Riding Kenyaâ€™s aborted revolution
Written by Owei Lakemfa
Friday, 09 May 2008
A new Kenyan government is now in place. In spite of its unwieldy composition of 42 ministers and numerous assistant ministers, it is a welcome relief.
It had taken an inconclusive general election, 1,500 lives and 300,000 internally displaced people to get to this shaky stage.
Kenya had erupted like a latent volcano with the lava of anger and hate sprouting into the air and flowing freely in the streets.
Unknown to many, the December 27, 2007 general elections was actually a revolution; it was an attempt by the people to radically restructure the socio-economic and political configuration of their country. Unfortunately, it fossilized.
Beyond the analysis of a power struggle amongst the countryâ€™s political elites, there are three fundamental reasons for the blow out. First is the issue of land. In Kenya, like in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, the struggles about land acquisition thrown up by a settler-colonial class has not been resolved.
When the colonial settlers came to Kenya, they seized the fertile lands of the majority Kikuyu while the people were pushed into â€œreservesâ€.
That was the basis of the Mau Mau war against British colonialism and that was why the resistance army was called the Land and Freedom Army. While the agricultural Kikuyus suffered immensely from the land seizures, more lands were taken from the pastoral peoples like the Masai and the Kalenjin.
The latter regard the Rift Valley with its 48.64 kilometre width and chains of lakes and rivers as their ancestral home.
In post colonial Kenya, land was not redistributed as expected. The new government under the Kenya Land Commission, rather than reclaim these lands, decided to add more land to the tribal reserves.
Apart from the white settlers, the newly emergent middle and upper class Kenyans got lands in these areas.
The Kalenjin, for instance, did not see why Kikuyus would own lands in the Rift Valley. So, despite the fact that there was an alliance in the general elections between President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and former President Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin, against Raila Odinga, a Luo, many Kikuyus were attacked by Kalenjins in the Rift Valley.
The second fundamental reason has to do with Kenyaâ€™s political history. The four most powerful men in Kenya today; President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Ministers Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyetta, are part of that history.
There was a general current in Kenya on the need to smash the perceived political opportunism and unrealiability of Kenyaâ€™s political class. Many Kikuyuâ€™s believe that the essence of the Mau Mau struggle, led by Dedan Kimathi and Waruhiu Itote (General China), was betrayed by the emergent political class led by Johnstone Kamauwa Ngengi, who later changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta.
While Kenyatta was in colonial detention, two nationalists from Western Kenya; Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga, founded the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and made Kenyatta President in abstentia. Even when the KANU, in February 1961, won the first elections under British colonialism, KANU refused to form government without Kenyatta being released.
There was, therefore, a lot of bitterness in post colonial Kenya when Oginga Odinga was, in 1966, sacked as the countryâ€™s Vice President and detained without trial. This heightened with the belief that Kenyatta and his successor, Arap Moi, used assassination as a political tool to repress opposition.
Gama Pinto, an Asian-born nationalist and well-known Mau Mau supporter, was murdered on February 24, 1965.
Tom Mboya was on July 5, 1969. Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, a Mau Mau detainee and later minister, was riddled with bullets in March 1978. MP Horace Owiti was murdered on May 26, 1985. In February 1990, Dr. Robert Ouko, the Foreign Minister, was shot dead and his body burnt.
There were also detentions and intolerance of any other political party apart from KANU by the Kenyatta and Moi governments. MP Martin Shikuku, who, in October 1975, made uncomplimentary remarks in parliament about the ruling party, was detained along with the Deputy Speaker, John Seroney, who had not ruled Shikuku out of order.
They were released three years later, after Kenyattaâ€™s death in 1978.
Moi, who took over as President, had current President, Mwai Kibaki, as Vice President for a decade.
When junior air force officers staged an aborted coup on August 1, 1982, Moi used the opportunity to carry out a clean sweep of his opponents. Apart from abolishing the Kenyan Air Force, he carried out series of executions, detained Oginga Odinga and charged the latterâ€™s son, Raila, with treason.
In 1990, Pro-democracy protests erupted and the following year, the opposition coalesced around former detainees or political opponenets like Martin Shikuku, Oginga Odinga, his son, Raila, Mwai Kibaki and Kenneth Matiba. A fractured opposition lost the multiparty elections to Moi, but they united in the next elections under the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) led by Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Moi and the ruling KANU presented Jomo Kenyettaâ€™s son, Uhuru.
The opposition won but soon disintegrated when Kibaki allegedly reneged on agreed constitutional change.
The 2007 elections were, therefore, a forum to settle scores on the third fundamental issue; change. Kenyans wanted fundamental change in their socio-economic and political lives. They believe Raila Odingaâ€™s Orange Democratic Party (ODM) will bring that change.
Kenya needs to urgently rehabilitate those displaced, return farmers to till the land, heal the open wounds and rebuild its economy. But, ultimately, the solution will depend on how the primary issues of land, political opportunism and change are handled.