Kenya’s Power-Sharing Accord: Some nagging questions

Elites share power and resources while ordinary Kenyans continue to suffer.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Suppose that after suspiciously losing the much-needed 25 electoral votes from Florida in the highly disputed 2000 US presidential election, Al Gore had led his supporters in demonstrations.

Imagine that Americans had then gone on a rampage demanding that George W. Bush resign, refusing to appeal the election results to the Supreme Court because it was weighted heavily in favor of the Republicans.

Then imagine powerful countries — say France, Japan, and China, backed by the European Union and the United Nations — had demanded that the U.S. Constitution be changed to accommodate a power-sharing agreement! Inconceivable as this sounds, it is what happened to Kenya, culminating in the now much-publicized power-sharing accord.

It will be recalled that Kenyans went to the polls on Dec. 27, 2007 with opposition leader and head of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM), Raila Odinga, challenging the incumbent Mwai Kibaki of the People’s National Union (PNU), for the presidency.

The news the following day that Kibaki had won a slim majority (51.3 percent to Odinga’s 48.7 percent), in an election about which European Union observers had serious reservations, catapulted Kenya into chaos.

Post-election violence took an ethnic turn, targeting first the Kikuyu, the ethnic group of Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya’s first president) and Kibaki. The violence then spread, pitting the Luo against the Kisii and the Kalenjin against all non-Kalenjins in the Rift Valley, and inciting reprisals from the Kikuyu on their Luo neighbors, especially in Naivasha.

Meanwhile, the largest Nairobi city slums — Kibera and Mathare — went ablaze with ethnically-targeted rapes and murders. Some very angry city youth were shown on CNN and other networks shouting “NO PEACE FOR RAILA”, which meant there would be no peace until Raila got his way.

Just what went wrong with the December vote is unclear, but when the dust settled there were over 1,000 dead and over 300,000 displaced, the vast majority of these being peasants.

For a time, the violence forced everyone to return to their ‘ethnic homelands.’ While for some this was logical, for Kenyans of mixed ethnicity it presented a problem from hell. Many who could not trace their ancestors to some geographical enclave could only run away from the fire without knowing where to go. Peasant women and children, who traditionally own little outside of what their husbands have, suffered the most. Some of these peasants were burned to death in a church in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret.