Kenya is voting today in the first national elections since the 2007 elections resulted in huge bloodshed over disputed results. While it seems normal for opposition leaders to call election fraud, in Kenya, the results were clearly irregular.
I was in Kenya in 2007 with Alex and we watched with the hostel staff in Nairobi the hustings for the elections. The chatter and gesticulating portrayed the excitement of the people. They listened, debated, cracked jokes and slapped knees and wrung shoulders. This election was going to change the country. The old elite, still hanging on and carving up the country would face the the voice and power of the people. Sitting there we smiled and raised beers to them. It was a positive, exciting time.
The election results were carefully rigged to maintain the power of the large Kikuyu tribe headed by Mwai Kibaki. In 2007, he won the national elections by 230,000 votes over Raila Odinga despite Odinga being predicted to win almost all the provinces. International observers confirmed the massive irregularities across the whole spectrum. Demonstrations became protests and quickly erupted into violence when the police intervened, shooting dead the protesters. Targeted ethnic attacks from ODM supporters culminated in the murder of 30 civilians.
The Kikuyus have dominated the country since independence, maintaining political hegemony through patronage and dubious land deals in the North. They are approximately 25% of the country but established control after Jomo Kenyatta achieved independence from the British in 1963. In short, the ethnic tensions in yet another patched up, colonial state continue. Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo is bidding for the Presidency this time. Kenyatta is wanted by the ICC of human rights violations linked to 2007.
Patronage and ownership of the land is the big issue in many states. The hierarchy is deeply cultural. Deferring to leadership and gaining the rewards is an ingrained facet of many cultures. Let’s hope this time the reward is an honest result, respected by all and maintained by leaders worthy of the optimism of a nation forever on the cusp of real progress.