Kenya: Rigged presidential elections provoke widespread opposition protests and state violence

Workers need a political alternative to pro-capitalist parties and ethnic conflict

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Rigged presidential elections provoke widespread opposition protests and state violence

On December 27, 2007, Kenyans voted in general elections to elect a new government. But, as mostly happens in Africa, Kenyans got short changed.

Against the run of public support and public opinion polls, President Kibaki, one of the 3 leading presidential candidates that stood in the elections, was declared "winner" by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) when all expectations were that the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, would win. Promptly, this announcement ignited protests across the country. As we write, at least 500 people are reportedly killed, with an estimated 150,000 people displaced from their homes. Although a number were killed by the security forces suppressing protests, tragically, this protest movement has strongly acquired an ethno and sectarian characteristics.

As was the case with Nigeria’s general elections, last April, observers from major Western imperialist countries have reported widespread election rigging. In particular, Kibaki benefited from near 100% voter turnouts in his home areas and the mysterious increases in his votes. Thus, the European Union gave examples of Molo and Kieni where locally Kibaki was declared to have won 50,145 and 54,377 votes respectively. But when these results were counted nationally by the Electoral Commission in Nairobi the numbers rose to 75,261 and 72,024, thus giving Kibaki extra 42,763 votes.

The simultaneous elections to the parliament were, generally, more democratic and they gave the main opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) 99 seats compared to the 43 seats won by Kibaki’s PNU. After the election Kibaki gained a new ally by giving the vice-presidency to Kalonzo Musyoka, the leader of the ODM-K (a breakaway from the ODM), who came third in the presidential election. But even after this, the PNU, the ODM-K and their allies currently have 94 seats in the 210 member parliament compared to the 102 of the ODM and its allies. These parliamentary results clearly show that Kibaki’s PNU did not win the presidential election.

But, unlike Nigeria last year, mass protests against this election robbery forced imperialism to try to intervene. The mass protests are the reason why the US government abandoned its initial statement of "calling for calm, and for Kenyans to abide by the results declared by the election commission" and forced the US to dispatch a top official to try to find a way to end the protests and to patch up a deal between Kibaki and Odinga.

Regional impact

The violence in Kenya is affecting other parts of Africa, especially land-locked countries which depend on it for essential imports, especially fuel. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo, all get their fuel from a refinery in Eldoret, the town in Western Kenya, where more than 30 people were burned to death in a church. Consequently, fuel prices have doubled in Uganda, with attendant long queues at petrol stations. There exist fears that food prices could increase throughout the region if the "unrest" continues. What precisely has gone wrong with Kenya, supposedly Africa’s "model of stability"?

To western imperialism, Kenya had always been a model stability and democracy. "Kenya has been the acceptable face of Africa: a safe destination for million tourist, a year from Europe, Asia and North America to the country of Surf and Safari, a reliable base in a tough neighbourhood, for a bourgeoning aid industry, regional headquarters for the United Nations, and – less well known – a country whose military pacts with the US and Britain have made it a crucial ally in the "war against terror" (Financial Times (London) January 2, 2008).

Unfortunately, however, this "imperialist paradise" has only left the vast majority of Kenyans facing ever more socio-economic devastation. Reputed as the most successful market economy in the whole of East Africa, Kenya before the controversial December 2007 general elections, claimed 6% growth in GDP for the years 2005 and 2006 respectively. Nonetheless, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has been the widest ever. In 1990, about 48% of the population was living below poverty line. Today, 55% Kenyans are subsisting on a couple of dollars a day. One of the reasons why Kenya has remained a star pupil of imperialism is as a result of its highly exploitative labour relations. Most industries operate without the slightest observance of elementary labour laws. This ruthless exploitation is presented as the needed tonic to help grow the economy. But far from being a stimulant to growth, the wholesale adoption of neo-liberal policies since 1993 have actually only added to the impoverishment of the working masses. Overall, this policy has only created mountains of unemployment and an atmosphere of unbearable hikes in cost of living for the vast majority of Kenyans.

