Kenya: Massacres in model democracy

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From the December election victory announcement of President Mwai Kibaki, democratic Kenya has sunk into a nightmare of government paramilitaries shooting to kill, politically organised gang rapes of women and children, hackings to death and the burning of homes with people inside them. Figures for the number of deaths are at 900 and rising and the number of internal refugees at a quarter of a million or more. To date there appears to be no let up in the violence. At the end of January, the Rift Valley area was particularly badly affected, with slums divided into tribal zones in a state of virtual civil war. Widespread attacks on ethnic Kikuyus have been countered by increasing activity of the Mungiki, a sort of criminal sect with links to the state and the governing party. They've been supported by the police in some of their murderous rampages in the west of the country.

Liberals the world over have urged the politicians to get together, to sort out their differences for the sake of the nation or the people, in short to make sure that democracy works. But even if these politicians were not rotten, murderous and corrupt to the core, which they are, they would soon have to be in order to take part in the fraud of democratic elections. Democracy is not a solution but part of the problem. This is as true of Africa as it is of the USA. Their elections are empty charades. What makes the present situation and the empty prospect of future elections particularly horrendous for the population of Kenya is that the ruling class has only brutal solutions; divided it organises on an internecine basis; the working class is numerically weak; and there is the pernicious influence of powers much greater than the brittle Kenyan state.

Much is made of tribal divisions being at the root of the problem but this is at best a half-truth. Tribal differences do exist, but they have been manipulated and inflamed by all the politicians involved in the election. Aljazeera (January 24) carries reports of how Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement organised tribal violence throughout the election campaign through armed vigilantes. On the other hand, incumbent President Kibaki has used his Kikuyu base to stir up divisions and hatreds, rounding this off with the state's notorious General Service's Unit and government paramilitaries. This is the reality of a country that Britain and the USA have been using as an example of ‘tolerance and democracy'.

Kenya was not only vaunted as an example of democracy by Britain and the US; in the 1980s it was hailed as an ‘economic miracle' and more lately, a ‘model economy'. Oxfam recently said that around half of all Kenyans were living on less than $1 a day and gangs of destitute youth are easy meat for the political gangsters on both sides. Unemployment is massive and increasing and there are more than two million suffering from AIDS, untreated and forgotten. The prices of basic commodities for Kenyans have risen by 300% in the last months and the present expression of the global economic crisis can only worsen the immediate problems of the economy.

Dragged into a maelstrom

Kofi Annan, in his recent ‘peace mission', called for Kenya to become once again a ‘haven of African stability'. This is a country that sucks in refugees from war zones all around the region, not least the 15-year war around that other great murderous quagmire, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Imperialism has played its part in dragging Kenya into the maelstrom of crisis and war. Just before Annan's arrival, President Museveni of neighbouring Uganda came to talk ‘peace'. The Nation (Nairobi) reported that Museveni had already sent troops into Kenya just after the election in order to support the Kibaki regime. The USA's ally in the ‘war on terror', President Meles of Ethiopia (himself taking power after a disputed election in 2005) has also intervened, backing the US position of support for Kibaki. Don't forget that it was the US embassy in Kenya that was destroyed by the attack of Al Qaeda in 1998 and Kenya today is one of the termini of US ‘renditions'. Furthermore it is on the southern flank of the whole Horn of Africa region which has been a major focus of imperialist conflict in the last few years (Sudan, Somalia, etc).

The USA, Britain and, latterly France, are all involved in backing factions within the country. France has been making its imperialist presence felt in Africa against the USA and Britain for some years now, particularly infuriating the USA with joint naval manoeuvres with the Kenyan navy eighteen months year ago. Early in January Le Monde Diplomatique authoritatively announced that one million votes had gone missing from the ballot boxes. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, was quick to publicly state that the election was "rigged', thus backing Odinga's ODM (raising the possibility of French imperialism being once again involved in playing the ‘ethnic card' in the region for its own ends).

Britain's role is no less insidious. Having run Kenya as a protectorate from 1895 and then a Crown Colony from 1920 up to ‘independence' in 1963, Britain has resented the intrusion of the US Godfather in Kenya. Her Majesty's Government quietly left it to a Deputy Minister of State to announce recently that, contrary to the US, "Our government does not recognise Kibaki's government". The Times (23/1/8) reported that Adam Wood, the British High Commissioner in Kenya was summoned to explain "why London was refusing to recognise Mr Kibaki as President. It has also tried to accuse the international community [ie, Britain and France in this case] ‘of stirring up violence by questioning the election results". The USA says it wants to prevent Kenya turning into another ‘failed state' in the region, but, as with the other powers, the defence of its imperialist interests can only worsen the situation in which the population finds itself.

The mission of Kofi Annan started with handshakes and smiles between Odinga and Kibaki, but it soon degenerated into scowls, threats and more killings. Kenya is another classic product of the post cold war New World Order of ‘peace' and ‘prosperity', democratic-speak for war, crisis and misery. During the 1990s the USA drew up a list of countries to counter British and French interests in Africa under the heading of ‘preventative diplomacy', ie countries on which to stamp its influence. Having a presence here is vital for US imperialist interests in the Horn of Africa and towards the Middle East. Such concerns, along with the deepening economic crisis, mean that Kenya will never be ‘a haven of peace,' but will become more of a theatre of war, decomposition and misery in which democracy is not just a pointless side-show but part of the imperialist script. Baboon, 27.1.8