Reconciliation in Kenya Part 2
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
Last week I showed how the British colonized Kenya, depriving the indigenous people of their land and dividing and ruling by favouring different ethnic groups. The effects are still being felt in the 21st century.
The toll of the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya included approximately 1,500 deaths, 3,000 rapes, and 300,000 people displaced.
This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 21 2012
Ethnic divisions, divide and rule
The Kikuyu make up 22% of the 2008 Kenyan population, the Kalenjin 12%. There are many other smaller tribes. British colonists forced the pastoral Kalenjin off their land to develop the Rift Valley agriculturally and brought in Kikuyu farmers to work as sharecroppers. Continued competition drove the two tribes apart.
White Europeans dominated politics and were at the top of the social scale. Asians occupied the middle levels of society, mainly involved in small-scale agriculture and industry, retail, trade, skilled and semi-skilled labor and the middle level of the civil service. Africans, the majority of the population, were mostly poor farmers and had very little say in how Kenya was run.
By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land. Settler farming was subsidized and Africans were soon banned from growing tea, coffee, and sisal. Some Kikuyu were “allowed” to occupy land, which had been their homes, as tenant farmers in exchange for their labor. Kikuyu income fell by about 40% during the period 1936 to 1946 and fell even more sharply after that. After World War II, demobilized British officers flocked to Kenya, hoping to benefit from a comfortable lifestyle. There was a civil war among the Kikuyu because some Kikuyu managed to retain their land and forged strong ties with the British. Divide and rule.
After independence in 1963, ethnic tension persisted. Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, became president and Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin, became vice president. After Kenyatta’s death, Moi took power and tightened his hold on Kenya through censorship and repression. In 1992, the first multi-party election took place. Moi won but there were credible accusations of fraud.
In December 2007, incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, won an election called “deeply flawed” by observers. The Kalenjin, who supported the opposition leader Raila Odinga, hacked to death Kikuyus who supported Kibaki. Kikuyus violently took revenge forcing other ethnic groups out of Kikuyu dominated areas.
Truth and reconciliation?
A political compromise was reached that saw the two conflicting parties sign a National Accord, following the mediation efforts by the African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities chaired by Kofi Annan. The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya (TJRC) has the ability to investigate gross violations of human rights, economic crimes, illegal acquisition of public land, marginalization of communities, ethnic violence, between 1963 and 2008. The TJRC does not, however, have the power to prosecute. They can recommend prosecutions, reparations for victims, institutional changes, and offer amnesty in exchange for truth for perpetrators who did not commit gross human rights violations.
Lack of retributive justice has been a source of concern for many Kenyans. There has been a long-standing culture of impunity. The US criticized the use of local courts to try suspects accused of perpetrating violence because of a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases and a reputation for corruption. Some doubted the TJRC’s impartiality as some members were connected with the previous government and some faced corruption charges themselves.
The Commission has focused on justice in terms of recognition and distribution. Major conflicts in the past have arisen because of imbalances in power, land, and resources between ethnic groups and the Commission has addressed these issues. It has recognized the importance of educating the country about the history of violence.
What of Kenya today and tomorrow?
The Status of Governance in Kenya Survey released recently shows that 31% of Kenyans have not forgiven their perceived enemies but can tolerate them. Another 23.2 % said they can only forgive under certain conditions including justice being served. 6.3 % of Kenyans insist that they can never forgive.
In the Tana Delta region, more than 100 people were killed in August 2012 in fighting between the Pokomo and the Orma in a dispute over land and water. The killing in August of a Muslim cleric was followed by days of deadly riots in the city of Mombasa. Minister Ferdinand Waititu has appeared in court charged with inciting violence following a speech urging his Kikuyu constituents to chase away members of the Masai community. Increasing hate speech and outbreaks of violence all over Kenya indicate that the March 2013 election could be bloody.
Kenya has not healed. The Status of Governance Survey found that Kenya is still ethnically divided with 60% of respondents attributing this to historic injustices committed during the pre-colonial period and the subsequent abuse of power by successive political regimes.