We survived Kenyatta / We survived Moi / We might survive Kibaki / Will we survive ourselves? (Anonymous)
The Kenyan politicians Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have never been closer. Although they are facing charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the two have been busy convening prayer-cum-political rallies across the country in their campaign for the presidency. At almost every rally Uhuru and Ruto have knelt on the dais, been anointed with oil and prayed for, and they’ve delivered campaign speeches that double as sermons about their persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the ICC.
At these rallies they have bandied the slogan “tuko pamoja”, Swahili for “we’re united”. For Uhuru and Ruto, who are from different ethnic communities, “tuko pamoja” registers a political legacy based on fictive but nonetheless strategic kinship. Presidential candidates in Kenya are not hard pressed to run for office on the basis of their policies. Sweeping slogans often take the place of policy (in 2002 it was “Kibaki Tosha” — “Kibaki is more than enough”). Creating voting blocs through ethnic alliances during election years is still the order of the day, so slogans like “tuko pamoja” labor to suture inter-community relations damaged when we killed each other during the post-election violence in 2007-2008 — in time for the next election.
The singularity of the post-election violence of 2007/8 in Kenya is disturbing. There was, after all, inter-community violence prior to and after the 1992 and 1997 elections. This violence is not specific to election years. In fact, recent reports of ongoing ethnic clashes around the country suggest that conflicts occur even when not mobilized by politicians. High unemployment, land injustice, drought and food insecurity, and resource depletion — the main causes of conflicts — are not particular to election years.
In truth, the ICC process has delivered little catharsis for Kenyans. While it has been argued that this is the first time senior Kenyan politicians are facing the consequences of being held responsible for wrongdoing, the ICC process has obscured the complicity of ordinary Kenyans in the post-election violence and instead placed full accountability on the four indicted. To make matters worse, Uhuru and Ruto have declared publicly that whatever happens at the Hague will not deter their presidential aspirations. Powerful ethnic lobby groups supporting both politicians have indicated that they’re going to petition the ICC to hold off its trials until after the presidential election in 2013. Although only signatory states can petition the ICC, this move signals that there are interests within the Kenya body politic for whom winning State House is more important than justice and reconciliation with regard to post-election violence 2007/8.
While the ICC process and the Uhuru-Ruto presidential campaign have pervaded the media, coverage of the government’s failure to properly relocate and compensate Internally Displaced Kenyans (IDKs) has dwindled. Five years after post-election violence of 2007/8, there are still about 250,000 IDKs in camps across the country. The government claims most of these Kenyans are opportunists attempting to get free land and compensation. Internally Displaced Kenyans are now viewed as criminals by their own government.
Like IDKs from the 1992 and 1997 elections, those from the post-election violence risk getting forgotten. It is easy to forget. After all, Kenyans displaced by violence in 1992 and 1997 and the years in between and after were forgotten in the sort of Kenyan exceptionalism that portrayed us as peaceful, as never having hacked each other to death or forced people off their land. Before 2007 the Western media referred to Kenya as the “poster child” for peace in East Africa, and far too many of us believed this without irony.
Political campaigns for the next presidential election in 2013 have already hit the ground running. Election season is by far the most cynical time in Kenyan politics. It is easy to be cynical: we’ve heard there’s an arms race in readiness for violence during the next election year; we’ve been told the new constitution, the very document meant to redress some of the longstanding inequalities that led to the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008, is purely “aspirational” — that it is too expensive to implement and it’ll be years before it takes effect.
Now, more than ever, it is important to shun the easy safety of cynicism. Cynicism is part of what got us into post-election violence then—it is the collapse of belief that paved way for the machete to become the arbiter of our national relations. As a nation, our task is now to imagine the impossible. Kenya depends on it.