A new book on power struggles during 50 years of independence
Kenyans have experienced independence, but not citizens’ rights; they have had growth but not enough jobs; they have got development projects, but not better lives; they have voted in elections without benefitting from democracy. That’s a rough summary of a new book on Kenyan politics, which weaves together the strands of the Kenyan power struggles during the 50 years since independence.
The book illuminates the key political issues: ethnicity and the political families, the constitutional issue and, the comprehensive corruption, but the role of women is given short shrift.
The conclusion is that corruption and the appalling inequalities in society make it difficult to believe in the future. Kenyan society seems to have lost its ability to seriously consider redistribution.
Kenyans may have lost their faith in economic redistribution, but they still believe in voting and vote counting. The 2007 election was a profound deception, both because of electoral fraud and, not least, the traumatic killings and evictions. And in one year’s time there will be a new general election…
Kenyans have experienced independence, but not citizens’ rights; they have had growth but not enough jobs; they have got development projects, but not better lives; they have voted in elections without benefitting from democracy.
There’s a rough summary of a new book on Kenyan politics. The author, Daniel Branch, skillfully weaves together the strands of the Kenyan power struggles during the 50 years that have passed since independence in 1963.
We have the two families ― Kenyatta and Odinga ― with fathers and sons involved in a drama, which started in 1963 and probably will play out its next act in the elections to be held in about a year’s time.
The first president was Jomo Kenyatta from the major ethnic group, the Kikuyus. His rival for power was Oginga Odinga from the nearly as large Luo group. Now their sons Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are going to contest the Presidency, unless Kenyatta is convicted of crimes against humanity before the election. Raila Odinga has not been charged although many consider him equally guilty.
We have the constitutional issue of central power versus regionalisation with the less powerful in favour of decentralisation while those in power want to continue to buy favours and reward loyalty from the state coffers.
The struggle for a new constitution has continued for over two decades. The post-colonial constitution was gradually amended in order to give Kenyatta’s successor, the dictator Daniel Arap Moi, the means to rule the country with an iron fist for 24 years. It was eventually modified to allow for a multiparty system, which lead to a transition of power in January 2003―a moment of happiness for most Kenyans.
Now, eight years later, a new constitution is finally ready to be launched. It is a soaked version compared to the hopes and expectations. The elaboration of a new constitution has engaged the Kenyans. It has also been an effort of civic education―it has been fantastic to hear what hopes common folks have held for the constitutional rules on, for example, power sharing and representation of women.
We have the ethnicity issue. Few are the Kenyans who see themselves primarily as Kenyans rather than as members of an ethnic group. This, according to Branch, is not just a matter of traditionalism but a modern and rational adjustment to the actual conditions. Your own group provides security, and there are no other safety nets.
The political class have played on these ethnic strings whenever it suited them; evictions and bloody clashes have followed. The rulers of Kenya have not been interested in toning down ethnicity, because they have always seen it as a political tool.
This situation may be compared to the one in neighbouring Tanzania with even more ethnic groups, where the nation builders led by the first president Julius Nyerere worked unbendingly for shaping unity and a feeling of nationhood.
We have corruption ― this infection that has become so ingrained in the system that it no longer seems to be an aberration but the very core of the exertion of power by the political class. The author does not believe that the current leaders can help the Kenyans to an enhanced society―a discouraging conclusion since the same figures will be dancing around the golden calf in the next election.
These strands are kept alive by Branch through his account of history.
However, the women are missing. Kenyan women don’t have half the power, half the work and equal pay. Rather, they have all the work, no power and a fraction of the pay. Kenya society has been exercising extremely ‘affirmative action’ on behalf of men. I would have wished for a more thorough peep down the black hole of powerlessness in which Kenyan women find themselves. Something must have happened down there during the last 50 years. Branch is content with depicting parts of the political struggle of Wangari Maathai; beyond that the role of women is mentioned only in passing.
Branch tries to see light at the end of the tunnel, but his conclusion is that the corruption and the appalling inequalities in society make it difficult to believe in the future. Thus, he finds that Kenya has lost its ability to talk about redistribution.
And in one year’s time there will be a new general election―Kenyans may have lost their faith in economic redistribution, but they still believe in voting and vote counting. The 2002 election came with enormous pride and happiness, and the 2005 constitutional referendum as well, when the rulers got a thorough thumping. The 2007 election was a profound deception, both because of electoral fraud and, not least, the traumatic killings and evictions.
Branch shows how politicians, centrally and locally, were enforcers of this disaster. And how Parliament, where many members had reason to fear prosecution, did not want or manage to set up a tribunal; and the corrupt Kenyan legal system that totally failed to bring any culprits to justice, although more than 1200 people were killed.
So, the matter is now in the hands of the International Criminal Court in The Hague which recently decided to prosecute four people―two of whom have declared their intention to run for the presidency anyway, including Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the founder of the nation.
Thus, the leading politicians believe in business as usual. But many Kenyans who have followed the meandering ways towards prosecution in the Hague tribunal are now intensely hoping for an end to eternal impunity.
This article is a translation from Swedish, by the editor, of the text read by the author on the programme “OBS! “on Radio Sweden, 31 Januari 2012.