trying to do a good job in a difficult situation. Now Kibaki and his advisers showed great astuteness in realizing that.

How can Kenya move toward a more holistic development?

That question has to be answered in several parts. There are two main areas...

Firstly, institutional development, boring and dull as it may sound, is absolutely critical. Elections aren't worth the paper they are written on, if they aren't supported by strong institutions. The electoral commission has to be restored, rebuilt and given serious powers.

The judiciary needs complete overhauling and all of the replacements (particularly those appointed on Christmas Eve) removed. Parliament needs to be funded properly, given functioning working committees, the opposition properly instituted in its parliamentary role, review and other procedures of government business inaugurated and carried through to a proper conclusion, drafts persons and assistants appointed and paid for by the state so that parliamentarians can do their business, and so on.

All of those things are functional to any democractic politics. Without it, if you don't win, you lose everything because you have no role. You have to give opposition politicians a reason to be there. That reason comes from a functioning parliamentary democracy. We have to invest in these things and instead of giving Kenyan politicians pay raises, why not simply give them allowances and funds to support their offices properly.

So that is one part. There is another part about coalition governments and how that works.

If you look historically at how democracies evolved in other parts of the world. There are often a number of different phases through which that must take place. In Kenya and in much of Africa, we are at the end of the first phases, which is a phase in which you get rid of these old guard autocrats who ran the rotten burrows and paid for politics to happen. You move into a situation where they have to compete in an election against others on terms that are not purely set by the depths of their pockets.

That's what we've got in Kenya. It doesn't mean that those old guard are yet lost. They are still there, but they are now having to compete in a different arena.

That tends to lead to a much more closely-run politics. Large parties find it difficult to dominate. Small parties proliferate. Lots of small parties tend to be weak, but collectively they gain power, so they form coalitions. But these coalitions are kaleidoscopes: lots of moving parts, people who can be bidded in or out of them depending on who pays them. The corruption that caused autocrats to dominate moves into a phase when corruption is used to buy off smaller groups, one against the other.

This is exactly what we've just seen in the 2007 election in Kenya. People with deep pockets, many of whom may be those who filched it from the state in the last 20 years, still have enormous power.

Now this coalition phase, in my view, is even more dangerous than what went before. Because people can exploit these [cultural] differences to their own advantage. Coalition politics can actually lead both to the entrenching of vested interests and to the slowing down of democratic reform. The people who don't want that reform may be a very small minority but their participation in a coalition may be crucial to its power. That's exactly where we are now.

"What we are seeing is a pattern. And it's a pattern that is not intrinsically Kenyan."

I would argue that it's not jut Kenya that is there: it's Zambia, it's Malawi, Nigeria is heading in the same direction, Uganda will be exactly the same when it moves to multi-party politics. What we are seeing is a pattern. And it's a pattern that is not intrinsically Kenyan. It's intrinsic to the process that we are looking at.

People at the start of this transition to democracy were not honest enough or candid enough about what was going to happen. This is utterly predictable. You can model it. It is likely to happen, not unlikely to happen. But, hey, maybe if in 1989, you'd said to the Kenyan people, "Well, we are going to have 40 to 50 years of turmoil and then you'll have a nice democratic country." Would they have been quite so keen?

I've heard a lot of people say that, while they waited so long to exercise their right to vote on December 27th, they are now wishing the election never happened...

I've heard this again and again and again. My e-mail box is full of it. I have been saying and I will be saying to the British government tomorrow when I meet with them, that democratic participation in Kenya has just taken one hell of a hit. Getting these good people back out again is going to be really difficult.

And if you think they are going to vote for Mwai Kibaki or Raila Odinga again, forget it. Damaged goods, both. They are out of here whether they like it or not. The real problem is, who can replace them?

I quite agree that we have got to rebuild now a sense of participation. That's going to be really, really difficult. And it is one of the hazards of this kind of coalition. Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, exactly the same. People feel that politics just isn't worth the time. And yet, their lack of participation opens the door for all kinds of mischief and any kind of tyrant or autocrat getting power with a relatively small power base.

So I think we are in a very dangerous situation. We are going to have a long time of it. We are in for at least another decade of really quite difficult, fraught, fractured politics where it is going to be very, very touch-and-go whether things can be held together.

So, is culture really just a wedge that people are using?

Yes. I don't think culture is the cause of this at all. I often say to my students that they must be careful not to mistake a description for an explanation.

