The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.
But the window might be closing fast on the international community to help Kenya avoid a repeat of 2007-08, when 1300 died and 300,000 were displaced after a bungled election. According to a report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (yours truly was a research assistant for the commission), evidence suggests that international interventions to encourage reasonably free and fair and peaceful elections are most effective when done well in advance to the polling day. In the Kenyan case, the structural causes of previous rounds of electoral violence were never addressed, and may yet lead to the loss of life this election cycle.
What can now be done to avoid large scale organized violence is to credibly convince the politicians and those who finance youth militia (chinkororo, taliban, mungiki, jeshi la mzee, baghdad boys, etc) that they will be held accountable. So far, as is evident in Tana River and the informal settlements within Nairobi, the lords of violence appear to be operating like it is business as usual.
The Kenyan Draft Constitution seems to have hit a snag. A section of parliamentarians are opposed to the section of the proposed constitution that gives all counties equal powers via their elected senators. I agree with them. The to-be-formed senate, as currently constituted, grants too much power to sparsely populated counties. Theoretically, this should not make any difference because people could just move to better served, over-represented counties thereby balancing everything. But we all know that this does not happen in Kenya. The country remains divided into various “ethnic homelands” that are more often than not inhabited exclusively by a single ethnic group.
I hold the opinion that part of the reason why we currently have a corrupt and unresponsive political class is that those who actually pay taxes – and therefore feel the pinch of mismanagement of public funds – are grossly under-represented. For instance, Nairobi only has eight members of parliament even though it generates a huge chunk of Kenya’s tax revenue. Let us not worsen this by creating an even more powerful senate whose members will bribe their way into office with a few bags of sugar and flour per voter and then proceed to steal millions of urban Kenyans’ hard earned cash. I am not advocating for an urban-biased senate. What I am saying is that the constitution should, at a minimum, respect the principle of equal representation. Nairobians and other Kenyan urbanites should make it clear that they are not into the idea of taxation without equal representation.
The alternative would be to have independent incorporate urban districts that elect their own governments and have greater control over the collection and expenditure of their tax revenue. I don’t particularly like this idea though because places like Suba and Maragua still need Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, Nyeri,Mombasa and others, to pull them up.
For a few months now a rag tag group of bandits calling itself the Sabaot Land Defense Force has been terrorizing the residents of Mt. Elgon in West Kenya. According to the Standard, the group has killed over 540 people in what it terms a war for land. According to a certain website (veracity of the facts therein not guaranteed), the group comprises of the Pok people who are trying to take land from the area’s indigenous community- the Cheptkitale Ogiek. I do not understand why the Kenyan government took so long before reacting to this group. The current move to use the military against the group is therefore most welcome, despite the fact that it is over 540 lives too late.
People like the members of this group should be made to realise that it is not an option to take arms against a sitting government (killing civilians is an affront to the government). I am not a fun of rebel movements, no matter what their cause is. Rebel movements have ensured that large parts of Africa remain in “pre-modern mode” because of incessant civil wars that have resulted in the deaths of millions – most of them being innocent women and children – and economic regression.
I hope that the Kenyan military will deal decisively with this gang and that the government will thereafter move in to settle the land issues once and for all. It is sad that there seems to be two Kenyas. One where human lives matter and government response is swift and a different one in places like West Pokot, Mt. Elgon and the Ethiopian border where the government only reacts to disasters and doesn’t seem to have any elaborate plan of action. Kenyans everywhere within our territorial boundaries should feel the full effect of government – taxes, police, justice, security, schools, healthcare, etc