While politi­cians play out high-level chess moves Nairobi’s poor strug­gle to heal the wounds of 2007 and 2017 elec­tion vi­o­lence. Amid police crack­downs, a sti­fled me­dia and a ju­di­ciary who ig­nores them, where will the rage find its out­let?

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - By Nan­jala Nyabola in Nairobi

The un­heard anger Politi­cians play out high-level chess moves while anger brews among Nairobi’s poor who are strug­gling to heal the wounds of post-elec­toral vi­o­lence

Sur­rounded by thou­sands of cheer­ing sup­port­ers, op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga took an oath on 30 Jan­uary to be­come the “peo­ple’s pres­i­dent”. The mock swear­ing-in cer­e­mony im­me­di­ately drew par­o­dies on so­cial me­dia, with peo­ple post­ing pho­tos of their own oath-tak­ing. But the laugh­ter died down quickly in the Mathare slum, one of the most eth­ni­cally di­verse places in the coun­try. Wedged be­tween the 82 Air Force Base and the pres­ti­gious Muthaiga Golf and Coun­try Club, Mathare has been the site of some of the worst vi­o­lence in Kenya’s his­tory, and, more re­cently, the most egre­gious cases of police bru­tal­ity in the 2017 elec­tions. In Fe­bru­ary of this year, street demon­stra­tions erupted in the slum af­ter police ar­rested TJ Ka­jwang, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment for the Ruaraka con­stituency in which Mathare sits, for his role in Odinga’s cer­e­mony. Ka­jwang had held the Bi­ble, and police ar­rested him un­der a colo­nial-era law de­signed to pun­ish Africans for pledg­ing al­le­giance to en­ti­ties other than the Bri­tish monarch. Af­ter de­tain­ing sev­eral op­po­si­tion fig­ures, con­fis­cat­ing their pass­ports and even de­port­ing Mi­guna Mi­guna, an op­po­si­tion lawyer, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s govern­ment went af­ter the me­dia. Some of the coun­try’s big­gest tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ers – NTV, KTN and Cit­i­zen TV – were taken off the air for at­tempt­ing to broad­cast the oath. To­gether, the sta­tions rep­re­sent 70% of the coun­try’s TV broad­cast­ing. In spite of an order by the High Court to re­sume trans­mis­sion, some air­waves were silent for nine days. “In the space of just one week, a Kenyan govern­ment that pro­claims it­self a rule-of-law govern­ment has re­peat­edly de­fied nearly a dozen court or­ders in an alarm­ing de­scent to­ward au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism,” wrote Larry Mad­owo,

one of Kenya’s most recog­nis­able on-air jour­nal­ists, in an ar­ti­cle that ap­peared in The Wash­ing­ton Post. In an eerie warn­ing, a fake death no­tice was pub­lished in a Nairobi daily for Jimi Wan­jigi, the main fi­nancier of the Na­tional Su­per Al­liance (Nasa) op­po­si­tion coali­tion. In an­other wor­ry­ing move, on 30 Jan­uary the govern­ment banned Nasa’s Na­tional Re­sis­tance Move­ment, the civil dis­obe­di­ence arm of the coali­tion, deem­ing it an “or­gan­ised crim­i­nal group”. Crit­ics now say that Kenya should no longer be hailed as a bea­con of democ­racy and free speech in a trou­bled re­gion. “Uhuru is tak­ing a stab at the heart of democ­racy that we’ve fought and died for over the last 20 years,” says Michael Chege, a pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Nairobi. Af­ter a year of high-stakes po­lit­i­cal drama, which in­cluded a Supreme Court an­nul­ment of the 8 Au­gust elec­tion and the op­po­si­tion’s boy­cotting of the re­peat poll, there is an on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal im­passe. Adding to the op­po­si­tion’s con­cerns, some of Keny­atta’s ad­vis­ers are singing the praises of the lead­er­ship styles of Rwanda’s Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, Uganda’s Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni and Ethiopia’s Prime Min­is­ter Haile­mariam De­salegn. “It seems part of a long-term strat­egy to help eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment with­out pol­i­tics – which is naive in the ex­treme be­cause the more they take this hard line, the more bel­liger­ent the pub­lic gets,” says Chege. Mean­while, there are signs that Nasa is frac­tured be­yond re­pair. The ab­sence of Nasa co-prin­ci­pals at Odinga’s mock swear­ing-in cer­e­mony sig­naled the end of the coali­tion for many ob­servers. “Nasa is gone, gone, gone,” says Che ge .“What’ s left now is Rail a Odinga, who is start­ing to re­alise the dan­ger of be­ing a lone ranger. He’s main­tain­ing the fic­tion, know­ing very well there’s noth­ing there.”


