Odinga Dead in the Water

Interesting interview with Oxford University’s Professor David Anderson on Kenya’s political crisis and how ethnicity has been brought into the conflagration. You can read an earlier insightful interview he gave to Sara Nics when she was in London recently here.

This is political violence of the most classic kind. Ethnicity is how you mobilise it: that’s the modus operandi, not the rationale.

Political manipulation rather than ethnic hatred is driving Kenya’s post-election violence, says a leading author and scholar on the east African nation.

Oxford University’s Professor David Anderson also criticised both sides of Kenya’s political divide, saying President Mwai Kibaki was “playing Russian roulette” with Kenya’s democracy while opposition leader Raila Odinga was “dead in the water”.

Anderson — author of “Histories of the Hanged”, about the Mau Mau revolt during British colonial rule in the 1950s — said he was worried for the future of Kenya, where about 1,000 people have died in unrest following the Dec. 27 vote.

“I’ve always felt that Kenya’s middle classes and civil society were strong and robust, and would eventually overcome the problems created by their political elite,” he said.

“At the moment, I’m probably at the most pessimistic I have been in my entire life. I do not see an easy way forward.”

Anderson said the media’s portrayal of the Kenyan violence as inter-tribal fighting did not tell the whole story.

“Describing it as ethnic violence is not quite right. This is political violence of the most classic kind. Ethnicity is how you mobilise it: that’s the modus operandi, not the rationale.”

In the worst-hit Rift Valley area, where the majority of deaths have occurred, Kalenjin “ethno-nationalist” leaders had been waiting for an opportunity to reclaim land settled mainly by Kikuyus in the years after independence in 1963.

“Yes, they did organise it … They have had a long-standing agenda of violence. It is political instrumental violence of the worst kind,” Anderson said in the interview on Wednesday.

“If you map it, if you look at where it takes place, virtually every bit of violence has been on a settlement scheme … Quite deliberate, quite purposeful. You could argue that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the ballot. This might have happened even if (the opposition) ODM had won.”

“NO GOOD GUYS”

On the other side, one of the main motives for violence by Kibaki’s Kikuyu community against other groups — most notably in the towns of Naivasha and Nakuru — was the Mungiki gang’s desire to preserve its grip on extortion rackets.

Supported by some high-level politicians, Mungiki took advantage of the situation — and the justification of revenge for killings of Kikuyus by Kalenjins and others — to kick out other communities whose own protection gangs opposed Mungiki’s grip on the local transport and retail businesses, he said.

“Mungiki run those rackets not against non-Kikuyu, but against Kikuyu. They prey upon their own people. So they seek to exclude non-Kikuyu from those areas so that they can ‘protect’ their own people,” he said, adding that the notoriously murderous gang had supporters and enemies in Kibaki’s cabinet.

“If this (violence) was rooted in deeply-ingrained racial and ethnic hatred, why is there not violence all over the country? It is happening in very specific places which, if you know Kenya well, you could pretty much predict.”

Anderson lamented that both Kibaki and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Odinga had put hardliners in their teams for negotiations over the disputed vote.

“Both sides decided to play hardball,” he said. “I don’t see that either side is willing to take the step towards the other.”

Kibaki hopes time will strengthen his position, he said.

“Mwai Kibaki has nothing to gain by negotiation. He can only be asked to roll back. So he and his advisers know that by sitting tight, hunkering down and hoping all of this will eventually go away, they win,” Anderson said.

“They are playing Russian roulette with Kenya’s democracy. They don’t give a damn. They just want to win.”

On the other side, Odinga’s ODM had been “supremely and idiotically naive” to think they could run a civil disobedience campaign without it leading to violence, he said.

And Odinga’s poor judgement plus lack of gravitas in handling the crisis had shattered his would-be image as a pan-African statesman able to carry Kenya forward, he said.

“I think he’s dead in the water,” Anderson said.

“One of the problems for the international media analysing the Kenyan situation is that there are no ‘goodies’, there is no one you can say wears the white hat.”

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