Kenya the ongoing political crisis

Arranged by FUF and NAI on March 7, 2008

The KNCHR is an independent national human rights institution established by the government. Its core mandate is to further the protection and promotion of human rights in Kenya

Maina Kiai has served as founding Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a non-profit organization based in Kenya; Africa Director at Amnesty International in London; Africa Director at the International Human Rights Law Group (now Global Rights) in Washington DC; and Research Fellow at TransAfrica Forum also in Washington DC.

• Kiai underlines that the presence of Kofi Annan played an important role in the mediation between Kibaki and Odinga and greatly contributed to the achieved agreement.

• He states that he was not surprised by the outbursts of post-election violence. According to him, the proper proceedings after the elections should not have been to announce the results but first to show to the Kenyans exactly how the results had been obtained. Complete transparency should have been the road to take in order to avoid the massive reactions of distrust.

• Kiai states that Kenya has made great economic progress over the last five years. However, the political arena has not been subject to scrutiny and reforms and has consequently not shown the same progress. Kiai says that Kibaki was elected in 2002 largely due to his discourse on political reforms but when in office Kibaki changed direction and only prioritized economic reforms. Kiai stresses that economic and political development have to be done simultaneously and economic reforms cannot be said to per se foster political change.

• Kiai sees it as very positive that only five African nations, Uganda, Swaziland, Morocco, Somalia and Zimbabwe, recognized the Kibaki government after the elections. The nature of the regimes in these five nations also set the bar for their legitimacy when it comes to judging the democratic validness of other governments.

• The Kenyan self-image has also been forced to redefine itself after the post-election violence. This is something necessary according to Kiai. He states that Kenyans have a tendency of regarding themselves as “special” in the sense that the violence visible elsewhere in Africa could never occur in Kenya. Kenyans need humbling, and as he puts it “understand that we also have violence in our DNA”. Also the Kikuyu elite need humbling and to understand that they are not indispensable.
• Kiai underlines the danger of the ethnic stigmatization and stereotypes that grew stronger in the post-electoral conflict. He says that he himself has been called a traitor by Kikuyu groups for speaking critically of the results and the governments. His answer to this accusation is the question, “is there a country called Kikuyu?” meaning that he is loyal to the wellbeing of Kenya and can only be accused for disloyalty to Kenya. He continues by stating that this focus on ethnic stereotypes invented by the British and too easily rooted in the minds of Kenyans need to be addressed and discussed. Kiai criticizes the way Rwanda has dealt with this question, which is to forbid expressions of ethnicity and thereby pretend that they do not exist, and advocates an open debate on the subject.

• Some of the major challenges that Kenya is now facing involves the questions of impunity, accountability and corruption. Kiai says that if you are a man of power in Kenya you can do practically what you want and this fosters great distrust and feelings of injustice among the Kenyans. This anger is also fueled by the fact that public officials to a large extent treat public means as private means. Kiai says, as an example of the widespread corruption, that every time a minister is replaced by another, a rather frequent event, they refurnish their entire office. This is just one expression of how officials see public funds as a source for private means.

• Kiai states that there has to bee a major constitutional change in order to reform the current Imperial Presidency and move towards devolution of power. Kiai proposes a division of Kenya into 5-6 regions that stretches across ethic groups in order to foster understanding and cooperation. He also underlines the importance of trade between the different regions of Kenya to help merge the nation into one.

• Another crucial challenge that lays ahead for Kenya is to carve out a national identity. Kiai talks about the value of creating a common historical narrative in which all regions of Kenya have a part. He says that the construction of a national culture involves hard work and it has been neglected to a large extent by Kenya. Kiai says that the only time Kenyans are really Kenyans is when a Kenyan is competing in a long distance race or in a marathon.

• Kiai ends his lecture by quoting Barack Obama, “hope is something you work for”.

Notes taken by Amanda Stenberg, doing an internship at NAI

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