Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Kenyan crisis and Obama

As tribal killings continued apace in Kenya, "an American diplomat has described the violence in Kenya's Rift Valley as 'clear ethnic cleansing' aimed at chasing out members of the Kikuyu tribe who are loyal to President Mwai Kibaki." The Kikuyu were being driven out by the Luo tribe according to a report by CNN. "The violence she saw this month while visiting the Rift Valley, where Luos people are fighting Kikuyus, 'was clear ethnic cleansing,' she told reporters at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Wednesday." The Luo happen to be the "old country" tribe of Barack Obama, and their leader, Raila Odinga, claims to be Obama's cousin.

The Star suggests that the situation in the Rift Valley is far more complex than suggested by the CNN report, with both the Kikuya and the Luo trying to drive each other out.

All Africa notes that "Obama and [Luo leader] Odinga share the same Luo heritage and history has made it possible for them to share the same spotlight at this defining moment in Kenyan and American histories about hope and fear." A BBC report says that Odinga is not only Obama's fellow Luo, but claims to be his cousin.

The All Africa story continued, "The people of Kenya thought they had spoken when they joined long queues to express their choice about what kind of future they wanted but alas the change they sought is not what they have been given resulting in the current confusion and chaos that only serve to undermine the hope that through democratic means people can get the change they can believe in." The optimism they may have felt has been momentarily dashed by tribal conflicts that have yet to abate.

Barack Obama himself is very worried about the situation in Kenya. He has told Capital FM Radio (as reported by the Washington Times) that the "troubling events" in his father's homeland "bear no resemblance" to the nation he knew as a "proud example" of democracy in East Africa. Obama called on President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to "rise above party affiliation and past divisions for the sake of peace."

An African blogger said that "the answer to Kenya’s problem now, is Senator Barack Obama.Yes I said Mr. Obama the democrat candidate of the USA.Mr Obama has a lot of respect world wide and in Kenya its even unbelievable, that the day he decided to visit his original mother country(Kenya)for the first time, it was declared a public holiday."

The crisis in Kenya has created opportunities and dangers for the US Presidential candidate. On the one hand, if he can constructively contribute to the solution of the troubles in Kenya, Obama will have burnished his credentials as a statesman and peacemaker. On the other hand, the man who claims to be his cousin, Raila Odinga, can cause untold embarassment for Obama. The BBC reports that Odinga is being accused by Kenyan Justice Minister Martha Karua of carrying out systematic ethnic cleansing. Odinga, in addition to accusations of masterminding ethnic cleansing, has been reported to have reached an agreement with Muslim groups to insitutionalize sharia law in parts of Kenya in exchange for political support.

Whether even Obama can make the tribal antagonisms subside is an open question. The bloodshed has ignited fires of hatred which will be hard to quench. The Star describes the situation in the Rift Valley.

The spreading violence has reached a point that neither President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, nor Odinga, a Luo, may be able to stop it, said an official from Kenya's state-funded human rights panel.

"I don't think the politicians can stop it any more, it's out of hand," Linda Ochiel, program director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said yesterday in a telephone interview from Nairobi. "Yesterday we watched on television as people with machetes were hacking people to death and the army was looking on."

Obama's characterization of Kenya as a 'proud example of democracy' is a comparative term. There have been some real political problems in that country's past, though perhaps not as severe as in other African countries. Wikipedia describes its post-colonial history.

The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Despite British hopes of handing power to "moderate" African rivals, it was the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta, that formed a government shortly before Kenya became independent on 12 December 1963. In the same year the Kenyan army fought the Shifta War against Somali ethnics determined to see NFD join with the Republic of Somalia, the Shifta's inflicted heavy casualties on the Kenyan armed forces but were defeated in 1967.

In 1964, Kenyatta became Kenya's first president. At Kenyatta's death in 1978, Daniel arap Moi became President. Daniel arap Moi retained the Presidency, being unopposed in elections held in 1979, 1983 (snap elections) and 1988, all of which were held under the single party constitution. The 1983 elections were held a year early, and were a direct result of an abortive military coup attempt on August 1, 1982.

The abortive coup was masterminded by a lowly ranked Air Force serviceman, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka and was staged mainly by enlisted men in the Air Force. The attempt was quickly suppressed by Loyalist forces led by the Army, the General Service Unit (GSU) — paramilitary wing of the police — and later the regular police, but not without civilian casualties. This event led to the disbanding of the entire Air Force and a large number of its former members were either dismissed or court-martialled.

The election held in 1988 saw the advent of the mlolongo (queuing) system where voters were supposed to line up behind their favoured candidates instead of secret ballot. This was seen as the climax of a very undemocratic regime and it led to widespread agitation for constitutional reform. Several contentious clauses, including the one allowing only one political party were changed in the following years. In democratic, multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997, Daniel arap Moi won re-election. In 2002, Moi was constitutionally barred from running, and Mwai Kǐbakǐ, running for the opposition coalition "National Rainbow Coalition" — NARC, was elected President. The elections, judged free and fair by local and international observers, marked a turning point in Kenya's democratic evolution. This year we expect another showdown between the incumbent and ODM presidential aspirant Raila Odinga. Kenya is one of the most politically distinguished countries in Africa.


Blogger Chavo said...

Apparently, the Luo and Kalenjins' grievances against the Kikuyus go way back. Very good article HERE

1/30/2008 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Wm_Edwin said...

Thanks chavo, the CS Monitor is typically a good source.

Here's an AP news article about the Luo's vendetta. No mention of Obama's connection with them, though.

Particularly disturbing:

"Many of these Kikuyu homes and businesses were attacked by neighbors who lived beside them for decades."

1/30/2008 11:50:00 PM  

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