The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Most Exciting Election this Year is in Africa


  Recently Kenyans went to the ballot box to elect a man that is wanted by the International Criminal Courts for crimes against humanity. Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the Jomo Kenyatta, leading figure for Kenya's independence, has won the second mutli-party presidential election.  

   Kenya is a country in a region with a distinct physical geography including tropical coastlines, deserts, fertile highlands, and alpine mountain ranges. It is a country that has been the access point to Africa for other regions of the world such as the Middle East and India. Archaeological sites have found human remains near Lake Turkana as old as three million years. Although Kenya has a long history, the geographically rich country has a short record of democratic evolution. 


     Kenya’s political system has evolved considerably since independence. This election season featured eight presidential candidates 237 Governors 244 senators 280 Women Representatives 2098 National Assembly representatives and 9886 County Assembly Representatives.
   10 million Kenyans showed up to the polls, A higher turnout rate (70 percent) than other African nations and some western countries. The high turnout rate shows that Kenyans are beginning to have more trust in the political institutions that reflect their interests. This is the first election that the debates were televised.


   Moreover, in 2010 Kenyans voted for a new constitution which limited and defined the functions of all three branches of the government as well as underwent a decentralization process to include 47 new counties.  The new constitution also expanded social, cultural and economic rights. This is a major shift away from the previous constitution drafted by the British during the pre-independence era that fostered an environment for weak political institutions to thrive.

   Despite the political advancements the Government of Kenya has made over the years there are still major issues that need to be resolved.


   In the aftermath of the last election in 2007 the Kenya National Council on  Human Rights conducted a detailed investigation on police brutality which stated that the police may have been involved in the extra-judicial execution of 500 people in a four month period, from June 2007 to October.
   The report called The Cry of Blood  which documented  massive crackdown which was in response to the Mungki gang violence that took place after the 2007 elections, Mwai Kibaki, vowed to crack down on the gang.
  The investigators collected reports from family, friends and eye witnesses that said that the suspects were taken arbitrarily, and had disappeared or were later found in a mortuary. Many of the autopsy reports by the pathologists have found multli-gun shot wounds that have drawn further suspicion.
The report outlined numerous anecdotes that illustrate police brutality:

  • Kimani Ruo was acquitted in the court of law, on charges of gang affiliation and was later approached by police and mysteriously disappeared but was later found dead.   
  • Mark Mwenesi, director of a youth program known as the Youth Empowerment center and an organizer for the Christian organization “World Vision” was killed after an altercation with the police after he denied any association with the “Mengaki” gang. 
  •    Many of the police officers bribed family members of the suspect in exchange for releasing them. The Police order men such as  Geoffrey Kung’u, a shoe  salesman, Jamleck Maina, truck driver,  to pay large sums of money or be executed. 
  •    One of the most graphic examples of police brutality occurred when the police viciously attacked Kagunda wa Mbui A mason, and father of eight children with wooden bats, and gun butts, for three hours. The police decide to apprehend the man because of his dreadlocks which they associated with gangs even though the Mbui said it was a part of his religious tradition. The man died after the police took him to a barbershop and forced him to get his haircut.


   Violence is nothing new to Kenya, since Kenya became a colonial outpost for the Anglo kingdom until Kenya’s independence 150,000 people were killed. The tension between the British and native population culminated to a violent apex during the Mau Mau uprising’s spearheaded by the Kikuyu tribe. The battle ended occupation and more than 12,000 Kenyans died. In 1946 the British governor stubbornly stated “This is our land and the Africans will have to deal with it.”

   There are parallels that can be drawn between ethnic clashes today and Britain’s “Scramble for Africa” policy fifty years ago. For example, when the British crown delineated boundaries for British East Africa (Kenya) it carved out territories close to Uganda that crossed ten cultural groups. Similarly, Queen Victoria moved the border between Kenya and Tanzania so that she can give her grandson Mt Kilimanjaro.  Given this history it’s not surprising why violence has erupted in the Rift Valley which is situated near the Uganda border.

  Ethnic divisions are also reflected in politics. For example, in 2010, the Luo, along with the Luhya and Somalis voted in favor of the new constitution while the Kalenjin voted against it. The manifestation of ethnic division surfaced again when presidential candidate  Raila Odinga tried to build a tribal coalition but couldn’t because of the animosity between Kikuyu  his base, the Luhya on the one side and the  and the Kelijan
on the other.


      Ethnic tension is not the only political impediment Kenya faces.
   Another major issue is corruption. In 2008, the Mars Group Kenya released a damning report that exposed the largest corruption scandal in the history, when 18 government contracts were rewarded to the Anglo Leasing and Financing Limited company, a company that did not exist.
   The report calculated that the money spent on these fictitious projects was equivalent to 68 percent of money needed for physical infrastructure projects and 37 times more expensive than governmental water projects that encompasses 65 percent of Kenya's land and could service more than 70 percent of the population. Two contracts alone ($2 Billion Kish) accounted for 1/4th of the Government of Kenya’s Health Budget.

   More recently, corruption charges have been levied against the presidential winner for using money to bribe voters. 

    The report found that none of the 18 contracts were documented for the Parliament to see as required under section 5 of the External Loans and Credit Act. The five year scandal (1997-2004) was the biggest corruption scandal in Kenya’s history and ended up costing the government 56 billion Kish ($2 Billion.)

Journalist John Githongo, observed that the projects did not start until the fictitious companies began to receive debt payments.

"The Implication of this was that the bogus financing companies used the Government's money to implement the projects and then proceeded to charge interest on what are in truth fictitious loans by the government to itself" Githongo said.

   This case study is part of a larger problem associated with African governments using parastals, and public corporation as part of a large patron-client system to set up an economy which benefits a burgeoning bureaucracy rather providing for the needs of average citizens.

 The recent presidential debate illuminated this issue further: 

   Domestic issues such as corruption and ethnic tensions are not the only issues that the Kenyatta will have to deal with. Another major issue is containing the spread of violence that is occurring within its neighboring state Somalia where the United States has increased is actively involved. North-East Kenya still has a large Somalia ethnic community that feels a greater loyalty to their ancestral homeland. 

   Currently, Kenya is hosting the largest population of Somali refugees. Amnesty International issued a report criticizing the east African country for its treatment of Somali refugees because the camps are akin to "open prisons" that restrict movement and are overcrowded.  Kenya's ability to manage the refugee population fleeing Somalia can boost its reputation to the international community in the same way that Jordan is recognized for its hospitality to Syrian, Palestinian refugees.

  According to the World Justice Project 2012 Rule of Law Index Kenya scored relatively low in the area of government accountability (ranks 75/97 "Limiting Government Powers") and corruption (91/97). However, Kenya has a better record on government transparency than its African counterparts (5/18).  This election season could give Kenya the opportunity to assert a stronger role in the continent which could potentially transform the country as the face of Africa to the rest of the world. However, if Uhuru Kenyatta  does not use this opportunity to make serious reforms, than Kenyans' aspirations and goals will turn into public cynicism which will have drastic consequences for the East African nation. 

1 comment :

  1. Get your statistics right,plus the spelling.
    Thanks though.