Kenya Decide: Harambee or Genocide?

, by Daniel Fiott

Kenya Decide: Harambee or Genocide?

Messrs Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga need to find a solution to the maelstrom brewing in what was an exemplar of prosperity and stability in Africa. A lack of pragmatism or an escalation of the violence beyond the control of politicians could result in civil war, regional instability and the return of the dreaded ‘G’ word.

The contention over the 27 December, 2007 election, in which Odinga claimed Kibaki had rigged election results, has not only led to massive post-electoral strife but also to the denuding of extant ethnic differences in the Kenyan demography, especially between Kenya’s 7.5 million Kikuyu and 6.5 million Luo [1]. The Luo have long sought to displace the Kikuyu’s traditional hold over power.

This power struggle is being pitted out across Kenya’s eight mikoa (‘provinces’) - both Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party and Kibaki’s Party of National Unity hold four each. It is this situation that has led to the murder of high-profile Members of Parliament Mugabe Were and David Kimutai Too, a death-toll of 700 and the displacement of 250,000 people – 100,000 of which are children according to UNICEF [2].

Harrowing individual stories also come to bear on the severity of the situation. One report from a Kenyan teacher residing in Naivasha, Rift Valley stated that he saw the burning of houses, people being killed and people killing one another [3]. In a similar vein, another Kenyan claimed that people are being burnt in their houses with even one person being buried alive [4].

Parallels to Rwanda: history repeating?

In this environment nouns such as ‘Kikuyu’ and ‘Luo’ could soon become Kenya’s own version of ‘Tutsi’ and ‘Hutu’. The turmoil taking place in Kenya now is echoing the early stages of the massacre that was the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Such claims are not scaremongering, Francis Deng, the United Nations’ (UN) Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention, has already sent officials to investigate genocide claims in Kenya.

Rwanda’s own President Paul Kagame – the first since the 1990-1993 Rwandan Civil War – has also recently expressed strong concerns about the ongoing crisis. He warned that the Kenyan Army should be made ready to intervene should more deaths occur, and that there was a real danger that the current ‘niceties’ and ‘debates’ between politicians would do little good while mass killings were in progress [5].

These concerns have also been reiterated by Jendayi Frazer, the United States Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, when she stated that the forced movement of people from the Rift Valley is tantamount to ethnic cleansing [6]. Paradoxically, the country has even become unfit for refugees fleeing similar ethnic attacks from Sudan - the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has moved Sudanese refugees from Kenya back to Sudan.

Regional implications and role of international community

There is also a regional dimension to this conflict. A re-run of the 1967 Shifta War, in which ethnic Somalis in North Eastern Province sought unification with Somalia, could destabilise the region further. Also, a downturn in the economies of Ethiopia and Uganda, Kenya has lost billions of dollars, because of a lack of sea-access through Kenya could result in a vested interest in a resolution regardless of the victors or the death-toll.

With such potential outcomes the international community should be made ready for the worst. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has already reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to halting genocide and ethnic cleansing [7]. His recent visit to Kenya to help mediate the problem has done much to provide an international paradigm to the conflict, and to bolster the efforts already made by Kofi Annan.

An international dimension is certainly needed. The African Union (AU) has already staged its own token meeting on the Kenyan crisis; however, the AU is still in its infancy, too indecisive and notoriously weak in dealing with conflicts. Cyril Ramaphosa’s, the South African lawyer – activist, own visit to the country could prove to be unconstructive.

If such mediation collapses everyone involved must be made mindful of the fact the circumstances could fall out of the political realm and into one ruled by fanaticism. In such an event the UN should immediately invoke Resolution 1674, which reaffirms the UN’s mandate to protect people from genocide and ethnic cleansing [8], and be quick to ready its military capacities.

One month of fighting has already seen the death of 700. If this death-toll increases by this amount per month 8,700 will be dead by the end of the year – even Srebrenica’s genocide ended in lower numbers [9]. It is time for the Kenyan people to start living-up to their national motto Harambee – Kiswahili for ‘Let us pull together’ – otherwise a devastating point of no-return will write another bleak entry into African history.

Image: Kenya Elections Aftermath, source: Flickr

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