Monday, December 31, 2007

Macro/Micro Updates from Kenya

ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga, after a recent press conference. (Image from Mentalacrobatics)

So anyone who reads this blog is probably pretty up to date about what has been going on in Kenya over the last day, either from the major international news outlets, from kenyanpundit, or for Chris Blattman's excellent wrap-up of local sources, so I'll spare you the full recap.

The most recent news reports from the national arena seem to indicate that things are taking a slightly different tone. The police commissioner, Major General Hussein Ali, has given a press conference stating that, despite rumors to the contrary, neither he nor any high ranking military officers have resigned, and that senior ODM (opposition) leaders are not currently under arrest or house arrest. In addition, the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, has taken a very responsible tone in his most recent press statement. He called off the "shadow inauguration" that was supposed to take place today, and instead scheduled a peaceful mass protest for Thursday. He has also spoken out against the violence that is taking place throughout the country, arguing that, “We will not recognise Kibaki as the President of Kenya and will fight him out of office through peaceful and legal means.”

On the ground, things seem a bit mixed. M., a friend of mine who is in the security forces in Kisumu (an opposition stronghold in Western Kenya) has reported that things there are quite bad. When I spoke to him earlier today, he told me "Its terrible man, terrible terrible. It is beyond us- these guys have turned rowdy- we can't contain them". According to him, police are struggling to contain the situation-Kisumu City is under a curfew from 6 PM to 6 AM, during which time no one is supposed to leave houses or enter or exit town. Despite these measures, people are moving out to rural areas, because violence is spreading into the suburban estates. While the violence still seems to be generalized looting, as I reported yesterday, M. reported that it is taking on a more targeted nature, "Everything is being burned- the Kikuyus [Kibaki's tribe] are being burned, their shops are being looted". According to M., at least 50 people have been killed.

Another friend of mine, R., is in Laikipia, the multi-ethnic region in north central kenya, where I did the bulk of my fieldwork. Laikipia (which is comprised of three districts- Laikipia North, Laikipia East, and Laikipia West) has a large population of Kikuyus and a substantial minority of various pastoralist tribes (Maasai, Samburu, Pokot, Turkana, Kalenjin) that all largely supported the opposition. He said that Nanyuki (the capital of Laikipia East District and one of the largest towns in central Kenya) has been peaceful, and even jubilant, largely because the vast majority of Nanyuki residents are Kikuyu. However, he said that as he traveled across Laikipia today, there has been substantial insecurity in more ethnically mixed areas- Kikuyu business owners and farmers have fled the market center of Ngare Nyiro, due to perceived hostility from their Maasai and Pokot neighbors. R. reported that in the western portion of Laikipia, which has experienced substantial violence off and on over the last few years, things are currently stable, but partially due to increased security presence- he said that he saw over 12 truckloads of various security forces (administration police, kenya police, army) in Rumuruti, the headquarters of Laikipia West. In this area, which is predominantly Kikuyu, R., who is Maasai, is concealing his ethnic identity- not wearing Maasai bracelets or speaking Maa, and if conversations turn to politics, he says things like "It is good that there is no change, it is our president who has been leading us", even though he has been an ardent supporter of the opposition over the last year.

Finally, a third friend of mine who is employed by the provincial administration in the Rift Valley said that things were generally cooling off across the rift valley. He said that last night there were violent confrontations in Nakuru (the capital of Rift Valley Province), but that things are cooling off now. He said that operations are being directed by District Commissioners, with higher levels of the Provincial Administration just monitoring the situation. They are trying not to act hastily as they know the region is a potential powder keg- ODM is very popular there, but there are also substantial numbers of President Kibaki's PNU, meaning that a heavy-handed response could only provoke more violence He said that the major hotspots in the province at present were in southern maasailand, particularly Narok South.

So it seems that Kenya is still at the critical juncture- things have not exploded everywhere and it seems that no "points of no return" have been crossed yet. I think Raila is the most important person in the country right now, and how he plays the next few days are going to be crucial for the future of the country. First, I think it is crucial that he really comes out even more strongly against violence, especially by working with local leaders from his political party to curb violent acts by their supporters. If ODM is able to actually control their followers, they will be able to make a strong case for being the coherent, unified, victorious party that they are claiming to be. Second, I think it is crucial that he continues to work closely with the international community, particularly the election observer mission, in documenting and verifying the election irregularities that he alleged yesterday. It seems that the international community is quickly jumping to his support- even the United States has just retracted its message of congratulations to Kibaki, meaning that we are ready to consider the evidence that this election was rigged and apply pressure to the regime. Its a fine line between peacefully advancing legitimate claims and recklessly stoking animosity and polarizing the populace- lets hope Raila stays on the right side of that line.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Kibaki has just been announced as winning reelection as president of kenya, this is after the opposition leaders claimed to have evidence and testimony from an election official that results were being doctored!