The Kibaki government

Ironically, President Kibaki, five years earlier, in 2002 had been swept to power in a landslide victory precisely to tackle the problems created by imperialist-dominated Kenya. However President Kibaki disappointed his supporters by woefully failing in all material respects to change things for the better. On assuming power in January 2003, President Kibaki declared: "The era of ’anything goes’ is going forever……Government will no longer be run on the whims of individuals". When Mwai Kibaki swept into power in December 2002, ending Daniel Arap Moi’s kleptocratic era, he was regarded not primarily as a member of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe. Rather, he was seen as a reformer who led a coalition that promised clean government. On the campaign trail, he said he would devolve power to the regions by introducing a new constitution within 100 days but he abandoned the pledge. He had promised the job of Prime Minister to Odinga, who led the Kibaki campaign, while he was in hospital after a road accident, but instead gave Odinga a marginal ministerial job. Thus, when Raila Odinga was sacked in 2005 he became the president’s most determined enemy.

Far from prosecuting the masterminds of the Moi-era corruption, the Kibaki regime soon became embroiled on a graft scandal of its own. Very rapidly, differences between the Kibaki and Moi disappeared! Way back in 2002, Kibaki and Moi were perceived to be political opponents. However, a few days before the ill-fated December 2007 general elections, former president Moi rallied voters for Kibaki: "If you love me, vote President Kibaki for a second term". This, of course, underlines how corrupt the Kibaki government became.

Way back in 2003, waves of industrial strikes swept the country. Many poor workers who voted for Kibaki, in the false hope that he represented change, started to take practical actions, when it became established that Kibaki runs a government that maintains "a hands-off" approach to the private sector. A series of industrial strikes broke out in sectors dominated by non-unionized workers in the so-called Export Processing Zones (EPZ). Again, disappointing its electors, the Kibaki government cast its lots with the bosses in all of these struggles. An irredeemable breach between this government and the working masses occurred.

Deservedly hated by the working masses, Kibaki equally lacked any enthusiastic support from the ’business community’. The general perception was that he ran a highly ineffective but corrupt government.

Election violence

The entire world has been shocked by the ferocity and intensity of the violent protests that greeted the announcement of Kibaki as the "winner" of the disputed elections. Kenya, which in past years acquired the image of stability and peaceful multi-ethnic co-existence, now precariously sits on a Rwanda-like, ethnic cleansing, tinder box. Expectedly, the Kibaki government accused Odinga and the opposition as the ’masterminds’ of acts of violence. On its part, the opposition accused the government of ’acts of genocide’ deliberately targeted at opposition supporters. In reality, the sectarian, violent character which dominated the protest against the declaration of Kibaki as president is fundamentally a reaction against Kibaki’s anti-poor economic policies and nauseating corruption in governance. The blatant manipulation of votes to ensure Kibaki’s victory, at all costs, was merely the last straw that broke the camel’s back. However, the fact that the masses justifiable anger against the thieving ruling elite had degenerated into an orgy of violent killings and maimings of innocent working class elements from different ethnic backgrounds clearly reveals the ideological porosity of the Odinga led opposition movement itself.

Throughout the campaigns, both Kibaki and the so-called business community had always sought to present Odinga as a kind of modern day "communist" that would come to upset the applecart of privatization and liberalization through nationalization. These charges referred partially to the fact that, long ago, Odinga studied in the former East German state (GDR) but importantly reflected ruling class, and imperialist, fears that his populism could stimulate a movement from below by the working class and poor. However, Odinga, who has substantial business interests, stressed his belief in the private sector and his opposition to nationalization. In fact, Odinga, like Kibaki and Kalonzo Musyoka, the other prominent presidential candidate in the elections, were former leading officers of KANU, the only legal party that ruled Kenya from independence until 1991. But for the fact that Kibaki reneged on his earlier promise, Odinga would have been a serving Prime Minister in the government.

However, in an atmosphere totally lacking in independent political activities and initiatives by labour/trade unions, Odinga on the surface strikes the old, familiar image of a reformer. In his "vision for Kenya and Kenyans" Odinga declared (6 May, 2007): "We did not attain independence to have a country of 1,000 millionaires and 35 million beggars". He has equally made a trenchant denunciation of "cronyism" an arrangement where the President appointed only his friends, tribalism where the President appointed only his tribe, nepotism where the President appointed only his relatives and the primitive accumulation of wealth through corruption by these few at the expense of the many with nothing". Just like Kibaki promised in 2002, Odinga equally promised a "new constitution" without offering a shred of what this "new" constitution would contain and how can it be brought about within the framework of Kenya’s capitalist institutions which are dominated by Kikuyus. Within the framework of a capitalist Kenya, none of Odinga’s populist rhetoric could be substantially implemented for any length of time. His commitment to a "private sector driven" economic strategy will ultimately lead him to betray masses aspirations if he comes to power. In a country dominated by long term and carefully constructed Kikuyu supremacy, which heavily dominates the state structure, nothing much would have come from Odinga’s promised "new" constitution. At the end of the day, Odinga and his pro-capitalist allies would become embroiled in the same self-serving corruption, which eroded all genuine support enjoyed by the Kibaki government.

