The disputed December Presidential election in Kenya sparked a wave of violence resulting in over 1,000 deaths and half a million people displaced. It has been referred to as “ethnic cleansing” and presents a serious threat to true democracy in the country. Join Active Minds as we explore the historical and recent causes of the violence and its implications for this important African country.
Key Lecture Points:
• The claims of voting irregularities and fraud concerning the 2007 presidential elections that has sparked ethnic violence in Kenya has put the reality of true democracy in Kenya into question. In the fight for political inclusion for indigenous Africans and eventual independence for the former British colony of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, future president of Kenya, said: “If we unite now, each and every one of us, and each tribe to another, we will cause the implementation in this country of that which the European calls democracy. True democracy has no color distinction. It does not choose between black and white. We want to prosper as a nation, and as a nation we demand equality….” The use of ethnic divisions on both sides to perpetuate political disagreement undermines the goal of an inclusive Kenya.
• The top US diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, described the recent violence as ‘ethnic cleansing’. Such claims raise fear in the heart of the international community that has seen recent decades marred by ethnic disputes leading to unimaginable bloodshed and even genocide. African observers caution, however, that to focus mainly on the ethnic component of the violence is to ignore the root causes of it. Disparity in wealth, corruption, severe poverty, and access to land, housing, and water are the real issues.
• Political violence has been recurrent in Kenya since it independence. In this regard, the current violence is not a new phenomenon. Kenya’s history has been marked by repression of opposition parties, suppression on the media, ethnic violence related to economic disparity, and one attempt to overthrow the government. Political disputes can, on one hand, raise awareness of the inequality in the nation. On the other hand, political disputes can be used to distract the populace from critical issues, and ethnicity proves an easy marker by which to divide fellow Kenyans from one another.
• The international attention paid to Kenya’s electoral conflict has much to do with Kenya’s role as stable nation in a region marked with violence and instability. The US relies on Kenya as a partner in the War on Terror and as an ally in the US East African Counterterrorism Initiative. The international community and aid agencies also benefit from Kenya’s stability and relative prosperity as it serves as a base for camps and aid for the region’s refugees. If Kenya’s attention is diverted primarily to its internal affairs, it will be far less likely to assist refugees, watch its borders or take action against possible terrorist activity.
• Former U.N. Secretary-General and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan mediated a power sharing agreement to end the dispute between Kenya’s rival political parties and ethnicities. Observers hope that the agreement not only resolves the electoral disagreements, but also addresses the country’s constitutional and judicial problems leading to more just and equitable power and resource distribution throughout Kenya.
• How can you compare the formation of states in Europe with the formation of nations in Africa? In what ways are divisions of ethnicity or group association similar and/or different in the two regions?
• How can the US work effectively with developing nations to fight the War on Terror?
• What role should the international community play when instances of ‘ethnic cleansing’ are occurring? What responsibilities do other countries have, if any?
• Have you ever traveled to Africa or gone on safari? Which animal did you most enjoy seeing or would you most like to see?
• Mt Kenya and neighboring Mt Kilimanjaro are famous mountains to climb. Tell a story from your favorite hike or mountain climb.
• Did you serve in Word War II? Did you meet any of the Africans who also served in that war?
More to Explore:
• Masai Mara: www.masai-mara.net/masai_mara_people.html
• Explorers and The Scramble for Africa: www.historyworld.net
• The Green Belt Movement & Kenyan Nobel winner Wangari Maathai: www.nobelprize.org
Books For Further Reading:
• Pakenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912. Avon Books, 738 pages. A description of the division of Africa by six European nations and the consequences it took on the continent in battles, slavery, and genocide, and the effects this time still has on Africa today. Click here to order.
• Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. W.W. Norton, 448 pages. A detailed account of the colonial judicial system that permitted white settlers to lay claim on Kikuyu tribal lands, and how the relocation of the Kenyan tribes to settlements fostered deep resentment, sowing the seeds of a bloody black-on-black massacre in 1952. Click here to order.
• Wa’Thion’O, Ngugi. Wizard of the Crow. Anchor, 784 pages. A hilarious work of fiction by a Kenyan writer and a sweeping satire laced with magical realism. Wizard of the Crow is political satire, exploring despotism, corruption and dictatorship in Africa. Click here to order.
• Isak Dinesen, Isak. Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass. Vintage, 480 pages. The memoir of Karin Blixen, manager of a coffee plantation in British East Africa, describing her impressions and the impact the people and land of this area left upon her. Click here to order.