Brief Summary of the Post-Election Crisis in Kenya
The last several weeks I’ve been traveling all over West Kenya visiting groups in the branch offices of OI-Wedco to do journal updates. I return back to Kisumu with a deeply somber heart.
A few weeks ago in Kakemega I met two Kikuyu single mothers from a Kiva funded group. They told me about how they lost everything after the post-election violence. During the turmoil their shop and clothing stock was burned because of their tribal background. They fled to an IDP (internally displaced persons, essentially refugees in their own country) camp run by the UN and stayed for five months. They left the camp because of its awful conditions, and now sell cloths for a vendor and make a measly fifty schillings a day (less than a dollar).
Another woman that I met was Agripina. She is also a member of a Kiva funded group. As a result of the violence she lost everything she owned, her vehicle, house, salon, and car were all burned the evening of December 28th when Mwai Kibaki was officially announced winner of the presidential election. Agripina was a victim of the violence even though she is Luhya (the majority tribe in Kakamega) because she is married to a Kikuyu man. They fled far away to an IDP camp in Nakuru. All of this happened when she was six months pregnant and thankfully she gave birth to her first child, a healthy baby boy on March 11th inside the camp.
What could I say? What could I do?
These weren’t sob stories played up to solicit a handout as touts falsely do on the streets of Nairobi and Kisumu. These were the raw, compelling, and honest stories of the impact of the foolish chaos of the post-election crisis upon three specific women.
I’d like to do my best to explain the post-election crisis in Kenya.
Leading up to the presidential election held in Kenya on December 27, 2007. Several candidates were on the ballot, but the country knew that it would come down to two candidates that would battle for the presidency (much like a particular countries two party system).
Incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, and his former political ally, Raila Odinga, were the two primary challengers. Kibaki is part of the largest tribe in Kenya, the Kikuyu’s, who have had most of political power since independence and the majority live in central Kenya. Of the three presidents in Kenya’s history two have been Kikuyu’s and are notorious for preferential favoritism by giving influential political posts to other Kikuyu’s despite experience or ability.
Raila Odinga is a Luo, which is the third largest tribe in Kenya and most in his tribe live in Western Kenya (where I am based). During his campaign he rallied other tribes under his constituency in opposition to the Kibaki and the Kikuyu’s. It is disappointing that modern democracies in the developing world don’t uniting people to a political party by issues and platforms and instead resort to an easier leverage of tribal background and thus vehemently divide the electorate.
The day after the election as votes were being counted, (media coverage is as rapid as American cable news) Odinga had a significant lead and his party prematurely claimed victory, as the day progressed a swift and suspicious swing in vote tabulations showed Kibaki closing the gap and eventually winning the election.
On December 30th the other tribes grew discontent of the corrupt favoritism and alleged/assumed vote rigging, and there was widespread discontent. The perpetual marginalization spurred a rage of Luo’s and other tribes attacking Kikuyu’s and their establishments in the west while Kikuyu’s responded with attacks against Luo’s and others in the central province. Gangs and militias became small armies and neighborhoods and villages became the battlegrounds. Police and soldiers were sent in to create peace, but they are also accused of attacking innocent people. (I met a member of Kiva funded group who showed me a scar near his ankle from a bullet during the violence)
The violence was a tragic mess that left 1500 people dead, 250,000 people displaced (estimates), millions of dollars of damages to residences, businesses, and goods, and resulted in a period of zero economic activity that impacted every Kenyan as well as landlocked East African nations that rely on transporting their goods through Kenya. I met a recently hired loan officer last week who told me his story. He is a Luo from the Kisumu area, who went to college in Nairobi and got a job working for a start up telecommunications company. For the last few years he poured his life into building the company and his family, the day after the election, the entire companies headquarters were set ablaze (the founder is Kikuyu). They lost millions of dollars of equipment, but most importantly they lost the company and place of work for many people. He was bitter and angry towards the reckless thoughtlessness of the violence, they attacked the business without acknowledging that Luo’s worked there too.
It is important to remember that this crisis isn’t as simple as categorizing a group as bad and good, innocent or guilty, right or wrong. Each side has those that are to blame and each side has those that were innocent victims. Up to this year Kenya had been held as an exemplary developing African state, yet the violence revealed that tribalism still runs deep and that generalizations and hostilities had been on edge for years.
It was devastating and destructive chaos and an absolute miracle that Kofi Annan was able to negotiate a peace by creating a grand coalition government, perhaps the greatest legacy of one of the world’s great statesman. Many international observers were concerned that the crisis could have scaled to match the genocide of Rwanda in the mid-nineties.
After the coalition government was brokered on February 28th the violence stopped. Order was restored and people went back to rebuilding their lives.
After my time in Kakamega, I could do nothing but think about the dark, poignant eyes of Grace, Anne, and Agripina. The pain and loss that they suffered is beyond anything I’ll ever be able to fully comprehend.
My heart is feels like lead, it is heavy seeing how we humans can still resort to the most unimaginative answer to our problems with violence.
It leaves me with the simple question of HOW? How could this happen?
Lack of hope is my best answer and may be too simple.
Hopelessness is what fueled the post-election violence in Kenya because people saw no other hope towards the injustices of an illegitimate corrupt government and it is hopelessness that perpetuates some of the greatest ills in our world.
Grace, Anne, and Agripina have every reason to be hopeless, yet with bold courage continue on with the belief in making something better for themselves and for their children.
Kiva doesn’t only distrubute loans to the poor…Kiva distributes hope.