Some of Odinga’s most ar­dent sup­port­ers live in Nairobi’s slums, and many are no strangers to con­fronta­tions with the police, which have been a hallmark of Kenya’s elec­tions ever since mul­ti­party democ­racy was estab­lished in 1991. But in­stead of speak­ing out against the ev­i­dence of police bru­tal­ity, Keny­atta praised the con­duct of the police dur­ing the elec­tion per iod, com­mend­ing their “high de­gree of

Are they on the side of the con­sti­tu­tion or of those who vi­o­late it? ” For­mer chief jus­tice Willy Mu­tunga ac­cuses the ju­di­ciary of fail­ing to hold politi­cians to ac­count over rights abuses.

pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ded­i­ca­tion to duty”. While Nasa has ac­cused the police of us­ing ex­ces­sive force in deal­ing with op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers, the coali­tion has failed to turn that into a core pil­lar of its po­lit­i­cal mes­sage. But that does not mean it has not tried. On 24 Novem­ber, Nasa launched a fundraiser for the fam­i­lies of those killed dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod and pub­lished a full-page ad­ver­tise­ment in a lo­cal daily with pic­tures of peo­ple who died in the clashes. Since then noth­ing has been said about the fundrais­ing, which has been ob­scured by the high-level chess game. Mean­while, res­i­dents of Mathare re­main un­seen and un­heard by na­tional politi­cians. And be­cause pol­i­tics in Kenya is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate from vi­o­lence, the elec­tion’s im­pact con­tin­ues to take its toll. The ex­pe­ri­ence of Mathare dur­ing the 2017 elec­tion cy­cle hints at the ori­gins and chal­lenges of Kenya’s cur­rent na­tional po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. Given its easy ac­cess to the city’s cen­tral busi­ness district, Mathare at­tracts many new ar­rivals from ru­ral ar­eas. And res­i­dents of the densely packed clus­ter of iron-sheet houses are mostly young and very po­lit­i­cally ac­tive. Be­cause Mathare is rou­tinely ne­glected by the govern­ment, it is his­tor­i­cally a reser­voir of votes for the op­po­si­tion. But the rul­ing Ju­bilee Party claims a size­able con­stituency there too. Cram­ming so many peo­ple with var­ied back­grounds into such a small place in a coun­try where pol­i­tics and eth­nic­ity are in­ter­twined in­evitably height­ens elec­toral ten­sions.


De­spite its po­lit­i­cal cur­rency, Mathare’s strug­gle with cy­cles of elec­tion vi­o­lence re­mains at the pe­riph­ery of po­lit­i­cal dis­course. “Folks who dis­cuss pol­i­tics do it from the point of priv­i­lege,” says Ab­dul­lahi Boru, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Kenya re­searcher. “Peo­ple in in­for­mal set­tle­ments are prob­lems to be solved and not in­di­vid­u­als or groups with agency. Even when they are en­gaged, the re­la­tion­ship is purely ex­trac­tive.” This is sym­bolic of the wider phe­nom­e­non where politi­cians can fo­cus their en­ergy on un­der­min­ing their op­po­nents rather than fac­ing vot­ers and act­ing on their con­cerns. The on­go­ing clash be­tween Keny­atta and Odinga is crowd­ing out im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions on the real ef­fects of the elec­tion cy­cle. Th­ese in­clude a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of civil­ian deaths and the sys­tem­atic sidelin­ing of im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions, such as the ju­di­ciary, which was the vic­tim of a cam­paign of in­tim­i­da­tion af­ter the Supreme Court an­nulled the 8 Au­gust elec­tion. Ar­guably the most sig­nif­i­cant is­sue in Mathare aris­ing from the elec­tion is the ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions of young peo­ple. Nineteen young men and women were killed in Mathare by the police be­tween 8 Au­gust and 29 Oc­to­ber 2017 ac­cord­ing to the Mathare So­cial Jus­tice Cen­tre. Many killings were recorded on smart­phones, and the videos and pho­tos went vi­ral. Yet in the three weeks be­tween the Au­gust vote and its an­nul­ment, lo­cal me­dia de­clined to give sub­stan­tive cov­er­age to the

vi­o­lence. Only when the so­cial me­dia ca­coph­ony be­came too loud to ig­nore did they fi­nally pay at­ten­tion. Vic­tor Okoth was one such case. On 8 Au­gust, while much of the coun­try qui­etly awaited the first trickle of elec­tion re­sults, res­i­dents of Mathare hardly slept. The police had branded the set­tle­ment a “hotspot” for elec­toral vi­o­lence and main­tained a vis­i­ble, in­tim­i­dat­ing pres­ence. All polling sta­tions in the coun­try were to be closed by 5pm and re­sults re­leased im­me­di­ately, but be­cause re­sults were slow to come in, some frus­trated youth in Mathare protested. The police re­sponded with gun­shots and tear­gas that rat­tled the ma­bati (cor­ru­gated iron) shacks through­out the night. The fol­low­ing day, Okoth was in his house with his wife, Faith Mueni, and their young daugh­ter. Sens­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the mo­ment, Okoth headed out to the main street. “He was near the protests, but he wasn’t in them,” says Mueni be­fore she be­comes too emo­tional to con­tinue the in­ter­view. Okoth, like the ma­jor­ity of the vic­tims of police vi­o­lence dur­ing the elec­tion, was un­armed and killed by a police bul­let while try­ing to get away. He was one of the es­ti­mated 100 peo­ple killed by the police be­tween 8 Au­gust and 29 Oc­to­ber. As the high-level po­lit­i­cal drama in­ten­si­fied, police re­sponded to any in­ci­dents of un­rest in the coun­try with alarm­ing bru­tal­ity – fir­ing tear gas into homes and shoot­ing live rounds into crowds. Door-to-door searches in places like Mathare were typ­i­cal.