In Kenya's case, this is very appropriate. The cultural politics is simple a description of what you think you see, it's not an explanation of what is actually motivating what is happening.

What does the international community need to do, in this precarious moment?

In the first place, they need to shut up. One of the grossest errors made in this entire process in Kenya was Gordon Brown's office issuing a press release to tell the world that our hero, Prime Minister Brown, had offered Kenya a solution to its problem. I'm quite sure that Gordon Brown was well-meaning. I'm quite certain that the arbiters he proposed to both Raila and Mwai were perfectly sensible. But why the hell did he have to tell the world he had done it? Did he really need the credit for that?

And in Africa of all places, having former colonialists tell you what to do ain't good politics. Even if, personally, those politicians were happy to accept that advice, they didn't want the world told that they had done so.

So if the West is going to "help" Africa, it can help it first by keeping its opinions to itself and doing things quietly and subtly and giving assitance where it is wanted and not being heavy-handed, and never taking the credit for it.

Secondly, they can do their level best to be more honest and more candid in their evaluation of what progress is being made. Stop kowtowing to tyrants. Stop allowing them to believe they are getting away with it. Be blunter. Be franker. They are not fooling people, least of all the Kenyan people, who know only too well how messy and rotten their politics is. Why are they shy of saying so? Kenyans respect you far more for your honesty and integrity.

So I think we just have to be braver and bolder and more honest. And if we can do that, I think we will find that people come into politics in Kenya with the right standards, qualities and integrity. But they won't come in if they think they are going to be mired in this dishonesty. If we can get them into a situation where they feel they are being treated and supported properly, then I think there are good people who will come forward. It will take a little while. We are not going to see them in the next 12 months, but there will be people who will come forward.

The other thing, if the West is going to give money to something, for God's sake, give money to building institutions and to building up legislators and parliaments.

How are you feeling about all of this?

What I feel most of all, I'm just angry about it.

Angry at whom?

Anger at the political elite, that they can treat the Kenyan people with such complete contempt. That just infuriates me. I have had a lot of contact with politicians on both sides in this process and even those who I respect and admire have stretched my patience to breaking point.

Is it egotism or a power hunger that drives their actions?

I don't think it is always egotism. I think it is power brokerage mostly. They simply believe that if they don't win then everything is lost. And that comes down to the cost of politics, to the fact that both parties raised significant portions of their election funds from people they knew to be deeply corrupt. They took that money and happily spent it. Both candidates allowed their candidate to use Community Development Funds and knew it. Both parties allowed their candidate to use state resources, and knew it. So things have to be settled.

"The whole idea that we can run this election again in six months' time is complete poppycock."

And they know that they can't afford to do it again in the near future. The whole idea that we can run this election again in six months' time is complete poppycock.There is no way we can run it again.

So what is the answer?

There is no answer at the moment. And if one is being really blunt about it, PNU and Kibaki realized that. They realized only too well that if they got the key to the kingdom, there was no way anyone was going to take it off them.

It has been alleged that the United States has offered to fund a re-run. That idea has been bandied around in the European Union as well. The relative costs of doing that are quite small. But what could be more likely to illegitimate the entire process than having it externally funded? It is a good question to ask because it does get to the heart of the problem. If election funding could have been regulated and controlled in an effective way, we would not be where we are now.

So you either spend 20 years building up the institutions to get there, or you let the U.S. pay for the election now and cut out the agony. But, of course, you don't cut out the agony because you still wouldn't have the institutions.

I am not at all sure that we can have another election. I also think that if we did have another election in the next 12 months, the turnout would be around 30 percent. It would be like firing a starting gun for the people who [want violence].

I don't see an easy solution. When I stop running around and doing interviews like this, I will be deeply depressed, because we are not in a good place.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Culture and democracy: a perspective from the past

As I was waiting for my interview with David Anderson, at the Ogot_4_webOxford African Studies Center, I was reading Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, 1940-1993 (edited by B.A. Ogot & W. R. Ochieng').

In the section on the period between 1978 and 1988, I found this chapter. The first paragraph seems particularly relevant to what is happening in Kenya right now.

Here's what Ogot, director of the Institute of Research and Postgraduate Studies at Maseno University College had to say...

The histories of most societies indicate that, in working out developmental priorities, the sequence is usually from the economic and technological priority to social concerns and finally to cultural problems.

