By the time I started writing this post, weeks ago now, the government issued a shoot to kill order against anyone causing any kind of trouble. People couldn't come to work, go downtown and we were one security phase short of evacuation. That's when I realized that this wasn't another Florida, these people would not quietly shuffle back home grumbling and wait for the next elections. The camel's back had been broken. Right around that time I started asking the locals their opinions on the matter, to form some kind of a general understanding why people were hacking each other to pieces with machetes. I talked to taxi drivers, students, local Kenyans, local muzungus, UN staff and so on. The following is my rough understanding of what went down and why. Obviously it is grossly simplified and generalized, partly to avoid writing a novel, partly because no one, myself included, knows all the details, and "truth" is a relative concept in Kenya.
By the time Kenya got its independence, it had been a colony for ages. The locals owned nothing and were all equally miserable. Then, once the country became independent, a huge amount of power and money was suddenly up for grabs. Unfortunately for everyone else, the Kikuyus and a few minor tribes got there first. They lived in the areas that had the most natural resources, the most international trade and so on, and claimed them theirs as the whiteys left the building. They got all the jobs, all the land that wasn't owned by white men with mustaches and safari hats, and the rest of the tribes were left to fight for the leftovers. As the notion of "African democracy" is largely an oxymoron, things weren't going to change very fast through politics, and they didn't either. After all, the world history isn't exactly packed with men (yes, just men) who were willing to give up any power once they got to taste it, and so Kikuyus (the the few other, much smaller tribes) remained largely as the "haves" and the rest were different varieties of "have-nots".
Fast forward 40 years. President Kibaki's administration hadn't delivered what it had promised, among which was a new constitution that was supposed to take power away from the president and give it to the people. People were already ticked off and longed for a change. They voted in record numbers, hoping the next guy would different, but knowing all the while that that was hardly going to happen. Well, no matter, there wasn't a next guy. Mr. Raila Odinga of the opposition, and of the Luo tribe, led the polls just before the elections, he lead by almost 500,000 votes when they were counting the votes, and then something inexplicable. Due to a "breakdown in communications" Kibaki went from down by 500,000 votes to winning the elections by a landslide, over a million votes. No wonder the people headed for the barricades. Now, I don't know about you, but I have never seen such blatant cheating, not even by the Finnish cross-country skiers or anyone at least remotely connected to cycling. It was the political equivalent of screaming "LOOK, IT'S DEMOCRACY, RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!" and whacking them over the head with a cricket bat when they turn to look. Moreover, one peculiar phenomenon that didn't exactly help the credibility was that Kibaki, who "won" the election got 44 seats in the parliament, while Odinga got 99. Wait a minute, so you're telling me that the majority of the people voted for Kibaki, but also voted for Odinga's party for the parliament? Hmmmm... Obviously every non-Kikuyu thought the elections were rigged, and the Kikuyus tried to stay quiet and hope no-one confronts them. No such luck. If there ever was an example of the shit hitting the fan, this was it. You probably caught at least some of the footage on the news so I don't have to recap the horrible things that the Kenyans did to their countrymen. Suffice it to say, to quote an African proverb, that "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."
Three quick tips for future reference:
1) IF you have to cheat in the elections, try to do it in a subtle fashion, than stating: "yes, I was behind when only 1,5 million of the votes had not been counted, but they all turned out to be for me.." I'm not exactly a math whiz, but in an election where there are 1500 candidates to begin with (true story), it is more likely for a person to spontaneously combust WHILE getting eating by a shark WHILE winning the lottery, than to get 1,5 million votes in a row. For god's sake people, haven't you watched West Wing?
2) IF for some reason you decide to play it fair, do everything you possibly can to be as transparent as possible about it. Hire people to call villages to tell them preliminary results every five minutes, make sure the international media is all over the elections, re-count the votes a few times and so on. Cause people who have been oppressed for a couple of centuries will most certainly not just shrug, say "well that was unlikely.." and go back to their shacks, if someone pulls a comeback of the century out of their ass, pardon my French.
3) IF you claim that you actually have played it by the book, do not announce election results where the voting percentage in several parts of the country is over 100%. It doesn't look good on paper.
So first everyone blamed the Kikuyus, then things calmed down for a while, until the Kikuyus (and everyone else who had been harassed) decided it was payback time. By this time Kofi Annan was packing his suits to whip these jackasses into shape. There were peace messages everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. Radio stations, tv-channels, newspapers, internet, fliers on the streets, banners inside the UN compound.. I even got a text message that urged me to be peaceful and love my fellow Kenyans. Now, this is all fine and dandy, but I honestly doubt that half of the poor Kenyans living in the slums and the tiny villages could understand the messages, all written in almost poetically elaborate English OR that they had access to most or any of the above media. Without a political, long-term solution this would be like trying to stop global warming by throwing ice cubes in the sea. Luckily Mr Annan is kind of a big deal in Africa, deservedly (his office smells of rich mahogany and he has many leather-bound books), and results seemed to be around the corner.
It still is, but we can already see a slice of it. There is hope, the violence has ceased for the most part, and there is talk of a new constitution, again. Perhaps Kenya can pull through after all.
However, as I understood from talking to the locals, the problem is far deeper than who is the president. There is a huge amount of young, poor, unemployed people, mostly men, whose patience has grown thin over the decades, and if the people in power don't soon start looking at the big picture, creating jobs, and dividing power and land, we're looking at a civil war. In case you didn't know, the members of the parliament in Kenya are among the best paid in the WORLD (e.g. more than in the U.S.), while the country's GDP isn't even in the top 100.
One person who I have to mention in this context is a young man by the name of Felix Oduor. I met him through some German interns who had worked with him in the colossal slum of Kibera. He was well-spoken, smart, politically very aware, and poorer than any of us. He had a surprisingly clear picture of the situation and he was willing to discuss and debate the problem and its possible solutions.
But at the end of the day he told me, without blinking an eye: "If a firing squad (that roamed the country then) came here right now and asked who supported Odinga, to kill them, I would stand up and look into their eyes as they would pull the trigger." How many of us would do that for any of the politicians in our respective countries? This just goes to show that the time for beating around the bushes, bending over backwards and accepting the harsh reality is coming to a close.
The license to "shoot to kill" hasn't been used in a couple of weeks now by the authorities, but mark my words, if something is not done about the situation in the very near future, the people of Kenya won't be asking for a license. Hell, they won't even need guns to take what they think is theirs. And that, my friends, is when whoever is in the ivory tower needs to go out and buy a bigger fan, because the other ingredient hitting it will be provided in abundance.