Friday, December 17, 2010
A lot of people have been asking about the ICC indictments announced yesterday for 6 Kenyan politicians and opinion leaders. What is going on is actually a really important moment for the testing of the international court, the concept of international intervention on issues of genocide and crimes against humanity, and more importantly, accountability in Kenya for years of planned violence around elections.
Since many of you have most likely not been following this story I’ll try to provide a little background and context. Since this could get a little long, I’m breaking it into two posts. The first post here is a very basic primer on the history of elections in Kenya, including the 2007 election. I promise it’s not as boring as it sounds…
Kenya suffered through a pretty brutal dictatorial regime under Daniel Arap Moi from 1978-2002. He had banned parties, divided up the wealth of the country for his supporters and routinely locked up and roughed up those who did not agree with him. Most if not all of the politicians in power today come from his era, at various times fighting against him and other times working with him (The current Prime Minister and his father were accused of leading a coup against Moi and were kicked out of the country in the 1980s).
In 1992, pressure from the international community and from within his own country led Moi to reintroduce a multi-party system, but he clutched on to power for another decade. The ensuing elections were characterized by pretty severe violence in contested areas, all organized and funded by political and business leaders (particularly in 1997). (A quick side note-none of these crimes have ever been addressed in a court or reconciliation process). Finally, in 2002, he agreed to step down and de-politicize the electoral commission responsible for ensuring the fairness of the election. And, unsurprisingly his guy (Uhuru Kenyatta) lost. This ushered in a new era of hope and progress in Kenya. The people saw the power of their vote and believed in their ability to make change in their own country. They were able to speak openly on the street for the first time, criticize the government and not fear they would be locked up or beaten up for doing so.
In 2005, a referendum on a new constitution only further strengthened the perception of a new and forward moving Kenya. The population voted down the constitution for fear it over empowered the executive branch and did little to ensure better access to government at local levels. Out of the referendum campaigns grew the presidential campaigns for the 2007 elections. President Kibaki, who had pushed for the constitution, headed the ‘yes’ team, symbolized by a banana on the ballot (most African countries’ ballots contain symbols next to party and candidate names since at least in the past a sizeable percentage of the population couldn’t read). Then government minister, Raila Odinga (now Prime Minister) headed the ‘no’ team, symbolized by an orange. He then formed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) building on his success in the referendum. I’ll leave out a whole mess of very complicated political backstory on the relationship between the two of them and their various supporters, but suffice it to say it’s nasty and confusing.
This brings us to 2007. With all of the success and excitement of the past 5 years, the Kenyan public and international community expected another watershed election. Assuming that all would go well, people had already moved ahead to excitedly noting that Kenya would only be the third country in Africa to undergo 2 peaceful transitions of power (believe it or not, Somalia was first). Busy making plans for the creative governance initiatives that could come and example about to be set for the region, people failed to pay close enough attention to what was really happening in the electoral preparation. A few months prior to the election, the president had let the terms of the election commissioners lapse. Barely a month before the election he dismissed several commissioners, and replaced them with a slew of new people with no experience in election management and administration. Though concerned by the move, most people noted that the well-regarded election commission chairman had remained in his role and could handle the lot of under-trained and most likely politically motivated appointees. Unfortunately, as we would later find out, Sam Kivuitu was quite ill.
As the election approached there was a palpable excitement and pride. Campaign rallies were held across Kenya. ODM, perhaps the most animated, painted their headquarters-a big house in the middle of the city-bright orange, and decked out their supporters with orange cowboy hats and sunglasses with lenses spelling out Ralia’s name. Everyone knew the election would be close and expected a long wait for a final count. When the day came, voting went off without much of a hitch. There were a few reports of extra busloads of ballots and the usual minor attempts at electoral fraud. But there were many more stories about long patient voting lines, high turnout and few issues.
