Government fearful of rebellion amidst growing despair

A little noted event occurred on Nairobi streets during the weekend. For the first time since the 1982 coup attempt, paramilitary police wearing ammunition belts around their bodies patrolled the streets of Nairobi.

President Mwai Kibaki (right) surrounded by heavy security (left) at a government function in Nairobi.

President Mwai Kibaki (right) surrounded by heavy security (left) at a government function in Nairobi.

The paramilitaries were drawn from the recently formed Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) of the Administration Police. RDU is the equivalent of the well-known General Service Unit (GSU).

The weekend’s show of might indicates alarm within government circles at widespread discontent among Kenya’s people. Senior security officers are worried that a tiny spark, especially in Nairobi, could result in massive protests that could topple the country’s present leadership.

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are painfully waking up to the reality that their power duopoly has produced the most unpopular government in collective memory.

Not even ex-President Daniel arap Moi suffered the universal hatred Kibaki and Raila are experiencing. President Kenyatta fared reasonably well in the popularity ratings. The colonial administration also did much better compared to the Kibaki – Raila government.

So unpopular has the Giant Coalition become that if somebody were to launch a rebel movement today, Kenyans are likely to flood the streets in celebration. For most people, change from widespread corruption, decay, death and hopelessness is long overdue.

Today’s Kibaki – Raila government waits for things to worsen before reacting feebly. The government has only itself to blame for losing face in front of its people. The blunders committed by this administration are too numerous to recount, but suggest widespread incompetence and a general lack of direction from the principle partners of the coalition. Indeed, among the many complaints raised by religious leaders is lack of leadership by the Kibaki – Raila duopoly.

Both Kibaki and Raila have given state jobs and contracts to their family, relatives and friends. Their ministers have followed suit, with some giving state positions to mistresses and toy-boys.

Indeed, the whole government reeks of tribalism and nepotism. So bad has the situation become that in many cases, a Kikuyu head of department is deputized by a Luo, or vice versa. Many of Kenya’s other tribes are wondering whether only the Kikuyu and Luo are qualified to hold government jobs.

The last time there was widespread revolt in Kenya was during the Mau Mau war of the 1950s. After decades of British military expeditions against the Kikuyu where vast tracts of land were appropriated for use by white settlers, World War 2 veterans from the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru ethnic groups banded together into the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. Their focal areas of operation were the Mount Kenya and Aberdare forests. The rebellion made the British realize that their occupation of Kenya could not continue indefinitely.

Over the years, Kenyan authorities have been careful not to allow the proliferation of firearms among the populace. This makes a widespread Mau Mau like revolt impossible but there are other ways for the people to instigate revolution. A good case in point is the overthrow of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, through the “People Power” movement.

Millions of Filipinos converged on the streets of Manila with the blessings of the Catholic Church. The number of protesters was so huge that security forces refused to fight, fearing that they might kill their own family members. President Marcos succumbed to pressure and fled into exile.

Another avid example is the 1979 revolution in Iran that overthrew the Shah and marked the beginnings of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Shah of Iran had massive fire power supplied by the United States, including sophisticated Cobra attack helicopters and F-4 Phantom fighter jets. These weaponry could not defend the Shah from the wrath of the people.

Clerics and student leaders, who included current president Ahmadinejad, led the Iranian people through the capital city, Tehran. Security forces abandoned arms and joined the people in revolt. Since the US was the main backer of the Shah, protesters invaded the US Embassy and occupied it for 444 days. The Shah was eventually overthrown and Islamic leaders took over the running of government (now you know why the US hates Iran).

Kenyans blame the Kibaki – Raila government for hunger and economic hardships occasioned by rising food and energy prices. Massive corruption scandals are going unpunished as guilty parties spend millions of shillings bribing legislators to vote for them in Parliament.

Interestingly, Thursday’s criticism by religious leaders came a day after a censure motion against Agriculture Minister William Ruto failed in Parliament. Ruto is accused of mismanaging the Ministry of Agriculture, thereby worsening food shortages and food price increases in Kenya. There is a clear string of evidence showing that Ruto was complicit in the sale of government maize reserves to individuals who later made huge profits reselling the same maize to commercial millers.

After days of lobbying, Ruto succeeded in getting majority of legislators to shoot down the censure motion. So successful was Ruto that only 22 members of parliament voted against. On the night prior to the motion, legislators were booked in hotel rooms by Ruto’s henchmen where millions of shillings exchanged hands.

Though trading in maize is not a crime, there was a clear conflict of interest when the man in charge of food stocks became a broker in cereal trading. As a result of government maize stocks being depleted, billions of shillings must now be spent importing maize at prices far higher than what was paid to local farmers.

During the same week, United Nations investigators flew into Kenya to investigate police killings of innocent people. According to local human rights bodies, at least 1,000 youths have been killed mostly in Kenya’s central province. The youths were accused of belonging to Mungiki, a Kikuyu traditionalist sect that the government views as a potential threat. Many of the youths have simply been made to disappear as families cry in agony.

Another pointer to Kibaki and Raila’s growing impotence is the failure to enact constitutional changes that would prosecute perpetrators of election violence locally. It is a fact that the ring leaders of the 2008 post election violence are intimate allies of Kibaki and Raila. The personalities, who include Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta among others, lobbied hard for legislators to reject a local tribunal.

Of course, this now means that their cases will be handed over to the International Criminal Court but these evil men have realized that the path to The Hague is cumbersome and extremely lengthy. Whereas a local war crimes tribunal could be ready in months, court cases at The Hague will not be ready for several years. It will be difficult to locate and organize travel arrangements for thousands of witnesses, many of whom are scattered in refugee camps across the country.

The issue of internally displaced persons is hanging like a bad omen around the Kibaki – Raila government. A year after a peace agreement was reached between them, hundreds of thousands of their kinsfolk displaced in the fighting remain in camps. The displaced feel abandoned by the government and many are living through self help efforts. Majority of displaced families lost at least a family member to the fighting.

The bitterness is worsened by memories of their lives prior to the 2007 elections. Most of these people owned the homes they lived in, and were financially independent. Today, they live in tents, surviving on charity.

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