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.