Where the trouble began was at the counting stage. Elections in much of Africa are run a bit differently than in the west. Because there is such a history of electoral malpractice, every party and often-independent observers deploy people to watch events at the poll. They are in the polling station from opening to closing, and then remain to watch the counting. There are countless images of electoral officials crowded around a table, counting large piles of ballots by candlelight. In the best election situations, election administrators must take a ballot, hold it up, declare its vote, and place it in the requisite pile. Everyone counts together, making it much easier to identify fraud at the next stages of counting. After ballots are counted at the polling location, a special form is filled out, and the form and ballots are sent to a regional tally center. The votes from polling locations are combined and tallied at the regional level and then sent on to the national headquarters for final checks and tallying.
Where things went wrong was in the transit. Unfortunately, no independent monitoring group deployed observers to count at polling locations so there was no independent count to verify the totals at local levels. Something happened to many of the verification forms en route to the regional tally centers and the counting slowed significantly. Though reports had been streaming in during the first day, on the 2nd day it abruptly stopped. Suspicious of tampering (many of the votes yet to be counted were from areas favorable to the president), crowds of people rushed to the national tallying center. Completely overwhelmed by the aggressive crowd, the Electoral Chairman shut down a public meeting reporting on the counting process. Information stopped dead in its tracks. No television cameras or reporters were allowed in the center and there was complete silence from the commission on the status of the vote. Finally, 3 days after the election, Sam Kivuitu appeared suddenly at a press conference, announced President Kibaki the winner, and disappeared back into the headquarters. It was announced that a mere half a day later, the President would be sworn in for his second term on the lawn of State House. Now just a reminder here that in the US, while the president is elected in November, he does not take office until February. This is intentionally designed to leave time for any challenges to the vote to be fully addressed. Now consider what happened in Kenya. The sudden and immediate swearing of the President opened a flood of anger and suspicion across the country.
I often recall a newspaper picture from this day. President Kibaki is standing on the lawn of his official residence, being sworn in for a second term by a white wigged judge (a bizarre hold-over from British colonial times), while smoke begins to rise from riots in the background. Kenya was literally burning. Mass pandemonium had instantly erupted. ODM supporters, claiming that the election was stolen took to the streets in anger. Many of the ODM supporters were among the poorer residents of Kenya, attracted to Odinga’s more populist message. They saw this as yet another instance of the elite ensuring they had no access to power or basic resources and rights. The most well-known and largest slum in Nairobi broke into horrible violence. Houses were burned, angry young men took to the streets and key parts of Kenya went into bunker-mode. At this point, all media across the country was shut down.
In the midst of this chaos, some ODM leaders took advantage of the anger to organize horribly violent retaliatory attacks against PNU supporters. These are those awful images you most likely saw in the New York Times of churches full with frightened people burnt to the ground, and others where people identified as Kikuyu, were pulled from cars and hacked to death. The violence took a dark turn. I should note here, that while up to this point the electoral violence had very little to do with ethnic identity and very much to do with class identity, this changed very quickly.
Politicians and leaders looking to capitalize on the chaos began manipulating long-standing tribal differences into political fights. While it is true that the majority of PNU supporters came from the central province, composed mostly of Kikuyus, and the majority of ODM supporters came from the Rift Valley, composed mostly of Luo (and in this case, allied Kalenjins), the turning of tribe on tribe was very much orchestrated.
In the next post I will dive into this post-election violence, the organized element, and how the conflict was brought to an end. Read on…
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
If you want to get around Nairobi you have a few choices. The first is a decent public bus system. You’d be hard-pressed to find a schedule or map but a few conversations with local folks and you can figure out the basic route and pick up locations. The second option is matatus- usually VW mini-buses, almost always pretty broken down and driven by questionably-licensed and certifiably insane drivers. They also run set numbered routes, stopping along the way to shove as many passengers as possible into the small vehicle. As horrible as it sounds they are a really good way to get shorter distances during the day for the cost of about 25 cents. The third option is a taxi, which surprisingly ends up being about as expensive as in Washington D.C. None of these options, except for specific taxis are acceptable for after dark.
Which leads me to my car. Between the post-dark transport restrictions and the 1.5-hour commute each way between Nairobi proper and my school, I decided I either needed to get a car or kiss my sanity good bye. This raised a new question…how does one purchase a car in Nairobi?
