Violent roads to Kenya elections
Kenyatta’s desire to create a Kikuyu aristocracy entrenched nepotism in headships of government departments and agencies, in awards of contracts and allocation of land purchased from departing European immigrants with a loan borrowed from Britain
The tradition of violent dictatorship by a minority ethno-racial group over majority ethno-racial groups marked British colonial rule from Kenya to South Africa. Brutal use of the gun was routine as European immigrants grabbed land from soils fertilised by volcanic eruptions from Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon on the current border with Uganda. By the late 1940s, echoes from Mao Zedung’s guerrilla war (1922-1949) from across the Indian Ocean reached Kikuyu youths in Mombasa and later Nairobi. Unlike Jomo Kenyatta who believed in achieving liberation by drinking tea with the colonial governor, impatient youths started administering oaths to converts to violent struggle. They called their army ‘’Mau Mau’’ to resonate Mao’s name.
In an interview in his Nairobi office, John Nottingham noted that the local police and their white officers wore the same uniforms they had adorned as they tortured ‘’Mau Mau’’ captives at Kenya’s Independence Day parade. Their violent orientation towards Africans was carried into the ethos of ‘’Uhuru’’/ freedom. Likewise, the unresolved war for redistributing land to the landless.
Jomo Kenyatta was arrested and imprisoned at Kapenguria in the desert north before guns rang out. He was widely publicised as the leader of the ‘’Mau Mau’’ even though Dedan Kimathi, the leader of the struggle and his command held him in contempt. The British exploited that weakness to extract concessions from Kenyatta for a post-colonial governance ‘’by suffering without bitterness’’, and nonfulfilment of ‘’Mau Mau’’ demands for land.
In the 1966 general elections, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had been forced out of the ruling party - Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) - championed return of land to former owners and was widely popular among Kenyatta’s fellow Kikuyu. In desperate response, Kenyatta fingered Odinga as an ethnic opportunist out to grab power from the Kikuyu for his Luo people. The Luo had, not significantly suffered and died in the ‘’Mau Mau’’ war and were accused by Kenyatta’s campaigners of wanting to eat the meat after Kikuyu had killed the elephant. The ritual of administering oaths to fighters that ‘’Mau Mau’’ leaders had used were smuggled back into electoral politics against Oginga and his team who had previously used the slogan ‘’No Independence Without the Release of Kenyatta from Prison’’.
This culture of polarisation would also poison relations with Daniel Arap Moi, the Kalenjin politician favoured by European immigrant politicians against Odinga who was accused of links with Communist China and the Soviet Union. Kenyatta’s desire to create a Kikuyu aristocracy entrenched nepotism in headships of government departments and agencies, in awards of contracts and allocation of land purchased from departing European immigrants with a loan borrowed from Britain. This did not find support from Vice President Moi. Moreover, the inner circle around Kenyatta - according to Phillip Ochieng - were routinely rude and keen to humiliate Vice President Moi whenever he came to consult with the elderly president.
Following Kenyatta’s death, only Mwai Kimathi from Nyeri District opposed a plot to ignore the constitutional stipulation that Moi, as vice president, should be sworn in as president. Nyeri is the home of Dedan Kimathi and his war cabinet. It was Kibaki who, as president after Moi, erected a statue of Dedan Kimathi in the centre of Nairobi.
On assuming power Moi declared a program titled ‘’NYAYO’’ or footsteps. It reassured the Kikuyu power group that they would keep their privileges and predominance in politics and the economy. This ploy did not last. During his 24 years in power, his NATO backers ignored his dislodging the ‘’troika’’ of Kikuyu, Embu and Meru top officials in favour of members of his Kalenjin ethnic roots. Businessmen I interviewed at Kenya Club in 2006, recalled Moi grabbing their prosperous tea estates, real estate properties, supermarkets, trailers, etc .,according to his mood and the temperature of his brain. Thousands of critics and dispossessed persons ended up in a dungeon appropriately named ‘’NYAYO HOUSE’’.
Both Jomo Kenyatta and Moi enacted one-party dictatorship into law to block out defeat in elections. Selection of candidates, those who won and those who lost elections was under their watch. Uncontrollable challengers were assassinated often in broad daylight. The charismatic former trade unionist, Tom Mboya, was shot at mid-day as he stepped out of a pharmacy in central Nairobi. Ronald Ngala, a Mombasa politician, was officially reported to have been stung to death by a swarm of bees which entered his air-conditioned Mercedes Benz car as he drove on a smooth tarmac road from Nairobi towards Mombasa.
Following the end of the Cold War, Moi’s operatives were alleged to have armed ethnic groups to burn houses, farms and livestock of immigrants among them. Those driven out of a constituency suspected of supporting opposition parties were denied registration to vote. In 2002 opposition parties criticized the practice of voters lining up behind candidates as a ploy to intimidate and victimise those who rejected ‘’government candidates’’. At the start of the post-election violence in December 2007, NGO activists told me that more people had been killed during elections under Moi’s presidency.
The run-up to Mwai Kibaki’s quest for a second term in office was characterised by a campaign rhetoric in which the opposition saw nothing positive in what he had done. Even waking up alive the day after a vitriolic attack on Kibaki’s record was not considered a mark of progress. My report about meeting a school teacher who had been tortured during six months in prison by Mao’s secret police for using my novel, PROSTITUTE, in a literature class, was dismissed as frivolous. That he had poured funds into cooperatives and small and medium scale enterprises was dismissed as ‘’primitive tribalism’’ since only his Kikuyu people had benefited. A list of permanent secretaries was published by the media which showed that over 90 per cent of them were alleged to be Kikuyu. Charges of corruption ignored Moi’s record.
The notion that death was preferable to Kikuyu dominance through Kibaki’s rule made violence imminent. United Nations agencies, church leaders, foreign diplomats and community elders appealed for an end to ‘’HATE SPEECH’’. Opinion polls built up tension with daily reports of flip-flop percentages of support for either Raila Odinga or Mwai Kibaki. At an election rally I attended, opposition politicians chorused that Kibaki was ‘’70 years too old’’ to return to power. Abuse, insults and half-truths drowned debates over policy issues. As we sat at the Kenyatta Conference Centre, the chairman of the Electoral Commission was reported - live on nationwide radio and television channels - stating that ballot boxes in districts favourable to Kibaki had almost certainly been taken beer joints and to witchdoctors. It was a lethal way of seemingly promoting transparency.
A long road full of rigged elections; use of violence by incumbents to deny victory to the opposition; using power to blatantly benefit a ruling racial or ethnic groups thereby feeding mass discontent -have for long followed Kenya’s electoral politics. Corruption by government officials was rampant under colonial rule, while Africans were denied the right to votes. Governance was primarily for their benefit. Jomo Kenyatta and Arap Moi followed that same road, with white politicians pulling strings from thin shadows. Just as it took the ‘’Mau Mau’’ revolution to break gates of colonial monopoly, it is most unlikely that local political genius will avert a return to Britain’s resort to overwhelming orgies of brutalities to manufacture, in 2017, a political science anchored on volcanic injustice. Oculi is of Africa Vision 525 Initiative.
Party supporters in Kenya