When I started KikuyusforChange in April 2008 I was interested in learning how the kind of post election violence we saw in December 2007 and January/February 2008 came about. Let me share what I learnt.
At around this time in 2007 Kenya was a country divided into several ethnic political conclaves. Eastern province ‘belonged’ to Kambas; Central was ‘Kikuyu’ Country; Rift Valley ‘belonged’ to Kalenjins; Western to Luhyas; Nyanza to Luos; North Eastern to Somalis; Coast belonged to ‘Coasterians’ defined as the various indigenous communities from the Coast, outside ‘upcountry’ immigrants. This ‘ownership’ completely over-looked the fact that in each area there were large populations of other communities from the ‘owners’.
Each region was also the political ‘property’ of specific national leaders. Nyanza was Raila Odinga’s; Rift Valley was William Ruto’s; Coast was Najib Balala’s; Eastern was Kalonzo Musyoka’s; North Eastern had several leaders, all of Somali ethnicity; Western was Musalia Mudavadi’s and Central was Mwai Kibaki’s. Each regional king-pin had also ruthlessly obliterated any political opposition from within their individual regions so that we had political ‘super-tribe’ in each region; i.e. each region’s residents had been intimidated to follow the political direction of the region’s main tribe, whatever they might think individually. It was so bad that even Uhuru Kenyatta, despite his clout as Official Opposition Leader had to heed the call of the tribe and leave ODM a few months to the elections, and support PNU, which was the party his region Central was in. Nairobi, a cosmopolitan region, was split according to one’s home region.
The respective regional king-pins were at this time negotiating the post-2007 government. Each was using their ‘super-tribe’ as the means on which to get certain positions; whether they were qualified or not. Locally voters were being rallied behind people ‘wearing the right uniform’, whatever their character or qualifications. ODM cleverly structured a campaign machinery called the ‘Pentagon’ which allowed 5 regional heads to work together as a team, despite diverse interests. Central stayed in PNU, whilst Eastern ‘was’ ODM-Kenya
Nationally political competition became a ‘war of the super-tribes’. Somehow ODM-Kenya became relegated to the side-lines of the main presidential ‘war’ and gradually the election became 5 regions and their ‘super-tribes’, ganged up against one. Unscrupulous political strategists then mischievously turned this into political propaganda of ’41 versus 1’, which propaganda was used effectively by both PNU and ODM to tap into various fears and rally tribal loyalties to turn out the respective votes for their candidates on election day
By the time votes started being tallied on December 29th 2007 violence was being reported in various parts of the country as agents from ‘the other side’ were chased from polling centres so that ‘our side’ could make sure the entire vote reflected ‘what their tribe was saying’. Before long all-out violence erupted as the dragon Kenya’s political elite had fed so well all year became too big a beast for them to handle, and broke the leash they thought they had on it & it went on the rampage.
It took 60 days, over 1,000 lost lives, over 3,000 raped women, over 600 thousand Kenyans forcefully displaced, and billions lost in property; before we could tie down the dragon of negative ethnicity. A Coalition government was formed to re-construct the national cohesion we had lost. Kenyans swore to change the constitution that led allowed such a situation to develop, which we did 2 years later to the surprise of the entire world. Kenyans then breathed a sigh of relief hoping that the worst was behind us.
But is it?
As the Political Director of the Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign Secretariat I know that the Prime Minister and his campaign team learnt from the 2007 general election. Our strategies and campaign issues are solidly focused on the post-election Kenya; a Kenya united beyond tribe. Our presidential candidate has also been very categorical; he intends to be the 4th President of one nation, not of a country split up into warring tribes. His message in each campaign stop has been consistent to this position.
However I fear is that our competitors have learnt absolutely nothing from 2007. We saw the growth of regional king-pins; then G7 came up (7 regions ganged up against one); today we see parties welcoming defectors ‘back home’. Shortly I expect another ’41 versus 1’ narrative, this time with ‘1’ different from the ‘1’ of 2007.
G7 and their associates have started feeding the dragon of negative ethnicity again. They believe that they can keep it leashed until they win the elections but unfortunately all indications are that once this dragon gets loose, no one will be able to leash it again soon.
My call to action goes out to Civil Society, Business & Professional Community, Media, Religious leaders, International Community & all peace-loving Kenyans to ensure this dragon does not get fed by anyone, or unleashed. Stand up for Kenya again, and this time do it BEFORE the chaos begin.