Tribal politics in Kenya

At the core of Kenya’s election brouhaha are two mind-boggling questions: What to do with Kenyatta’s war crime charges and secondly, are Kikuyus the only people fit to be president of this multi-ethnic country.

For those who don’t know, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president of Kenya, was declared winner of a contentious March 4th presidential elections. The results, however, are being challenged by the second runner-up, Raila Odinga, who alleges that the electoral commission fixed the outcome. Kenyatta’s camp insists that the election was free and fair, but they can’t be as dismissive about the Hague’s assertion that he orchestrated the mass killings that marred the 2007 election. Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor at the Hague is unwavering about her commitment to have Kenyatta and his cronies stand trial. He has vowed to fight the charges and clear his name.

How does the president of the most economically powerful country in East Africa subject himself to the rigorous examination of the International Criminal Court without losing his international credibility? Most importantly, how can he successfully govern a country bitterly divided along ethnic lines? Kenyatta is a Kikuyu, Raila Odinga is a Luo. Kikuyus are the dominant ethnic group in the nation of 39 million people. Although there other tribes like Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba and Maasai, since independence, every president, except for Arap Moi has been a Kikuyu. This has led to allegations that the country’s political and material wealth is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of Kikuyus – a sentiment that readily lends itself to violence during elections.

It is not entirely clear how Kenyatta who is at the centre of ethnic cleansing charges will unite the entire country. Amongst Kikuyus, he is regarded as a saviour, the rest of Kenya is  waiting to see how he will heal the deep tribal wounds and move the country forward.


Rooting for Kenya to fail

You can tell by the way they are covering Kenya’s elections that the West is waiting for the East African to disintegrate into violence. Flip through any of the major newspapers and you will instantly be assaulted by fear-stirring headlines like: Hope and Fear in Kenya’s Election- NYtimes ; Kenya fears repeat of 2007 presidential-election violence – Toronto Star; 5 years after a disputed and violent vote – Washington Post.The message is obnoxiously clear - Kenya kindly provide an encore of 2007′s violent outburst war so our foreign correspondents can report of mass killings, burning buildings and displaced children.

March 4th marked an important day in Kenya. It was the first time that the country has gone to the polls since the shamefully violent election in 2007. Local reports indicate that save for a bloody skirmish in Mombasa, the voting process has been peaceful. Kenyans from sophisticated districts in Nairobi to under-serviced rural communities waited patiently in queues to cast a vote that could change the trajectory of one of the most promising emerging economies in Africa. As the international community awaits the results, there is a collective desire amongst Kenyans that there should be a decisive win. One devoid of the sort of creative accounting that leads to allegations of fraud and spurs the need for yet another power-sharing deal. But most importantly, one that will project Kenya as a bastion of progress and nullify the negative international coverage.

It is still early for any of the correspondents to predict a winner, so what has been captured are images from polling stations of people with blankets wrapped over their shoulders and fatigue drawn over their faces. In their obession to magnify the negative attributes of Kenya, the media failed to capture fascinating elements of the campaign trail about the likes of Martha Karua who is the only woman running for president or Muhamud Dida who is one of the youngest candidates to run for president in Africa. They definitely did not spare any ink to expound on the titillating rivalry between the front runners, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, two privileged individuals who lead the charge that Kenya’s presidential campaign is filled with recylced politicians. Odinga’s father was the first Vice-President of Kenya and Kenyatta is the son of the first President of Kenya. Rather, their lens has been manipulated to portray the Kenya as a volatile country.

I have been to Kenya. Culturally and geographically, it is a diverse nation with a politically astute electorate. Unfortunately every five years, the constitutional mandate for this democratic country to elect a new President stirs up deep-seated problems about economic disparities,  ethnic rivalries and  political ambition. Although these challenges are not exclusive to Kenya, the media is bent on using them as the colour palette to paint Africa as an unstable continent. 

However, if the haggard reports from Kenya serve any purpose, it should point to the fact that there is a thriving country in the heart of Africa which despite its checkered past, remains an immaculate example of the relentless and indefatigable pursuit of happiness.

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