A thoroughly rotten system

In their daily public pronouncements, the imperialist countries and their neo-colonial allies want the working masses to believe that they are fighting corruption. In reality, their unjust system only thrives on permanent corruption. From time to time, special so called ’anti graft’ bodies are formed to fight corruption but this is more of a formality than real.

More than ever before, the position and the role played by Western imperialism and the so-called business community, (in the unfolding Kenya debacle) has, once again, underlined the utter rottenness of capitalist democracy. Well before the elections, it had become very obvious that President Kibaki runs an extremely corrupt and highly nepotistic government. Things became so bad that John Githongo, Kibaki’s ’Anti-corruption Authority Chief’, had to flee to Britain, to seek exile, because the Kibaki government refused to fight corruption. For the first time in Africa’s post-independence history, an insider was ready to reveal how corruption worked with evidence that included secretly tapped conversations with cabinet ministers! However, imperialism and the so-called business community in Kenya flatly refused to combat Kibaki’s kleptomania government but instead went ahead to do all they could to thwart the emergence of Odinga aspPresident.

While conceding that Kibaki’s second term would be unlikely to yield big improvements in the business environment, they were, however, strongly persuaded that Odinga’s victory could only herald radicalism and uncertainty. This is one reason why now imperialism is leaning towards the ideas of a coalition government that would involve Odinga in controlling and demobilising the masses. From this perspective, imperialism bears direct responsibility for the unfolding political disaster in Kenya. Thus, because, as at the time Kenyans went to polls on December 27, 2007, the vast majority of the Kenyan society had withdrawn all political supports for Kibaki. But fortified by the unjust support of imperialism and the so-called business community, Kibaki decided to steal the presidency instead of bowing to the electoral verdict of the working and poor Kenyans.

Way forward

First and foremost, the point must be stressed that it is the capitalists, internationally and nationally, through their ever greedy business calculations and political perfidies, that were directly responsible for the on-going socio-political tragedies in Kenya. Therefore, the Kenyan working masses must not for a second harbour the illusion that these human locusts could ever come up with solutions that will justly and adequately address the issues raised by the rigged elections and capitalists unjust rule in general.

As usual, all the suggestions being put forward by the strategists of capital and their propagandists are such that only seek to scratch the problem on the surface or those which pose the problems as the solutions! Peace must be unconditionally restored in Kenya. Kibaki and Odinga, "must be induced to meet if only to defuse the violence. The elections results must be annulled. Some sort of government of national unity must be put in power pending a new poll"! (Financial Times (London) January 2, 2008). "To save Kenya and prevent a civil war, there must be a trade-off between rival parties" (Reuben Abati Guardian (Lagos) January 6, 2008).

Yes, peace is necessary but only justice can form the basis of an enduring peace! In the given situation, this demands an unreserved rejection of the riggings done to award presidency to Kibaki. The demand for a recount is in order. But this on its own is not sufficient to address the main problem. In Kenya, like in other African states, it is the ruling government/party that fundamentally controls and dominates the electoral processes. Kibaki for instance, like ex-President Obasanjo in Nigeria, under Kenyan constitutional arrangement appointed most of the electoral commissioners. Kenya, like Nigeria, is a multi-ethnic society built on British imperialist policy of divide and rule. In the Kenyan situation, this means the domination of the economy and polity by the Kikuyu elites whose ethnic group constitutes about 25% of the total Kenyan population.

Meanwhile, it must never be forgotten that one of the main reasons why the ongoing protest has unfortunately acquired an "ethnic cleansing" characteristic is as a result of widespread believe in the non-Kikuyu parts of Kenya that only elements from Kikuyu stand the best chance to thrive economically and politically. Therefore, simply cancelling the fraudulent victory awarded to Kibaki and organizing a new elections without altering the status quo, would not in any significant sense addressed the issues being raised by the Kenyan masses.

