By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"Land in Africa is not real estate to be bought and sold. It is sacred, where the ancestors still live, part of a person's blood and soul," Dowden wrote in The Observer, the sister paper to Britain's left-leaning Guardian. "Ever since the white man left, there have been periodic clashes over land in the Rift Valley; Kenya's population has doubled since then, so competition for land intensifies."
But tribal resentments only come to the fore when government fails. As Nairobi-based record producer Tabu Osusa put it, in the absence of a government they can trust, "people depend on their tribes for survival." The real issues in Kenya are the same worried over by soccer moms everywhere: roads, electricity, education and health care. Although Kibaki is credited with shepherding the country's economy to a growth rate that is close to 7 percent, 10 percent of the country's 35 million people control 42 percent of its wealth, leaving nearly half of its population below the poverty line. The inequities are apparent even to the casual observer: The road from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru, in the home district of former president Moi, is as well paved as an American highway, while the 12-hour bus journey from Mombasa to Lamu Island on the country's Swahili coast is a bone-jarring ordeal.
Kibaki's opponent Odinga gained the support of many Kenyans because of his promise to represent historically disenfranchised groups. Odinga is no saint. An engineer who drives a red Humvee and who named his son Fidel Castro in a burst of youthful radicalism, he is thought by many to have the makings of a big man himself. Odinga or his adherents appear to have participated in election fraud, although not on the scale of Kibaki's supporters. But there is no question that Odinga appealed to the desire of ordinary Kenyans to move beyond tribal politics.
Since the early days of independence, African leaders have presented their countries with a choice between constitutional freedoms and economic growth. To many, this is a false dichotomy. But Kibaki, who studied at the London School of Economics and helped to write Kenya's first constitution, is old-school, from a generation of postcolonial leaders accustomed to acting with impunity. Kibaki's views seem to be shared by Colin Bruce, the World Bank's country director in Nairobi. In a January 1 memo leaked to the Financial Times of London, Bruce recommended that the multilateral lending institution support Kibaki. The World Bank has $1 billion in outstanding projects in Kenya, and has been criticized for overlooking widespread corruption. Bank officials warned that withdrawing from the country would have an unduly harsh effect on Kenya's poor. But some say that Bruce has become too close to Kenya's president: the Financial Times also reported that Bruce lives in a mansion owned by the Kibaki family.
The U.S. funnels at least $1 billion annually to Kenya, which it considers a key ally in the fight against terrorism. So far, however, the U.S. seems unable to wield its usual influence. Jendayi E. Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, shuttled to Kenya after the election, but failed to persuade Kibaki and Odinga to enter negotiations. "There is a certain poison in the air," Frazer said in an interview broadcast on Kenyan television. If the impasse is not resolved, she warned, "Kenya will have a long future of instability."
Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina's provocative political commentary, along with his girth and well-tailored look, has earned him the label of Africa's Gore Vidal. Wainaina has taken a somewhat longer view of Kenya's troubles, and a more hopeful one. He told a reporter for Toronto's Globe and Mail that this election was a "seminal" moment for Kenya. Under the repressive Moi regime, most Kenyans wouldn't have known that an election had been rigged, Wainaina said; the current uproar is a sign that Kenyans are determined to hold on to constitutional government.
Pride and hope galvanized Kenyans in the early days of independence, and much of that feeling has been revived by the country's recent prosperity, at least among the urban elites. But even those people, whether they are Luo or Kikuyu, seem unwilling to sacrifice democracy, even for the promise of continued economic growth. Osusa, who founded his Nairobi-based music label, Ketebul Music, to raise the profile of traditional Kenyan music, says the streets of the capital are safe except in the slums, where much of the violence was actually gang-related. But he called the situation "very sad." Indeed, sadness rather than anger seemed to be the country's dominant mood.
The Economist was the first to call for the U.Â S. and Europe to impose strict economic sanctions if Kibaki doesn't agree to measures that would revive Kenya's civil institutions. While this remedy may seem too stringent, it may be the only way to force Kibaki towards a settlement. If the Kenyan people care enough to riot and, in some cases, to commit murder over a constitutional crisis, the world should take their concerns seriously. After all, our country's founding fathers once did the same thing. Dismissing the country's problems as "tribal"— a word that makes Kenya's problems seem insoluble — only makes the situation more perilous.
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