The predominant emphasis on output goals, such as capital formation and the raising of gross national product (GNP), soon leads to problems of social justice: equity and human rights. In other words, the reckless pursuit of wealth, unaccompanied by broader social objectives, aggravates social tensions and generates disharmonies and conflicts which are bound to have unsettling effects on the social order.

Often, during these first two stages of development, the cultural objectives of development are either left undefined or stated in very general and vague terms. It is usually when forces of destabilization are unleashed that societies are forced to show some concern for culture. This normally means making an attempt to find an alternative approach to development, and a realization that the concept of development itself is value-loaded.

In short, it is during this third stage that societies realize that the development paradigm is not an economic matter but a cultural one.

Anderson has a more political take on the current conflict. The transcript of our lengthy interview is coming to you next.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kenya calling - the view from London

Empty_plane_1 The moment we lifted off the ground in that empty 767 out of Nairobi, it became clear that we all need a little perspective on the current conflict in Kenya.

So, for the time being, 8 Months will leave the news reporting to the people on the ground: bloggers, mega-media houses and local press.

An American friend who has lived in Kenya for about 40 years told me recently that the media are not providing enough context to what is happening.

Why is the international community surprised by this violent manifestation of tribalism in Kenya?

Why are some urban Kenyans surprised by it as well?

What are these old grudges based on?

How can they be reconciled, particularly given the violence that is ongoing across the country?

Bye_bye_nbi_3 Do you want to weigh in on any of those questions? Meanwhile, I'm looking for some voices here in the UK (Kenyan and otherwise) who might have something informative to say.


Friday, January 18, 2008

In flight Friday

The orange sweater is a political statement. I only realised that when a Kenyan woman at the airport cafe made a joke about my being an ODM supporter. Rookie move to wear orange. Clearly, I need a break.

Driving out of Nairobi this morning, traffic was jammed where it is usually jammed, free flowing down Uhuru highway on the way to the airport. There were crowds of General Service Unit soldiers barricading Uhuru Park, as they have for weeks now.

This is the final day of scheduled protests and, word on the street is, they will be the most heated.

Although the protests on Wednesday in Kisumu and Eldoret were relatively peaceful until police tried to disperse the demonstrators, they became more violent on Thursday. One TV reporter shot tape of police shooting a man, then beating him on the ground. A young boy was killed in Kisumu when police fired on protesters. There were more deaths and injuries in Eldoret and Kibera.

There are also reports of the army lobbing teargas into hospitals in Kisumu and concern that troops from the Ugandan army may be operating in Western and Nyanza provinces.

There have been relatively few injuries in Mombasa protests over the past two days, but the BBC is reporting that they expect the situation in that coastal town to be hot today.

Spokespeople for the police are actively defending their actions, saying that the protestors are criminals, that they are threatening police.

It seems that ODM supporters have picked up steam over the course of the week. The European Union, the Commonwealth and the United States are all in various stages of threatening to freeze or freezing aid to Kenya. The European Union is threatening that it will only unfreeze aid once there is a presidential re-run, or a credible ballot re-count.

More international election observer groups are now coming out with stronger statements about the apparent rigging of the elections.

Meanwhile, both Odinga and Kibaki seem to have their heels firmly dug into the red Kenyan soil.

There is no word as to when, or if, Kofi Annan might come to Kenya to help find some resolution. I have no idea what, if any, difference his presence might make.

Although the food situation is improving around the country, people in Kibera damaged the rail line that bisects the settlement. Depending on how soon government staff are able to repair the damage, transport of goods to Uganda and other central African countries may slow again.

But driving out of Nairobi this morning, traffic was jammed where it is usually jammed, free flowing down Uhuru highway on the way to the airport. People are trying to get to work.

Over the past two days, I've asked dozens of people what they are expecting to happen here next week. Nobody has an easy answer.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday - heading out

Somehow in the shuffle, I seem to have lost my sense of humor.

I've been planning a trip to London for a few months now. A week ago I was considering cancelling so that I could stay here and keep covering the situation in Kenya. Now, I'm ready for a break.

I leave on Friday, but will continue to post. I have some longer features I'm working on and have arranged to get news from some friends around the country. I have also asked some Kenyans to write for you.

In the meantime, the BBC is collecting first-person accounts of the protests. You can also get news from other bloggers in Kenya.

Some members of the blogging community here have set up a site for reporting violence in Kenya.

It's hard to leave right now, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of people here who do not have the means to escape the conflict.

