At least 600 people, perhaps as many as 1,000, have been killed in political violence in Kenya following the result of a rigged presidential election on 27 December 2007.
By Dave Carr, Socialist Party
The incumbent president, 76 year old Mwai Kibaki, has been accused by his opponent, Raila Odinga, of organising the stuffing of ballot boxes to ensure re-election. European Union observers in a number of constituencies said the results announced bore little resemblance to those read out in the regional election centres. In Juja, for example, Kibaki’s vote increased from 48,293 to 100,390!
Parliamentary elections also took place at the same time. At least 16 out of 32 MPs in Kibaki’s cabinet lost their seats – thereby making the presidential result even more dubious. Overall, Kibaki’s supporters only won 35 seats out of 210.
Within an hour of Kenya’s election commission announcing the result (Kibaki appointed 19 out of 21 commissioners), Kibaki was sworn in as president. This was quickly followed by a message of congratulations from George Bush.
A US state department spokesman said: “We would call on the people of Kenya to accept the results of the election and to move forward with the democratic process.” However, in the face of such blatant electoral fraud and the mass opposition of Kenyans the US did an equally quick political U-turn and withdrew its congratulations.
Odinga supporters in his political heartlands and many opponents of Kibaki living in the shanty towns of the capital Nairobi and other cities poured onto the streets to express their outrage over the election. “This election has been stolen from us. We voted for change”, one Nairobi youth explained to a TV news reporter.
Angry protesters were confronted by armed government paramilitaries, equipped with tear gas and water cannon, who fired into the crowds.
Two attempts to hold an opposition rally in Nairobi’s Uhuru (Freedom) Park were banned by the authorities who deployed hundreds of police to prevent thousands of demonstrators congregating.
In a further clampdown Kibaki imposed a ban on live television and radio broadcasts. As the death toll rose the local KTN TV channel was showing The Sound of Music!
Tragically, in the absence of a working class political alternative, some of the violence descended into ethnic clashes perpetrated by armed gangs of young men – the foot soldiers of both presidential candidates. 250,000 people, from both the Kikuyu and Luo tribes, were forced to flee their homes to escape from rival political supporters and the police.
The violence was concentrated in the poorest areas. Media reports say that the wealthy neighbourhoods in Nairobi have been largely unaffected.
However, in a mixed Kikuyu-Luo shanty town several hundred men marched together calling for unity and denouncing both Kibaki and Odinga. One demonstrator said: “Let Raila and Kibaki fight. They are presidents: we are just people.” According to the International Herald Tribune (2/1/08): “Those in the crowd pumped their fists in the air and cheered.”
Under pressure from Gordon Brown and the US, who are well aware that a politically destabilised Kenya would be detrimental to the interests of imperialism, Kenya’s Attorney General has called for an independent investigation into the disputed election. Brown has urged Kibaki and Odinga to hold talks aimed at a political compromise.
After talks with the US special envoy Kibaki has declared himself in favour of a ‘national unity’ government. But this has been rejected by Odinga who is demanding a re-run of the election.
Both Kibaki and Odinga served in the 1978-2002 dictatorship of former president Daniel Arap Moi. Under Moi, Kibaki was finance minister and vice-president and Odinga was secretary general of Moi’s Kanu party.
A part of the winning coalition in 2002, Odinga left the government in 2005, after Kibaki failed to honour a power-sharing agreement.
While the Moi and the Kibaki regimes have been notoriously corrupt, the majority of Kenyans live below the poverty level; eking out a living on a $1 a day.
In fact, despite the country’s much lauded economic growth in recent years, poverty levels rose from 48% of the population in 1990 to 55% today.