The used car market in Nairobi is an interesting one. Every shopping center has a dedicated space for posted advertisements for everything from homes, to cars, to appliances, to entertainment. Each topic is given a separate board. People post pictures of their cars with listings on price, year, and contact information. If searching the boards doesn’t do it for you, you have two other used-car options. One is to work with an importer to bring in the car you want, most likely from Japan or Singapore. They only problem with that is that you have to pay duty taxes on the car, which usually ends up almost doubling the cost. If that doesn’t do it for you, you are left with the car bazar.
The car bazar is pretty wonderful. Imagine Craig’s list, but in person, on a field. People trying to sell their cars, buy a spot at the bazar and park their cars for the day. People looking to purchase a car pay the equivalent of $5 to walk through, ask questions, test drive, and arrange a possible deal. Knowing I would need some back-up, I asked a taxi driver I had been using quite a bit if he would be willing to go with me and check out the car options. Luckily, my friend Emily was in town at the time as well so she agreed to tag along. We went there on a Saturday morning and were amused to find the bazar located just down the street from the giant tent church and across the road from the polo field.
The bazar is pretty big, with hundreds of cars all organized by size and type. One section has predominately sedans, another has cross-over cars, another with small SUVs and yet another with large SUVs and trucks. Interestingly, the valuation of cars in Kenya is very different from many other places. A Toyota of any make and any year always goes for the most. A not so nice 1997 Toyota Corolla could easily go for $6000 and would not decrease much more in price as it ages. On the other hand, older Nissan sedans can go for $3000-$4000. With all of the cars, year doesn’t seem to matter as much as make and model. Trucks are always more expensive than SUVs because people who buy them expect to make money with them (use them for work). As a result, no one purchases trucks commercially.
After looking around for a few hours I exchanged contact information with the owner of a 2000 Subaru Impreza, that my friend Emily noted was “Colts blue.” Over the next few days the owner and I negotiated until I got to a price I was ok with. Once we had agreed, he prepared the car agreement and I took the car to a mechanic of my choosing. Unlike in the US, mechanics tend to be in the informal sector and it is very hard and extremely important to find a good and honest one. Lucky for me, my friend Leah and her husband had been using a great mechanic for years who agreed to take a look at it for me. He gave the car a clean bill of health so we signed the documents and made the exchange.
Unlike the US, cars are registered as themselves not to an owner specifically, so no need for DMV visits or new license plates. The number on the plates signifies the year the car was brought into Kenya and stays that way throughout. Technically you are supposed to register the car under your 'pin' (a national ID number). But since foreigners don't have pins, I'm still working on transferring it...thus is Kenyan bureaucracy.
Since Emily had so aptly pointed out my car was in-fact two obnoxious shades past Colts blue, I decided to name my car Farasi, or Horse in Swahili. She has treated me well on the insane roads of Nairobi, which deserve a blog posting of their own. Until next time...
Monday, December 6, 2010
So just a quick post while I sit here studying for my finals. My Wednesday exam is for an Advanced International Relations Theory course. The material can be dense and occasionally in my opinion removed from reality (I'm an impatient political scientist). Reading a mixture of scholars pulled from the Greek empire all way to the present is sometimes disorienting and it is often hard to contextualize those we are studying within their times and the current events they were reacting to. This only serves to make theory and theorists all the more inaccessible.
Tonight, while doing a basic search to confirm the era of a scholar, I stumbled across a wonderful resource from UC Berkley. They have a Youtube site on which they have posted a series of interviews the school has done with the great modern IR thinkers. Instead of continuing my course outline, I have sat here for the last 3 hours listening to the (mostly) men who have most greatly shaped our understanding of politics and international interactions describe their upbringings, political ideologies, collaborations, reactions to other theories, and thought processes behind their own theories. It is fascinating.
It got me thinking though. In this age of technology, I am able to connect directly with the great thinkers. Rather than solely wade through their dense prose and attempt to guess at their mindset and rational for writing I can watch them interact with another professor and explain what they were thinking when they wrote their great works. I can't help but wonder how this changes academia and the process of gaining information at an intellectual level. Ten years ago this would have been impossible. Should we regard this as yet another blow against reading and thoughtful intellectualism, or celebrate it as a wonderful use of new technology to expand our academic engagement and knowledge?
Nerdy food for thought. Now back to 21st century studying