It will be interesting to see what a few days and many miles of perspective will bring. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rainy, fiery Wednesday update

It was pouring down rain when I woke up this morning.

In Nairobi, it rained heavily for most of the monring. There was rain in Mombasa too.

And although the rain slowed the planned protests, it did not stop them. ODM-supporters across the country exercised their right to assemble, despite a government ban on public meetings.

In Kisumu, crowds of protestors demonstrated peacefully and without looting, until police tried to disperse them in the afternoon.

Protestors came out in Mombasa once the rain cleared. They were chased off the streets and three people who claiming to be human rights activists were arrested for their participation.

Some of the worst fighting was in Mathare and Kibera, two Nairobi slums where the majority of residents are ODM-supporters.

By eight this morning, George said there were police roadblocks in Kibera. He said people were leaving the settlement for Uhuru Park, but only one-by-one. Later in the day, as groups of people tried to head into town, the police used teargas and live rounds to keep them in Kibera. According to press reports, one man was killed and three other were shot.

Kenyan press are reporting that in Mathare police also used gunshots and teargas to keep people from leaving the settlement. They also reportedly fired teargas at apartment buildings in an attempt to "smoke out criminals."

Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, and ODM members of parliament tried to get to Uhuru Park today, but they were also driven away by police.

Yesterday, Julianna told me that she was sending her three children to school today, "to make a statement" about wanting life to go back to normal. But she stayed home with her kids instead.

I am beginning to wonder what will happen when children do return to school.

On Monday I heard stories of people stoning buses full of children on their way to school. Another person told me a story of a young woman who was stabbed in the arm by a young man who was a classmate and a neighbour. They were from different tribes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the young man's family was forcefully evicted from their home that night.

Tonight Julianna says, although she wants life to go back to normal, she is not sure when or how it will happen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Parliament yes, Annan no - Tuesday update

Tuesday was a big day in Kenya.

Parliament opened today.

In Nairobi, the police closed down many streets leading to Parliament and other roads in and out of town. Depite concerns that there might be protests today, there was little reported trouble.

In the house itself, however, it was a different story.

Although Odinga did not carry out his promise to sit on the government's side of the chamber, the ODM members did not stand when Kibaki entered the room. After that symbolic rejection of his Presidency, there was a long series of votes to determing the new Speaker of Parliament.

SpeakerThe ODM-supported candidate, Kenneth Marende, won with 105 votes. The previous speaker, Francis ole Kaparo, had 101.

Pundits have been forecasting that the ODM's parliamentary majority will make it hard for the PNU presidency to get any work done over the next five years. They say this first day back to business is confirming their suspicions.

There are many important bills that have been carried over from the last parliamentary session, legislation about freedom of information and press freedom among them. It is not clear how ongoing powers struggles in parliament will affect their passage.

Perhaps more importantly, Kofi Annan has delayed his trip to Kenya. The press reports that the flu is keeping him from traveling, but yesterday a PNU minister said that Annan's help  was not needed in Kenya.

There is no firm date set for Annan's arrival.

Wednesday could be a big day as well. It is the scheduled start to the three days of protest Odinga called for last week. The government has banned all public assemblies.

On Monday, General Service Unit troops had already cordoned off Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi, where people attempted to rally last week.

The atmosphere in Nairobi is certainly more tense than it has been in days but I have heard many people say that they are just plain tired of the disruption, of the violence. Maybe that fatigue will take the fire out of protests this week.

But fatigue and a desire to get back to daily life will not solve the political impasse. It remains up to Kenya's leaders to do that. We will see if they take any steps toward that in the coming days.

I am working on a long post about local press coverage, but in the meantime, will keep my eyes on the situation here.

Thanks for staying tuned.

Monday, January 14, 2008

8 Months on tape

Mic_for_webIf you haven't heard enough of me, you can listen to a couple of the debriefs I've been doing so much lately.

Maine Public Broadcasting is the organization that so graciously gave me a leave of absence to come to Kenya...

Marketplace is a great business program that folks in the public radio world like to jokingly call "business news for liberal arts majors". In my opinion, they do some of the best radio storytelling in the United States. My debrief is certainly not the best thing on the show, but you can also see more photos from Korogocho there...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Humanitarian effort, human challenge

I have never been so happy to see a man with a gun.

On Friday I went into Korogocho with the Kenya Red Cross, as they tried to bring food supplies to almost 1,000 people who have been displaced from their homes.