Similarly, it is very important to stress the point that the slogan of a government of national unity in the given Kenyan situation can, at best, be no more than a ruling class conspiracy against the interests of the masses. It may not even get off the ground. Odinga, for instance, said that the stepping down of Kibaki as President is a pre-condition for his party’s acceptance of this formula. But whether Kibaki steps down or not, the acceptance of a GNU formula by Odinga would only bring about a situation where a few principal leaders of the opposition will get materially and politically settled through greater incorporation into the rotten capitalist state structure. While this, of course, may temporarily douse the raging violence, it will only leave the mass of Kenyans without a real, long-term solution.

Missing link

Whatever political formula are implemented to resolve the current political impasse in Kenya, on the basis of capitalism, government will continue to be corrupt while the economy remains primarily run to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Kibaki, in his first five years in office, has shown that he is primarily an ally of capitalist exploiters. Odinga, in opposition, has understandably been able to indulge in more populist rhetoric. His rhetoric, however, does not ad up to reality. Firstly, he is a substantial property owner. In addition, his ODM comprises a large number of elements who held sway in the Moi’s corruption-ridden era. Equally important is the fact that Odinga and his ODM centrally subscribe to capitalism and neo-liberalism. Their vitriolic attacks against the ruling party and Kibaki are due more to the fact that they personally lacked the opportunities to be the ones looting and selling Kenya in the name of privatization and liberalization.

Though it is clear that many Kenyans take Odinga’s populist rhetoric seriously, it is, however, only an independent movement of the working class and poor that could begin to carry out a serious programme that will meet the interests of the mass and not just the elite. However, the sole-way to arrest and reverse the unfolding socio-political tragedies in Kenya and other African country, like Nigeria, is for the Kenyan working masses to come to the central control of the economy and political life. Presently, the economy is run to pamper the whims and corruption of the capitalist elites. This is why necessary social infrastructures are inadequate or largely non functional. From when it became clear that Kenya would win independence, its politics have been skewed to pamper to the Kikuyu elites who collectively were pawns in the hands of British and US imperialism. Therefore, to forge a genuinely harmonious multi-ethnic future for Kenya, the working masses need to come to power to institute a government primarily formed to meet the needs of all Kenyan masses. This means opposing the prevailing divisive capitalist agenda of promoting the supremacy of one ethnic group over another. But this precisely is the missing link in the Kenyan, and African, situation.

Pro-capitalist labour leaders

In contemporary era, most trade unions and labour leaders across the world are pro-capitalist in outlook and conduct. This tendency has been particularly strengthened since after the collapse of the former Stalinist states (the former USSR and Eastern European states). Today, most labour leaders across the world operate with the belief that there is no better way to run society than that which is offered by capitalism.

So, most of the time they avoid necessary struggles and even in exceptional situations, like Nigeria, where the trade union leaders are compelled to lead a series of general strikes, the overall attitude of union leaders is to refrain from addressing the central issue of the working masses taking maters in their hands. In this regard, the Kenyan trade union/labour movement tragically occupies the front line in the league of pro-capitalist labour leaders. In 2003, the exceptionally, exploitative hold on Kenyan labour provoked a series of spontaneous industrial strikes. The official Kenyan trade union leadership did nothing to support the demands of these highly exploited workers for better living conditions and trade union rights, and they adopted an outright hostile attitude to these workers. In this situation, the task of supporting the strikes was left to NGOs. This did not go down well with top labour leaders who accused the NGOs of inciting workers instead of assuming "responsibility to educate the workers on their rights and provisions of the rules to follow". Most likely, the top labour leaders cast their lot with Kibaki in the recent controversial election. For this reason, the Kenyan central trade union congress has not been able to come up with any independent ideas to deal with the prevailing crisis. Like their big boss mentors, these union leaders have only called for a "dialogue" between Kibaki and Odinga, to supposedly "chart the way forward". This approach will neither serve the interests of peace nor that of democracy. The labour movement must emphatically reject the fraudulent presidential victory awarded to Kibaki. It must provide an organised platform for the masses, to carry out huge protests against this obvious rigging, without promoting any illusions in Odinga or other pro-capitalist political leaders or movements. The labour movement should initiate democratically controlled, self-defence committees against attacks by the state security forces and in defence against ethnic attacks.

The ultimate goal of labour’s intervention in the unfolding political situation must be to build an independent working peoples’ political movement. A mass socialist movement would call for Kenya’s rich natural and human resources to cater for the needs of all Kenyans and not just the profit of a few local and foreign capitalists.

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January 2008