Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Catching Up With Kenya

A few updates on what's been going on in Kenya during my last week of downtime:

Kenya's parliament elected a new speaker yesterday, with ODM's Kenneth Marende beating out PNU's preferred candidate, Francis Ole Kaparo, who had served as the speaker of the national assembly since the 1990s. Kaparo's story is worth dwelling on for a second, because it says some interesting things about the dynamics of partisan and ethnic alliances in Kenya.

Kaparo is from Il Digiri, a small Maasai sub-community in Laikipia North District (my main study area). He was elected to parliament in 1987, at the apex Daniel arap Moi's single party rule through KANU. His election was noteworthy because he was the first Maa speaking MP from Laikipia East constituency (of which a majority is Kikuyu). When multiparty elections were reintroduced in 1992, Kaparo lost his seat to a Kikuyu member of the Democratic Party (the party for which Kibaki ran for president in that election). Although Kaparo lost his seat, KANU and Moi stayed in power (by means that have been long recognized as dubious), and he was rewarded for his loyalty by being made a nominated Member of Parliament, shortly after which he was elected to be the speaker of the national assembly. He managed to hold on to his seat through the party shakeups involved in both the transition to Kibaki's NARC government in 2002 and the breaking away of the Orange Democratic Movement during the failed constitutional referendum of 2005, in both cases claiming to be "above politics". However in the course of 2007, he showed himself to be a bit more of a government loyalist, working to bring Kibaki to Dol Dol (the main village in the Maasai area of Laikipia) in June. Although this was an official state visit, it amounted to little more than outright campaigning-Kibaki donated millions of shillings to the girls secondary school in Dol Dol, and a few months later gave the Maasai communities of Laikipia their own administrative district, both of which were tremendously popular in the extremely poor and remote communities surrounding Dol Dol. I read these actions as Kaparo trying to help Kibaki win over supporters in Laikipia north, which had been solidly in support of the opposition since 2005. Like many other members of "Old Guard" KANU (such as Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta), he threw his lot in with Kibaki's PNU- and thus became part of the political coalition that had gradually swept them out of power starting in 1992. This became even more clear in yesterday's polarized voting for the speaker of the 10th assembly in which Kaparo was clearly the "PNU candidate", in which he lost his seat by a slim margin to ODM's preferred candidate.

More Violence?
ODM is going forward with mass protests across Kenya today... this is likely to lead to more confrontations between protesters and police. It seems to me that both the government and opposition are playing a game of chicken- careening towards each other at full speed, with hopes that the other side will lose its nerve and back down. Unfortunately both sides also seem to have done the equivalent of "throwing the steering wheel out the window", with the government sticking firmly to its ban on public demonstrations and the opposition insisting that it will keep holding regular demonstrations. These upper level decisions, combined with a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality on the part of the police and dubious control by the ODM over its supporters seem to indicate that more violence will be quite likely unless one of the major leaders makes a significant concession. As of 10:30 AM Kenyan time, Al Jazeera english is reporting that no crowds have yet amassed in Uhuru park, but that 200-300 individuals have started to gather in Kisumu, but that things there are still calm. They are also reporting that ODM will be giving a press conference in about one hour, which should influence the direction that the next few days take.

At the Columbia Political Economy blog, Cyrus has continued his discussion on the role of perceptions of injustice in shaping participation in violence in Kenya , pointing out a nice article by IRIN about how much of the "tribal" cleavages that have been described by the western press actually map on to broader social and economic inequalities. I generally agree with his analysis that both objective grievances and the manipulation of those grievances by entrepreneurs are crucial to understanding the onset of political violence. I also think he's right that many students of political violence are too quick to say that a lot of violence is caused simply by individuals taking advantage of a political vacuum to pursue apolitical ends. At the same time, I think so-called "opportunistic violence" does play an important role- even if it may take perceived injustices to motivate high risk collective action (as Libby Wood's work in El Salvador has shown), the extent to which organizations are able (or willing) to limit other kinds of violence may ultimately shape the ability of rebel groups to address the injustices that caused them to mobilize in the first place (this is the subject of recent work by my colleague Amelia, as well as Jeremy Weinstein at Stanford).

Finally, a number of prominent Kenyan bloggers have started, Ushahidi, an initiative to map incidents of violence in Kenya using reports from Kenyans on the ground. Although I agree with Chris Blattman's initial skepticism, I think this could wind up being a useful tool for Kenyans on the ground, humanitarian agencies looking to target relief efforts, and researchers analyzing political violence. More thoughts as this project continues to develop.

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