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Three Days When Kenya Politics Went Over The Top

01/20/2015 12:45 EST | Updated 03/22/2015 05:59 EDT
AFP via Getty Images
Kenyas president Uhuru Kenyatta attends the signing of the third important pillar of integration, East African Community Monetary Union on November 30, 2013 in Kampala. East African Community heads of state hold talks in Uganda aimed to boost integration and cross-border trade, even as internal rivalries threaten to weaken the five-nation bloc. AFP PHOTO/ Isaac Kasamani (Photo credit should read ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

January 16-19, 2015 were a shocker in Kenyan politics. It emerged on January, 16, 2015 that Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto who lead different political parties but under a coalition known as Jubilee, had formed a new party. This was done in secret. With the exception of Kenyatta's and Ruto's few confidants, members of their respective parties learnt about this development in the media.

The purported aim of the new party, called Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) is to consolidate ethnic voting blocs from which the two men hail -- Kikuyu community for Kenyatta and Kalenjin for Ruto. Crucially, JAP is the vehicle to enable Kenyatta to win his second term in 2017, while preparing succession to his deputy Ruto in 2022 as well as to ensure the latter's re-election in 2027. According to this astonishing scheme the Kenyatta-Ruto dual will rule Kenya until 2032 - a total of twenty years in power.

And then this. On January 19, 2015, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its briefing on "Situation in the Republic of Kenya in the case of the prosecutor versus Uhuru MuigaI Kenya." This relates to the 2007-2008 electoral violence for which both Kenyatta and Ruto were later indicted prior to their ascendance into high office in 2012. The ICC briefing follows the withdraw of crimes against humanity charges against Kenyatta due to non-cooperation by his government which, according to the ICC, blocked access to vital evidence. This is the context in the ICC judges ordered the release of a "redacted" version of the sensitive material in public interest.

The 69 page brief provides horrific details on Kenyatta's alleged role in enlisting the Mungiki, a tribal militia, to commit attrocities on supporters of the opposition, which was, ironically led by among others his future deputy, Ruto. In the section of on "retaliatory atacks" Kenyatta's role is in part described in these terms:

"The Acused met at the Nairobi Club with several senior Mungiki members to persuade them to mobilise the Mungiki for the retaliatory atacks. Mr Kenyata stated that "we should not give the government to people who were not circumcised" (i.e., Luos), and urged the Mungiki to "wake and defend their tribe and community and be with the side of the government"...The Mungiki were each given a sum of money and Mr Kenyata told them if more was neded, they should see Mr Thuo...Mr Kenyata personaly provided large sums of money to finance the retaliatory atacks, which were distributed to Mungiki commanders and attackers on the ground...The Acused, through his agents, directed Mungiki members and pro-PNU youth to the Rift Valey to show no mercy during the retaliatory atacks...to kil Luos and Kalenjins and burn their property, and to rape non-Kikuyu women and forcibly circumcise Luo men, so that the Luos would leave the area."

The same day the ICC briefing was released to the public, a highly militarised Kenyan police force asaulted primary school protesters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. In scenes that recall Ferguson, Missouri, children aged between three and 14 were soon engulfed in clouds of tear gas. Half a dozen children were injured in the ensuing melee.

And the reason for the assault? The pupils were protesting the loss of their school playground. On returning to school after a two-week teacher strike, the learners discovered that the play area was fenced off, having been grabbed by a still unknown real estate developer. Such illegal seizure of public assets and atrocious state responses to protect the powerful illustrates how significant tracts of land are often allocated to Kenyan elites, politically-connected families, and entities. Occasionally things get out of hand. President Kenyatta had to intervene in July, 2014 in the coastal town of Lamu where 500,000 acres had been illegally-allocated leading to conflict and violence. In a rare reversal, Kenyatta ordered the repossession.

As a long-term and keen observer of Kenyan political economy, I am always struck by the difference between its business class and the political elite. Here is East Africa's only middle-income nation, and home to world-class innovative companies such as Safaricom, whose mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing services have since expanded into Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. But the ruling elite whose extraordinary hunger for power knows no bounds undermines governance and economic management.

One hopes the entrepreneurial side of Kenya is a catalytic agent that is assisting to change, albeit very slowly, its political counterpart. When that happens, Kenya will rise faster.

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