While European tourists are sunbathing at the beaches of the Indian Ocean, the country is shattered by violence between the supporters of the opposition presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, and those of President Kibaki, the police and the military. The Kenyan presidential elections, on 27 December, caused the biggest riots the country has witnessed since the fall of the former dictator, Daniel arap-Moi.
Kibaki: corruption and dashed hopes
In 2002, Kibaki was elected successor of former dictator Daniel arap-Moi who had ruled the country for 20 years. Many Kenyans, who longed for democratisation, less corruption and a rise of living standards, pinned their hopes on Kibaki. However, the situation for the majority did not improve. Only a small elite, surrounding the president and those controlling the commanding heights of the economy, benefited form the economic upswing, which was constantly at around 6% per year, during the last six years. The majority of Kenyans still live below the poverty line. Kibaki did nothing to stop proliferating corruption. A big part of the national budget is going to the private pockets of ministers and leading officials; the head of the national anti-corruption authority had to flee to England to protect his life. “The government’s policies in the last years were not orientated on improving the living standard of the people, but to support the economy which guarantees that only the small upper class is profiteering,” stated Walter Schicho, professor at the Africa-institute at the University of Vienna. As well as this, the Kenyan government is conducting “hidden intervention” into the Somali civil war and supports Ethiopian troops occupying Somalia.
Odinga – no real alternative
In the election campaign, Odinga tried to present himself as a man of the people. In reality, Odinga is standing for the same system of exploitation and corruption as his opponent Kibaki. For many years, Odinga worked together with ara-Moi, and even cooperated with president Kibaki. Odinga’s party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) faced a lot of corruption- and other scandals. With several racist speeches, Odinga fuelled the ethnic tensions against the Kikuyu – the biggest Kenyan ethnic group and from which Kibaki originates – during his election campaign.
The election fraud was obvious – for Kibaki’s constituency a turnout of 99% were reported (which is nearly impossible). In another constituency, 115% of the people went to vote - another clear evidence for the massive election fraud. Unrealistically, thousands of people only voted in the presidential elections and not in the parliamentary and local elections, which were running parallel. This led to the situation where Kibaki was sworn in as president yet his party has only a small minority in the parliament, where the ODM holds the majority. It makes more sense to assume that ballot cards for Kibaki were secretly added to rather then thinking of a big confusion within the voters. Even the chairman of the national election-commission said he did not know who won the election. Later, he was put under pressure from supporters of Kibaki, and was forced to announce an election ‘victory’. The fact that Kibaki has stolen Kenyans’ right to elect their government was the main cause for riots.
Probably the most disastrous legacy of the Kibaki-government is the intensification of ethnic conflicts in Kenya. Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu, gave higher posts in the public sector to candidates from his own tribe and public assignments usually went to companies owned by Kikuyu. That led to anger amongst the majority of the population against the leading figures of the Kikuyu, who have been privileged since colonial times. Governments over the last decades boosted these tensions, using “divide and rule” policies. One of the recent tragic results of this policy was the Eldoret massacre, where a church with Kikuyu seeking refugee in it was burned down and left 50 dead.
Catastrophic situation in the slums
The recent riots cannot, generally, be seen as “ethnic conflicts”, as the pro-capitalist media is trying to do. The situation facing most Kenyans is determined by their daily struggle for survival. Even those who are not unemployed are mostly living below the poverty line. Millions are living in the slums of Nairobi and Mombasa. There is no clean drinking water supply in the shanty towns or gas, and heating materials are rare (which can be a huge problem in Nairobi in winter). There is literally no public transport and the roads are in such bad condition that thousands are dying due to road accidents, every year. There is also no public waste disposal. People are forced to burn their waste in front of their houses, causing terrible fires destroying the homes of the poor, which are usually built of wood.
The riots after the election were largely a poor people’s revolt against the ruling elite’s policies. Odinga is viewed by many as someone who can improve the situation – which is, in reality, not justified. The fact that his election victory was stolen is totally unacceptable for the majority of the people. The violent attacks on Kibakis supporters, the police and the military represent the enormous pent up anger of people who suffered inhumane conditions and whose few hopes for a better living were brutally dashed.
Between 500 and 600 people lost their lives in the riots. The UN reported that up to 400,000 fled their homes in the cities to reach the Ugandan border. Around 500,000 need immediate aid – clean water, food, medication, etc. – the Red Cross stated. Police and paramilitary forces patrol the slums, beating up and arresting thousands of supporters of Raila Odinga. Because of the riots, the supply with gas and food broke down in large parts of the country. Those who are presented as violent looters in the media are mostly poor people, “stealing” food, water and medication to support their family.
The role of imperialism
Unlike the election fraud in Nigeria, last April, which also caused mass-protests, European and US-imperialism was forced to intervene in Kenya. The US was forced to take back their congratulation-note for Kibaki, when they witnessed people’s reaction to the election results. Now imperialism is trying to take over control of the situation by the forming of an “interim” government of “national unity, despite the fact that a government of national unity would be a betrayal to the voters. It is clear the situation for working people in Kenya will not change. A “national unity” government, supported by imperialism, will only strengthen the power of Western corporations in the country.
The “march of the millions” planned by the opposition, was suppressed by police and military, using tear gas, water cannons and even live ammunition. It is not clear if the opposition will be able to overthrow Kibaki and to force a recount or even a re-election by mass protests. On 6 January, Kibaki said that he would like to talk about a government of “national unity”. This was refused by ODM-leaders but it shows that Kibaki’s throne is shaking. It is possible that Kenyans can overthrow Kibaki and gain a re-election by powerful mass protest. In this situation, workers need independent class organisations, including strong unions. Democratic self-defence organisations of the working people are also necessary, to stop ethnic violence and attacks from the police and the military. The unions have to be the main organising force in the resistance movement against Kibaki, and Odinga, if he comes to power.
This sort of mass action would be a big step forward for the working people of Kenya. For the first time since the struggle against the British colonial oppressors, working and poor people would feel the strength that lies within an organised mass movement. With a new self-confidence, the masses in Kenya could begin to fulfil their most important task – the creation of an independent mass working people’s party. There is a big need for a party which is able to unite working people of all ethnicities, to defend their interests against the capitalists and governments’ attacks – be it led by Odinga or Kibaki. Such a mass party would need socialist policies to successfully resist class exploitation and oppression.