Wednesday, July 29, 2009



Tuesday, July 28 2009

The post election violence in Rift Valley had little to do with the polls.
The 2007 election contest was not between personalities but policies.
The writer is a freelance journalist. A version of this blog post will be published in the Saturday Nation on August 1, 2009.
I keep hearing it lately. I keep being told that the last general election was simply a contest between two personalities, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, and that the ensuing violence was all their fault because they persuaded us to vote for them.

As the local tribunal/Hague day of reckoning approaches, this is a story increasingly being pushed by a few politicians, notably those whose necks appear to be in a rather perilous position.

It is a story deeply demeaning to the millions who voted. Those of us who voted for change are being told we were so befuddled by hero-worship that we stumbled blindly into polling stations with no thought in our heads but ‘Raila’.

We didn’t. If Raila Odinga had told us ODM stood for ‘More money for the rich and less for the poor’, would we have voted for him? Of course not. We voted for specific policies and for the man promoting them. And it was the people’s lost dream of realising those policies, not Raila Odinga’s lost dream of becoming president in 2007, that led to the spontaneous outpouring of dismay and protest.

In Rift Valley, though, it was a different story. What happened there had little to do with the elections. The real story in Rift Valley is one of longstanding tribal grievances, and the elections became just another excuse for the latest round of score-settling.

It all began long ago, in the 1950s, when colonial settlers took Kikuyus from their traditional homelands to work on Rift Valley farms. After Independence, most of those Kikuyus settled in Rift Valley. And the locals didn’t like it. As Justice Augustus Molade Akiwumi noted in his eponymous 1999 report on tribal clashes in Kenya (suppressed by the Kanu government until a court ordered it released in 2002), “Kalenjin detest foreigners living in their midst, and worse still, owning land among them”.

But let’s go back a bit, to when Kanu and Kadu were negotiating the Independence Constitution. The small tribes that comprised Kadu, chaired by Daniel arap Moi, desired regional government (dubbed ‘majimbo’) because they feared being overwhelmed by the powerful Kikuyu-Luo axis in Kanu. Kenya duly became independent under a majimbo Constitution.

Some Kadu leaders evidently saw this as a licence to evict other tribes from Rift Valley (and that is how the noble idea of devolved government got a dirty name). At public rallies, they warned of further Kikuyu immigration. Moi’s authorised biography, by Andrew Morton, tells how, when Kenyatta said publicly that Kikuyus must be allowed to take up land in the Rift Valley, Eldoret politician William Murgor “produced a whistle and blew a long note of alarm on it”. Moi later also responded, saying that “people of Kalenjin” were “prepared to fight and die for their land”.

Poison traded for goats

Moi’s book notes that “the Kipsigis were particularly aggressive towards Luo and Kikuyu incursion, sounding the war cry across the valleys on the slightest provocation”. The Kikuyus responded, and a colonial document of the time reported that “African smiths were inundated with orders for spears. Bows and arrows were manufactured and stockpiled; poison was traded for goats or grain.”

Eventually, the Lands Control Board was established. The majimbo Constitution and Kadu were discarded in 1964, and Rift Valley inhabitants began to intermarry and live as neighbours.

In 1967, Kenyatta appointed Moi vice-president, a move widely seen as a sop to the minority tribes. (The term ‘Kalenjin’ was a comparatively recent invention then, and the combined force of small Rift Valley tribes under one umbrella was still in its formative stages.)

Underneath, though, resentment festered, Tugen against Njemps, Kipsigis and Kisii against Maasai, everyone against Luo and Kikuyu. Conflicting land claims and rights were never addressed by the Kenyatta government, and the situation did not improve under Moi. Rift Valley politicians frequently made inflammatory public remarks, tribal clashes occurred regularly, and nothing was ever done to stop them.

In 1978, amid renewed calls for a return to majimbo, Luo squatters petitioned Moi for leave to remain on Rift Valley land they occupied. Moi and later the Commissioner of Lands ruled in their favour. But the local district commissioner overruled this, with no power to do so but without contradiction. The Akiwumi Report notes that the squatters’ eventual eviction from land not otherwise owned or required was “not for any other reason but because they were Luo”. There were many similar cases, particularly against Kikuyus.

By 1991, the push for multipartyism had become irresistible. Moi declared it would bring tribal clashes, and it was no coincidence that these began right away. Once again, Rift Valley was aflame. There was a “systematic spread” of clashes over the next few years, says the Akiwumi Report, to Tinderet, Kipkelion, Molo, Olenguruone, Londiani, Kericho, Trans Nzoia, Burnt Forest, Koguta, Kunyak, Laikipia, Njoro, Kipkaren, Chirchila, Thessalia, Sondu, Sotik, Kipsigis, Mauche Lare, Ndoinet, Mau Summit, Ol Moran and many other centres declared “Kanu zones”.

The Akiwumi Report notes that “those who supported or were sympathetic to the emergent multiparty politics were the ones targeted. Except where we had retaliatory attacks, no Kalenjin or Kalenjin houses were affected … The raiders were well organised and co-ordinated …. The attacks were barbaric, callous and calculated to drive out the targeted groups from their farms, to cripple them economically and to psychologically traumatise them.”

The clashes continued throughout the 1990s and escalated around the 1997 general election, and again, similarly, as the Waki Report details, in 2008. Thousands lost their lives and homes.

And “the mastermind of the clashes,” says Akiwumi, “appears to have enjoyed the support of the provincial administration and the police force” whose behaviour was “ruthless and inhuman” and “that of an accomplice”. The report concludes that both local government officers and police “acted against innocent citizens of this country” for “political reasons”.

Deep-seated ethnic ambitions

Throughout the years and also in 2008, government officials and security forces have watched silently as murder and mayhem in Rift Valley have been perpetrated under their noses.

“With the advantage of hindsight,” the Akiwumi Report says, it would seem that, although Rift Valley inhabitants have lived together since before Independence “the different tribes did not accept each other but only tolerated each other, as apparently there were deep-seated ethnic ambitions and prejudices.”

The Rift Valley agenda is complex, predicated as it is on tribal aversion and exclusion. Violence has existed there for decades and in 2008 this had very little to do with ‘lost elections’. If this web of hatred and contempt remains unbroken, we may expect to realise the forebodings of one witness to the 2008 atrocities, who told investigators, “My fear is not even for the past or the present, but for the future.”

History to which thousands are witness cannot be rewritten. Everyone has to wake up, tell it like it is, take responsibility and help stabilise this country and make it a nation. The superficial, politically driven attempt to blame Raila or Kibaki for the 2008 post-election violence in Rift Valley is the last resort of the desperate. The truth and the moral imperative, the dictates of pure reason, are quite another story. And make no mistake, our future depends on it.