Poor security, a few bad apples and desperation born of hunger led to a mob scene that forced the Red Cross to leave after giving food to only a handful of people. It took tear gas and a couple of gun shots to get the convoy out of Korogocho before the situation became violent.

I do not really know how to begin writing about what I saw on Friday, but I have 200 photos. You are welcome to read on for an annotated photo essay.

Warehouse_for_web The Kenya Red Cross operates out of a large complex on the east side of town.

As they try to meet some of the basic needs of the more than 250,000 people who are currently displaced, the offices are open 24 hours a day.

They are accepting donations of food and clothes from the public. Businesses, non-profits and the government are also contributing food and hard goods.

The warehouse on the complex is stocked full of food, water, mattresses, blankets. One corner of the compound is now a makeshift drop point for bulk food and bagged clothes.

Loading_1_for_webWhen we arrived early Friday morning, most of the outdoor goods were covered in tarps. Trucks of all sizes were easing in and out of the small parking lot. An excess of volunteers were busy loading donations to take to sites around Nairobi, and to other cities and towns around Kenya.

The Red Cross has brought staff from across the country to Nairobi and other crisis centers, to help organize the relief effort. Many ordinary Kenyans are volunteering their time to help as well. Mid-morning, about 40 people from an accounting company arrived to help load the trucks.

It took most of the morning to load three small trucks. We set off with about 30 staff people, heading for Korogocho.

Trucks_for_web_3The settlement is part of the expansive Eastleigh area. It is somewhat notorious among Nairobi slums. Like Kibera, it has been in place for many decades. It is built on both public and private land.

Unlike Kibera, Korogocho has a reputation for violence. Theft is widespread. The Mungiki gang is said to be very active in the area. As we were driving in, my friend Felix pointed down one street and said, "That is Kosovo. Even the police don't go down there."

Buckets_for_webWe drove deep into the heart of the settlement. Most of the homes are built out of corrugated tin. Rent is cheaper here than in Kibera. The population tends to be more transient. Many residents have fled conflict in Somalia, the Sudan and other countries in the region. One person told me that, because of that, there are many more firearms in Eastleigh than in Kibera and some other Nairobi slums. Felix says all of those factors contribute to lower incomes, and more crime.

On the way through the slum, I kept an eye on the roadside food stands. Many were empty. Others had only a few items on their dirty, make-shift shelves. There were some greens, a few hanging bunches of bananas. Nothing compared to the bounty of mangos, tomatoes, papaya and pineapple that I normally see on stands across the city.

The convoy of three trucks and two SUVs got a lot of curious looks as we drove to the District Office. The Red Cross had not distributed any food in the area before today. Because of the high degree of violence here, there are fewer international aid agencies working in Korogocho than in Kibera. A convoy of NGO trucks is not a common site.

There were about 200 people waiting at the District Office when we arrived. As we were pulling into the dusty parking lot, one woman yelled from the side of the road, "You will give food to everybody. You will not just give food to people on your list."

Boy_in_lineupBefore the Kenya Red Cross brings food into an area, they send out an assessment team to figure out how many people are in need. In this case, they went to the churches, mosques and schools where people are camped since their homes were burned. They make lists of the affected people and come up with a plan for getting food to them. At the Korogocho sight, they had approximately 1,000 people on the list. Most of them were women and children.

It took at least an hour for the Red Cross staff to arrange thLeftovers_for_webe trucks and follow the necessary protocol with the District Officer. Despite Kibaki's promise from Thursday, to put more police officers on the ground to protect Kenyans and help "restore peace" I saw only one policeman at the District Office sight. They had been warned that the Red Cross was making a delivery, but there was no security escort in or out of the settlement and there was no visible security presence on the ground.

  While we were waiting for the food distribution to begin, I talked with this nine-year-old girl, Pamela. She comes from a family of nine children. They were not on the list to receive food aid but her mother had sent her to the District Office with a small empty jar. She was picking up the stray legumes and pieces of maize that had fallen on the ground from a World Food Program distribution earlier in the day.

Leftovers_2_for_web_2 How Pamela's mother can feed ten people on such a tiny amount of food, I have no idea. Another person from Korogocho told me that a cabbage that usually sells for ten shillings is now selling for 70. This is a community where, on the best of days, most people are surviving on less than a dollar (about 150 shillings) a day. Feeding a family is a struggle most of the time. Combine gross inflation with a limited ability to get to work or find casual labor, and perhaps it makes sense to send a small girl to pick free food off the ground.

