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.
Journalists followed the action from the safety of helicopters just as photographers follow migrations of Kenya's wildlife.
To stop the mayhem, it has been suggested by Kofi Annan's delegation that the opposition ODM and the government come up with not just with a peace accord, but with one enshrined in a changed constitution.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a governance arrangement that will allow real power-sharing. And so an accord was reached on Feb. 28. The deal provides for the creation of a prime minister's post and two deputy prime ministers. The leader of the majority party , Odinga, would become prime minister, while Kibaki would retain the presidency.
The details of how the government will work are still mysterious, since the accord also calls for distribution of ministerial posts and civil service jobs according to the relative strength of each party in parliament.
The promise of the power-sharing accord is that politics in Kenya will no longer be a zero-sum game. But there are many ominous issues simmering below the present euphoria of a breakthrough.
First, brutality against innocent women and children and wanton destruction of property are all now officially in the books in Kenya as ways to seek political redress. What sort of precedent does this set?
Second, what happened to Kenya's constitution? Is the judiciary of any use in Kenya now, after this debacle in which due process was shunted? Observers generally agree that rigging took place on both the opposition and the government sides. Should that pass uninvestigated by independent counsel? Crimes were committed. It is ironic that Condoleezza Rice said that it would be "difficult" for anyone to undermine the accord once it was made into a legal and constitutional document, when the enticle debacle hinged on disregard of the Kenya's constitution.
Third, what happened to the rule of law? Will the hate speech that fueled the fire be called free speech? More than 1000 people were killed and over 300,000 displaced, yet there have been no arrests. Have those who grabbed a baby from a mother who was running out of the burning Eldoret church to throw it back into the fire been arrested?
Fourth, where is the official remorse? The unwillingness of leaders (political, civil, and religious) to unequivocally call for an end to violence and hate when the fires went up was extremely unsettling. There is no talk about national reconciliation and healing — only the sharing of power! The raped, the bereaved, the dispossessed are yet to be mentioned in the 'power-sharing accord.' They are collateral damage, until next time!
Finally, what will be the legacy of this violence? Will Kenyans remember politicians rigging an election, or will we remember vengeful thugs killing while the political elite —who could have stopped the violence — provided the cover of 'pin-drop-silence'? Could it be that the legacy will be the unspoken travail of horrors of the raped, the bereaved, the maimed, the dispossessed persons betrayed by their gender, age, and ethnicity?
Kenya may also remember the basic moral goodness and kindness of thousands upon thousands of good Samaritans who refused to be bought or sold into the foray but instead rescued, hid, fed, and granted safe passage to those on the run.
Their stories of honor will be instrumental in healing the disaffected and could serve as the cornerstone on which to build a real peace accord.
The peace accord has neglected to deal with all these questions. What then is the power-sharing accord but politics of 'eating'? "It's our time to eat!" is the refrain often heard in Kenyan circles when elections come, meaning, it is our time to grab power. Political power and connections link the helm of government to the ordinary clerk. This is why PNU and ODM will share all civil service jobs down the middle under the power-sharing agreement. The politics of "eating" animated the independence government of Kenyatta in 1963, and it was exacerbated under the Moi government, which followed Kenyatta's regime with even larger schemes of cronyism.
It seemed clear that the ethnic group of the person in charge really eats! The 'fruits' of Uhuru (Freedom) — land and jobs — were skewed towards the Kikuyu under Kenyatta. (Kenyatta even spoke Kikuyu, his native language, in the middle of his Swahili or English speeches, in a show of pure arrogance!)
The Moi era was distinguished by corruption like the Goldenberg scandal, which involved looting as much as 60 billion Kenyan shillings ($850 million) – a fifth of Kenya's GDP — from the country's Central Bank.
Enter Kibaki's much-anticipated and celebrated first term. To the dismay of the ordinary person in the street, the 8th Kenya Parliament would unilaterally award MPs a yearly compensation of over $120,000 ($60,000 in salary and $60,000 in cash perks)in a country where most Kenyans live on less than $700 a year. The trend had earlier been set by the 7th Parliament of Kenya which awarded itself a 172% salary and allowance increase.
Under the new agreement, ordinary Kenyans will continue to struggle as elites parcel out state resources. There surely must be a better way to protect, defend, and empower the least among Kenyans.
John M. Mugane is the professor of the Practice of African Languages and Cultures and Director of the African Language Program at Harvard