“[Okoth] didn’t die im­me­di­ately,” says Collins Obondo, his older brother. “So they wrapped him in a blan­ket, put him in the back of a police truck and drove him around for some time be­fore they took him to the [nearby hospi­tal]. That’s where he died”. Like many Kenyans who protested dur­ing the elec­tions, Collins says that he has not re­ceived any sup­port or help from the govern­ment, and he feels dis­il­lu­sioned and dis­con­nected. For­mer chief jus­tice Willy Mu­tunga says the govern­ment’s heavy-handed re­sponse to protests amounts to a se­ri­ous threat to Kenya’s democ­racy. “The things that hap­pen to pub­lic fig­ures like Mi­guna Mi­guna get lots of air­time,” he says, re­fer­ring to the lawyer who was de­ported for his role in Odinga’s oath. “But no one re­ally talks about what hap­pens to or­di­nary Kenyans in places like Mathare.”


Lay­ers of gen­er­a­tional trauma are stacked on top of each other and paired with a lack of faith in in­sti­tu­tions. In 2008, Mathare dom­i­nated head­lines with vi­o­lent eth­nic at­tacks trig­gered by the un­cer­tain De­cem­ber 2007 elec­tion. The Waki Com­mis­sion, con­vened to in­ves­ti­gate post-elec­tion vi­o­lence, found that most of the 111 killings in Nairobi in this pe­riod were in in­for­mal set­tle­ments like Mathare, and that the police killed many of vic­tims while re­spond­ing to the clashes with alarm­ing bru­tal­ity. In one in­ci­dent, Hu­man Rights Watch re­ported that police sur­rounded the set­tle­ment, shot 34 young men at point-blank range and forced res­i­dents to col­lect the bod­ies. Be­cause of Mathare’s small size, res­i­dents heard ev­ery bul­let. For lo­cals like Nancy Wan­jiru, trauma is a part of ev­ery­day life (see box). In­sti­tu­tions like the ju­di­ciary have failed to hold politi­cians ac­count­able for their role in hu­man rights abuses. So far in 2018, the ex­ec­u­tive has ig­nored at least three court or­ders per­tain­ing to the elec­tion, in­clud­ing the ex­il­ing of for­mer gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Mi­guna. “The ju­di­ciary is at a cross­roads,” says for­mer chief jus­tice Mu­tunga. “They will have to de­cide if they are on the side of the peo­ple or on the side of the regime. Are they on the side of the con­sti­tu­tion or on the side of those who vi­o­late it?” This ques­tion was fore­told by the govern­ment’s re­peated in­abil­ity to give clo­sure to sur­vivors of elec­toral vi­o­lence. Once again his­tory is in dan­ger of re­peat­ing it­self. Kenya’s fail­ure to ad­dress the 2007 post-elec­tion cri­sis lingers on to­day in bit­ter mem­o­ries and unan­swered pleas. “I have sub­mit­ted ev­i­dence and doc­u­ments, even to the In­de­pen­dent Polic­ing Over­sight Author­ity (IPOA),” says Wan­jiru. “But no one has come down here to help me.” The con­se­quences of Kenya’s elec­tion cy­cles keep play­ing out in places like Mathare, and on the minds and bod­ies of peo­ple like Wan­jiru and Okoth. They are also play­ing out on in­sti­tu­tions that are sup­posed to be staunchly in­de­pen­dent due to the widely praised 2010 con­sti­tu­tion, which en­shrined hu­man rights in law in an at­tempt to move on from the 2008 vi­o­lence. The lessons from ex­pe­ri­ences like Wan­jiru’s are clear and ur­gent – un­less Kenya deals di­rectly with the in­jus­tices that come with trou­bled elec­tions, the dis­il­lu­sion­ment will be com­pounded un­til even­tu­ally vot­ers lose faith in the po­lit­i­cal process al­to­gether.

In Nairobi’s slums, lay­ers of gen­er­a­tional trauma are stacked on top of each other

Crowds pack Uhuru Park on 30 Jan­uary for op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga’s mock pres­i­den­tial swear­ing-in

Above left: The Mathare River that runs through Nairobi’s dens­est slum is an open sewer Above right: A wo­man howls in hor­ror at the death of a pro­tester

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