Trying_to_organize_for_webThe Red Cross staff spent at least an hour trying to get people to line up. As they do at Jamhuri and other distribution sights, they were asking people to sort themselves into distinct lines. There were rows of old women, old men, people with disabilities, women with children, women alone and men. People were crammed together, holding empty bags and buckets. Although the midday sun was merciless, there was a general air of optimism as people looked at the three trucks full of survival.

One_lineup_for_webA few young men made a bit of a fuss at the beginning of the queuing process. They were angry at having to wait. They were frustrated not to have their names on the right list.

Some of the men were sniffing glue to try to ease the hunger pangs that are a part of daily life here. Long-term glue sniffing can make people a little aggressive, a little irrational. When the young men started yelling and shoving aid workers, the lone policeman escorted a few of them out of the office compound.

Unloading_for_web The Red Cross staff unloaded only a few items out of the back of the trucks. They arranged the maize meal, milk, bread, oil, sugar and soap so that people could walk down the line with their bags and buckets and quickly collect the supplies.

Since there was no security, a group of young men were conscripted to form a human wall to prevent people from rushing the supplies. The men themselves look thin and ragged, but they joined hands nonetheless.

The first to come down the line were old women. Women with babies were next. Men on crutches and with missing limbs came down the line before old wazees.

Food_2_for_23bAbout 20 people had collected food before the trouble began. I was shooting photos of one old man who, despite it all, was beaming his grin at the aid workers, when there was shouting at the front of the line.

I looked up and our human security fence had dissolved. Some of the young men were now trying to get food themselves. They were yelling and shoving a small group of aid workers who were trying to manage the front of the line. I watched as hands flew in the air in frustration. Any order disintegrated and suddenly Red Cross workers were yelling, shoving food back into the trucks.

A tiny old woman was being crushed against the side of one of the vehicles. I grabbed her and pushed her into the narrow corridor between two of the aid trucks, and rushed her out of the melee.

Food_1_4_web_2In the two seconds it had taken us to get through the trucks, people had rushed the cargo. They were grabbing whatever food they could find.

People were wrestling over packets of sugar, tug-of-warring two kilogram bags of maize meal. Felix caught a sadly beautiful photograph of a man running from the site with only a four-pack of cookies. Certainly not enough to feed a hungry family.

I heard the pop of teargas canisters and did the only thing I could think to do, climbed into the cab of one of the trucks to get out of the way.

Half a moment later, there were three aid workers in the cab with me. The engines were roaring to life, horns were blaring. A woman beside me was yelling, "Just go! Just go! Go!"

Departure_for_web_2Even as we drove out of the District Officer's compound, men and boys were running after and hanging off the back of the food trucks, trying to grab whatever they could find. 

We got about 40 meters down the road when the truck in front of us stopped. The people who had been running behind the trucks joined the hangers-on and tried to get in the load beds. The Red Cross worker beside me was shouting, "Go! Go!" as more people who had been in line came running toward the trucks.

Police_for_webSeemingly out of nowhere, a police officer with a big gun was standing beside the truck we were in. The aid worker shouted something to him in Swahili and I saw him point his gun in the air. I had just covered my eyes when he shot two rounds into the sky.

All but one of the people on the truck in front of us dropped off and the convoy kept moving. We sped over potholes and speed bumps, while people on the side of the road looked up to see what all the commotion was about.

On the edge of Korogocho, the convoy stopped again. This time (only in Africa!) a herd of about 80 goats were in the middle of the road. By that point, however, there was only one brave young man still clinging to the back of the truck in front of me. A Red Cross staff person jumped out of the truck and shooed him away.

Goat_roadblock_for_webAlthough the aid worker beside me kept yelling for the convoy to keep on moving, we waited for the two SUVs to catch up with us. I got into the Land Rover I had arrived in and we all made our way back to the Red Cross office.

Along the way, another aid worker kept saying, "What a shame, what a shame. Because of a few bad guys, only twenty people got food. All those other people won't get any dinner tonight."

Peace_for_webI asked her what would happen next in the Kenya Red Cross's effort to get food to people in Korogocho.

"Oh, we will give them some time to cool down. The District Officer will call us when things are more calm. Then we will go in with more security and a better plan."

She did not have an answer when I asked her why there was not a better plan for that day's food distribution.