violence and voting

So I was about to write a post arguing that western media coverage of Kenya's election has been overly quick to emphasize the "chaos" and "rigging", as typical of the way that African politics are presented in the west more generally. I was going to argue that while this might be the case in some localities, the majority of Kenyans were abstaining from violence, and that western reporting has missed the nuances of what I think is going on there (based on conversations with friends and coverage by excellent local blogs such as kenyanpundit and mentalacrobatics) Then I saw this truly chilling footage from Kisumu (an opposition stronghold near Lake Victoria in the west of Kenya), which was posted to youtube by NTV (Kenya's leading TV network):

Not that this changes my mind to believe that everyone, everywhere in Kenya is taking to the streets, and that the (other) country I love will be reduced to a pile of rubble very soon. But it did convince me that where it is bad, it is REALLY bad. I generally resist phrases such as "chaos", "disorder", and "anarchy" as being used to freely- yet its hard to think of other descriptors when seeing these images of people passing household appliances out of windows. It also reminds me of just how high the stakes are-everyone in Kenya needs to be proactive against mob justice or opportunism or thuggery or tribalism- if those who thrive on violence are allowed to dictate the tone and pace of the next few days, things could go in a very bad direction.

However, since I set out to pick a bone with the western Media, that's what I'll do ... watching the kisumu footage also confirmed my previous hunch that categorizing all of what is going on as "ethnic violence" (as has been typical of most western media coverage) is a bit misleading. Watching this footage, what you see are not running battles between mobs from different groups or ethnic sloganeering, but mostly people taking advantage of confusion to gain personally- i feel like this is most summed up by the footage of the guy calmly lacing up his brand new sneakers. Not that I can claim to be a sociologist of the riot, but from what I've read, this does seem to fit- people might take part in a violent mass event for any range of reasons- indignation at a political process that isn't working as it should, the excitement of smashing shit up with a large crowd of people, the opportunity to get some free stuff while evading arrest...

In contrast, I think western media coverage has tended to really play up the "ethnic passions" angle- and not just because that's what whey're saying (although it is what they're saying). Take a look at these two photos run by the New York Times in their last online article on Kenya

In both, the impression is very different from what you get from watching the Kisumu footage- they single out individuals, holding violent weapons, with symbols of destruction and disorder in the background - it strongly evokes the image of individual passions- of primitive violence. To be fair, both of these images are from kibera, where the violence has been described as ethnic clashes from a number of sources, but I think the stakes demand more nuanced reporting, both on the variations in the nature of violence across kenya, and in the distribution and character of non-violence. I think the kenyan blogosphere has done a good job with this, but I agree with Mentalacrobatics, who argues that more people need to start speaking up. In addition, it is well past time for the mainstream media to follow their lead.

Lumping all of the violence in Kenya as "ethnic" is not only inaccurate, it has the potential to set off a spiral whereby media coverage creates a self-perpetuating cycle- violence breaks out, is labeled tribal, stokes tensions and brings more people onto the streets, generates more alarmist reporting (especially from western papers), and so on. Now is the time to break the cycle.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


lest my previous post indicate that kenya is descending into a civil war:
"the vast majority of Kenyans are sitting tight and waiting for the results - not sure what you guys are seeing on western media but things are not falling apart (yet). I really really hope that the leaders on both sides come out and urge restraint because things could easily spiral out of control."

from the indispensable kenyanpundit:

In addition, she reports the following vote tally-

Kibaki 3,842,051
Raila 3,880,053

with 180 constituencies in- Raila only leads by 40,000 votes!!! This one is still too close to call.

no news is bad news

Administration Police officers protecting a polling place from protestors/rioters in Ngong (Photo from the LA Times)

So not a lot to update in terms of official Kenyan election results- because counting has come to standstill. Kibaki closed a lot of the early gap that Raila had opened up, this is the count, as of about 6 hours ago, from my friend Megan who is in Nairobi:
Raila: 3,979,715
Kibaki: 3,580,600
Kalonzo: 535,363

The big news is about the delay itself... Kenyanpundit has reported that the Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman Samuel Kivuitu has said that the officers in charge of counting and reporting votes in nearly 50 constituencies cannot be reached by any means of communication (they aren't even picking up their cellphones).

