“Kenya Government Denounces ‘Genocide'”

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“Polarization”: Elections are uniformly described as “tight,” and yet, incongruously, early reports indicate a significant lead for the challenger. Source: BBC. See also Grey Lady-Globo: “Kenyan Opposition Wins With 57% of the Vote!”

The following violations of the electoral code of conduct among other electoral malpractices form the core focus of the KNCHR election-monitoring project:

  • Misuse and misappropriation of public resources by either side of the campaign (public offices and buildings, public finances);
  • Participation of public officers (provincial administration, civil servants, heads of parastatals etc) in the campaigns;
  • Incitement to violence, incidences of violence; and
  • Use of hate speech particularly on ethnic and gender lines by politicians and the media.

–Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights report, December 2007 (PDF)

Moral crusades advance claims about both the gravity and incidence of a particular problem. They typically rely on horror stories and “atrocity tales” about victims in which the most shocking exemplars of victimization are described and typified. Casting the problem in highly dramatic terms by recounting the plight of highly traumatized victims is intended to alarm the public and policy makers and justify draconian solutions. At the same time, inflated claims are made about the magnitude of the problem. A key feature of many moral crusades is that the imputed scale of a problem … far exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence. — Ronald Weitzer, “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade,” Politics Society 2007; 35; 447

“One tribe is targeting another one in a fashion that can rightly be described as ethnic cleansing,” said one senior police commander who declined to be identified. The Australian today, citing “correspondents in Nairobi”

I repeat:

Kenya Government Denounces ‘Genocide’: The Washington Post gives a reasonably balanced account of what I think are the two predominant narratives about the causes of violence the post-election crisis in Kenya:

  1. Wrenching, dramtic incidents, pointed to as evidence of systematic ethnic cleansing, justify draconian police reprisals in the name of preserving “the rule of law”
  2. Arbitrary, extralegal police violence, on government orders and in direct support of the incumbent president, as an instigating factor in further violence.

First, the Post cites an official government statement:

“It is becoming clear that these well-organised acts of genocide and ethnic-cleansing were well-planned, financed and rehearsed by Orange Democratic Movement leaders prior to the general elections,” the statement read by Lands Minister Kivutha Kibwana on behalf of his colleagues said.

The post cites a counterclaim to the same effect, but does not quote the challenger’s statement, which it characterizes as making that counterclaim.

Consider the source of the government claim, however: Election observers have cast very serious doubts on the integrity of the vote-count, on the hasty announcement of the results — which the president of the Elections Commission has now repudiated — on the hasty swearing-in of the incumbent, and on the immediate press blackout that ensued.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission’s second periodic report on the campaign — titled “Still Behaving Badly” — cites numerous illegalities committed by the campaign for the incumbent, emphasizing cases such as the following:

In our first report, the KNCHR called for action against the Minister for Roads, HonSimeon Nyachae for his role in the Kisii violence against ODM leaders on 21/9/07. No known action has been taken. On 25/11/07, a government vehicle (White Mitsubishi Pajero, GK A545H) (See vehicle in Annex 1) assigned to the Assistant Minister for Water, Raphael Wanjala, was impounded in Naivasha carrying assorted crude weapons. The weapons included 100 pangas, whips, bows and arrows and 70 Somali swords. Also found in the car were President Mwai Kibaki s campaign posters and those of Mr Wanjala. No known action has been taken against Hon Wanjala regarding this incident.


United States diplomats are now variously described as having “retracted” or “withheld” official congratulations to the incumbent for having won the elections. That is, our government either

  1. Never endorsed the result; or
  2. Endorsed the result, then retracted its endorsement; or
  3. Did endorse the result, then denied having done so

That is an issue — breakdown in diplomatic message control — that needs to be sorted out in the after-action bull session.

Local press reports — The Nation, specifically, cited the State Dept. as having “congratulated the incumbent on his victory.” Were they misinformed? Who said what, and when did they say it?


Second, the Post cites two rights groups who claim that “bloody repression” led to “reaction.”

A local and an international rights group accused Kenyan security forces of having “bloodily repressed” protests by opposition supporters. “As a reaction, some protesters are responsible for the assassination of Kikuyus,” added the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the International Federation for Human Rights.

The Mungiki gang is reportedly “killing … members of pro-opposition tribes.”

And in an apparent chain reaction, there were growing examples of Wednesday of revenge killings by Kikuyu militants, including the notorious Mungiki gang, on members of pro-opposition tribes.

Source for that fact? Who says? The police?

The FIDH statement does not make that claim.

Does that mean to imply that the Mungiki were pro-government in these elections? They have been reported to have served as, ahem, armed and dangerous “Vote Quimby early and often” electoral whips in the past.

But the Kenyan police are also accused of targeting the Mungiki for summary execution between June and October of this year, on the orders of the current minister of internal security. The incident has Fujimorist overtones to it. See

Let me see if I can find out more from the FIDH.

I think we need to be very, very careful not to react to potential “moral panic” and “moral crusade” campaigning here, from any side of the issue.

At this point, however, the de facto government controls the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone, so it is probably most important to collect and fact-check the claims of its opponents, and reality-test them against credible third-party assessments.

From the FIDH statement:

Despite the [sic] Electoral Commission of Kenya has validated the results of the ballot, the leader of the opposition, Mr Raila Odinga, as well as the Kenya Domestic Observation Forum, KHRC and the international community such as the European Union denounce serious irregularities during the electoral process. Notably, massive differences in 49 constituencies between the total of parliamentary and the presidential votes combined with the delay of the official announcement of the results raise great concerns.

Protests of opposition supporters are organised in all big cities, such as Nairobi and Mombassa. These protests are bloodily repressed by security forces in violation of the freedom of expression according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Kenya. Thus, the deployment of the army in some region is worrisome. As a reaction, some protesters are responsible for the assassination of Kikuyus, the ethnic group of President Kibaki, and the looting and destruction of their goods. According to different independent sources, more than 300 persons were killed since the elections on 27 December 2007.

The deployment of the army is news to me. I cannot find any corroborating reports to that effect in the English-language press at the moment.

FIDH and KHRC fear that these events will turn into serious ethnic clashes as it already happened at the occasion of previous presidential elections since 1992. (See FIDH / KHRCP Report May 2007 )Our organisations call for calm with regard the tomorrow announced demonstration.

Looking at the FIDH back catalogue, the FIDH has consistently characterized this sort of violence as “politically instigated” — implying intentionality on the part of political actors.

You know: Sort of a Pat Buchanan “wedge” strategy, only with more violent death.

As the FIDH report points out, this violence aimed at creating animosity between communities to split their political inclinations, to frighten whole communities and induce them to vote for the ruling party as a guarantee for their security, or to drive out communities with divergent political views from specific electoral areas. Such recurrent violence every five years at the time of every general elections was facilitated by the fact that the perpetrators and instigators still benefit from impunity. This on-going impunity is indeed worrisome for the near future considering the forthcoming 2007 general elections. There are already many indicators of violence in Subukia, Gucha, Laikoni and Mount Elgon which seems to have been fuelled for political reasons and which led to the forced displacement of hundreds of persons since January 2007.

Two very different narratives:

  1. Tribal rivalries — “which predate European colonization,” as the pundit corp is heard repeating early and often today — are the root causes of political violence
  2. Political instigators manipulate tribal rivalries to produce political violence

There may be other cogent analyses of the situation as well. If so, let’s hear them. But at the moment, (1) is dominating the punditry agenda, while (2) needs to be more carefully considered and reality-checked.


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