Despite the aid worker's optimism that homeless people in Korogocho will get food soon, it seems to me that they are going to have to wait more than a few days. After mediation with Kufuor broke down last week, opposition leader Raila Odinga has called for three days of nation-wide protest beginning next Wednesday. The administration has outlawed any demonstrations in the country. Parliament opens on Tuesday. Odinga has vowed to sit on the government side of the room. Any or all of those events could spark more violence in this country.

Korogocho_kids_1_for_webKofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General is apparently flying in today or tomorrow, to try to broker some kind of resolution to the conflict here.

I have a great deal of respect for Annan. Let's hope he can help. People in Korogocho are hungry.

Friday, January 11, 2008

One face of need in Nairobi

To_jamhuri_best_for_web  Walking out of Kibera and into Jamhuri Park, feels like entering an oasis. There are green paddocks and tall eucalyptus trees. At the top of a gentle hill, there is a small sports stadium. This pocket of greenery on the border between Kibera and the Ngong forest is now home to at least 2,000 women and children who have left Kibera, because they have lost their homes or are looking for safety.

Two-hundred and fifty thousand people have been forced to leave their homes to escape the violence in Kenya, according to offical estimates. A country that has been increasingly integrated over the past 30 years seems to be retreating to ethnic regionalism.

The major slum settlements are likewise becoming increasingly segregated along tribal lines. Most of the slums here have dominant tribal groups. As members of minority tribes flee or are run out of their homes, they are moving to slums where their tribe is dominant, or where opposing tribes hold less sway.

As men and boys continue to be pressed into guarding homes and businesses through the nights, many women and young children are trying to find somewhere safe to sleep. The Kenya Red Cross, St. John's Ambulance and Nairobi Women's Hospital are all offering what support they can to people in Jamhuri.

When I visited the park a couple of days ago, there were women and children lined up to get help from St. John's Ambulance. The medics there said they were not giving out anti-retroviral drugs or providing anything other than basic first aid and disposal diapers for young children. More serious cases and people who need HIV treatment are being refered to Kenyatta National Hospital.

Playing_2_for_webThere were some young American volunteers on the ground, playing with the children. All the kids seemed to have running noses. Chest infections are very common in Kibera, thanks to poor nutrition, poor sanitation and air pollution from burning garbage. Surely the stress of conflict and displacement has only weakened already compromised immune systems.

At Jamhuri, boys and men had started a pick-up game of football. More men were sleeping on the grass. Likely, they had been up all night, guarding the footpaths in Kibera or watching out for trouble in Jamhuri Park.

Other than ongoing insecurity in Kibera, lack of food and lost livelihoods, one of the greatest problems in the slum is lack of access to clean water. That means no water for drinking or bathing.

I talked Monica, a woman who has chosen to stay in Kibera to safeguard the few houses she has built in the slum. She says they are her only source of income and she wants to make sure they are not burnt down. Although she has sent her daughter out of the area, she and her son are spending their nights in Jamhuri. She has hired one of her male tenants to guard the houses at night.

Here's what she had to say about life in Jamhuri.

How is it where you are staying right now?

Sleeping is a problem. We are fearing being beaten there. It is a problem to get water even here. We can't even bathe in this kind of environment. They are being forced to drink the dam water.


How are you managing without water?

The available water is salty and it is not good for drinking. If you shower, you see the skin changing. I think it could be the dam water, which is not good for drinking.

Right now I am going back to my place to shower in Kibera but there has been an incident a while ago where two young men were attacked. I decided to send my son to try to get me a bed, so at least we can get somewhere to sleep.

Why did you stay?

Because I was fearing for my properties. Here they are getting little help. I have no children here. He is taken to his grandfather.

My daughter is supposed to be joining fourth form this year, which is the final year in her high school. She was supposed to return back on the second. And right now, I don't know what to do because I am in a state of confusion.

The biggest probelm right now is the school fees, that our children should continue to go to school. As you can see, most of our property has been burnt down. We have no clothes. We have no food. We have no means of income. Right now, we are kind of in a confused state.

For us women, we really push for our daughters to get education. If our daughters don't get education, they get can really suffer.

What have you heard about violence against women over the past week?

It's only one incident that I heard of. One woman who we are staying with was abducted by youths. She was not raped but they pushed her and dragged her to the sewer, where she was forced to drink overnight. They stabbed her and left her the following day. She managed to get to the hospital and now we are staying with her.