ODM (the opposition party) has pointed at the delay to say that this is evidence that counts are being doctored in these constituencies. In addition, Raila has declared that he is the winner, and has asked Kibaki to concede before the count is complete. The Kibaki camp has responded by claiming that they have won. From Kenyanpundit:
ODM's version of the vote tally: Raila 4.2 million votes, Kibaki 3.7 million votes
PNU's version of the vote tally: Raila 4.2 million votes, Kibaki 4.5 million votes

Youths in Kisumu run with bread that they may or may not have looted. (Daily Nation)

At the local level, this confusion has started to become translated into mass public protest, which in some places has been accompanied by looting, vandalism and violence against state institutions, and confrontations between groups from different ethnic communities. The character of violence accompanying the protests seems to depend on location- in opposition stronghold areas (such as Kisumu, on Lake Victoria in the West)-mass protests about delays in voting seem to have provided an opportunity for indiscriminate looting. In more "cosmopolitan" (read: multiethnic) areas, such as the massive informal settlements surrounding Nairobi, the violence seems to be taking on the characteristics of ethnic violence.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"I'd rather die here than not vote."

Says one kenyan who waited more than 8 hours to vote in the Nairobi slum of Kibera (Washington Post)

Television News sources in Kenya are reporting that Kibaki is trailing Raila significantly (Reuters), while as many as 14 cabinet ministers, all of former President Daniel arap Moi's sons, and Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Maathai have all lost. (The Standard)

In Laikipia East (the constituency where I worked), kenyanpundit reports that John Letai-who is from one of the Maasai communities in my study area- has beaten the incumbent, Mwangi Kiunjuri, the assistant minister for energy- However, my friends on the ground have told me that Kiunjuri is winning...

If you're really interested in the up to the minute results (with occasional "witty" commentary by the Electoral Commission of Kenya Chair Samuel Kivuitu), you can tune in to Kenya Broadcasting Company streaming live. If you find this exciting, I can also recommend watching paint dry and grass grow.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ongoing Kenya Election Coverage

Apparently turnout was huge- as much as 70% . (BBC World)

The conventional wisdom is that this will benefit Raila, but again, we don't have these figures broken down by region/demographic characteristics.

Excellent firsthand account of what voting was like from the always on point kenyanpundit

Finally, Kibaki had a 47-42 lead in the earliest exit poll. (reuters). The website for the Institute for Education in Democracy, the NGO that is running the polls, currently has Kibaki at a 50-40 lead, with polls from 311 polling stations. However, a Raila aide points out in Kenya, exit polls will tend to be biased towards the government because many people will not actually admit to voting for the opposition, for fear of that information getting back to the government. One of the few reasonable rebuttals I've seen from the ODM camp in the course of this campaign.

Although I am really glad that I got to spend christmas at home, i really wish i could have been in Kenya today- given how excited I am here, thousands of miles away, I can only imagine what it must be like to be there.

power, corruption, and lies

kenya's presidential, parliamentary, and local elections (which started around 10 PM last night EST) seem to have plenty of each, from all quarters.

you decide which is which:

Reports of rigging get simultaneously more preposterous and more plausible
A few days ago, busses upon busses of administration police officers were spotted being shipped out on civilian busses in the middle of the night, buttressing rumors that these officers were going to be used to rig elections. (

Yesterday, the main Opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, stormed a hotel in Nairobi, where he had been told that fake voting cards were being sold... but upon arriving, he found nothing (The Nation- Kenya)

Adding to that, Raila was unable to vote today when he showed up to his polling station, as the voter's registers for people with last names starting with A, O, R, and W were missing in his constituency. (The Standard-Kenya)

The NYT has had spotty coverage of the election. The Nairobi bureau chief has written two decent (if slightly opposition-leaning) articles, one about Raila and one about Kenya's peculiar electoral rules. The third, a full-length NYT Magazine article on northern Kenya is an absolute disaster, in my opinion. Rather than being the detailed analysis of the relationship between politics, development, religion, and ethnicity in a crucial part of the country that it could have been, it was little more than propaganda for the incumbent candidate and fuel for paranoid anti-muslim fearmongering.

Also, lots of credit to BBC world for providing a forum for Kenyans to report their experiences on the ground by e-mail and text message

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

it is also not a fugazi t-shirt

or a pipe.

if you're here, you might be interested in this