“In Kenya, Both Sides Have Claimed Genocide”: A Reality-Check

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FIDH report, March 2007: “Massive Internal Displacements Due to Politically Instigated Ethnic Clashes.” Is that what we are seeing now? Is the “explosion of tribal tensions” spontaneous or engineered and “instigated” through the application of state and state-sponsored violence?

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 yesterday, citing “correspondents in Nairobi”

“There have been deaths all over the country,” Odinga told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “And the violence clearly originates from the police. They have shot dead innocent people: in Kisumu, in Eldoret, in Kericho.”

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. —“Still Behaving Badly” (KNHRC, December 2007)

Keeping Kenya democratic: The Boston Globe editorializes today:

There is no doubt that the election result is at least tainted. Samuel Kivuitu, chairman of the Electoral Commission, said Tuesday that he was pressured by both sides to announce a winner prematurely. Observers from the European Union reported many irregularities, chiefly in Kikuyu districts. Kibaki’s reelection should not stand without a recount, or if that is impossible, a new election.

I have no doubt that the election result is at least tainted.

Neither do Condi or Gordon Brown.

But one of the details that continues to bother me is the origin of the “this ain’t rock ‘n’ roll; this is genocide” meme that has emerged in reporting on the exchange of charges between incumbent and challenger. I continue to insist:

Reuters makes a token effort to do so today:

But it makes a common, hasty — and not wholly warranted — generalization in doing so:

Both sides in Kenya have already alleged genocide.

The thing that bothers me most is that, while it is frequently reported that “both Kibaki and Odinga” have laid charges of “genocide,” I have yet to read verbatim quote from Odinga making this charge.

The government’s statements are cited, and are explicit in this sense. See

The government has now backed off the moral panic inherent in using the “G” word indiscriminately:

Then it is reported that the challenger made the same claim, rarely quoting him or his supporters to this effect.

The Australian does note this quote from an Odinga supporter, however:

Professor Anyang Nyong’o, secretary-general of Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, returned the insult. “How can we be responsible when people are angry because Kibaki stole the vote?” he said. “It is genocide because police are killing people.”

If I were advising the Orange people on their PR, I would strongly recommend that this man not be allowed to talk anymore. To anyone. This is a stupid and inflammatory thing to say. (If he really said it.)

Odinga was quoted by DER SPIEGEL as follows:

“There have been deaths all over the country,” Odinga told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “And the violence clearly originates from the police. They have shot dead innocent people: in Kisumu, in Eldoret, in Kericho.”

Therefore, what you have here is not a case of mutual, reciprocal charges of “ethnic cleansing,” but two competing stories about the root causes of the violence:

  1. Tribal tensions spontaneously exploding into ethnic cleansing (“The Sullivan Meme“)
  2. State and state-sponsored violence

These are not mutual recriminations, each side charging the other side with “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated by lynch mobs driven by tribal passions.

This is a factual dispute over which of two very different accounts of who is killing whom are true, or more true, or predominant, or most significant.

The biggest failure — wilful or otherwise — in the media coverage of this story is its abject failure to address a simple question: Who is killing whom? In what numbers, by what means, and why?

We have a cumulative heap of bodies, now approaching 400, but no one is sorting them out in a bid to assess competing claims about how they came to be devoid of continuing biological viability.

This may be because police are blocking access by journalists and independent observers to the morgues. There are spotty reports of this.

Or perhaps there is another, more complex, explanation to be offered. Perhaps multiple factors are involved, as they often are in such situations. As the Times man in Nairobi observed

The violence has been a mix of hooliganism, political protest and ethnic bloodletting.

The Times man in Nairobi has been doing a pretty good job. This summary sounds credible and judicious– except that it excludes the hypothesis of arbitrary state-sponsored violence as a factor.

Unpardonably, I think.

A very public and potentially incendiary claim has been made to this effect.

The Times man in Nairobi ought to be out there trying to either rule it in or out.

The question now being: If it is a mix, then a mix in what proportions?

The FIDH has done quite a bit of research on the run-up to the election that suggests that there is some validity to (2).

But (2) receives no coverage or investigative attention. Only the Washington Post has cited the FIDH’s work so far, as far as I have been able to read — and then only in passing.

What exactly are the Kenyan police — who are not exactly Officer Friendly, as a number of human rights organizations, and the U.S. Dept. of State, have consistently noted — up to?

We need a body count that sorts the bodies into (1) people killed by the crude weapons used by tribal mobs and rioters and (2) people killed by the assault rifles used by the RSU.

But journalists and medical observers are reportedly being denied access to morgues. By police. And if that is the case, then public accountability is down the crapper and hard questions need to be persistently asked.

Is it the case?

Otherwise, one is left to speculate on the motives of a government which claims the deaths are being produced by mob violence, but which does not permit independent verification of that claim.

And again, carefully documented reports prior to the election seem to indicate that (2) may have some validity to it.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission’s second periodic report on the campaign, for examle — 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.

See

Government officials loading up official cars with enough weapons to arm a decent-sized lynch mob.

Holy shit!

Is that really true?

If so, how often is that occurring?

I will be looking to see if the FIDH has anything to add on the subject today.

I think their point of view needs to be given more time on the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone, and reality-tested in the marketplace of ideas here.

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