State authority collapsed during poll chaos

A report by Kenya’s official human rights body highlights the extent to which state authority collapsed as ethnic clashes raged following disputed elections last December.

A group of armed policemen were seen looting a shopping centre under the command of a police inspector.

Chiefs on government payroll led gangs of youth in an orgy of killing. Well-known politicians attended meetings to lay strategies for death and destruction. Business people availed free use of matatus, trucks, land and machinery for training and logistical operations. Funds drives were held to import weapons from Somalia and Ethiopia.

While police in the towns of Kisumu and Nairobi used desperate tactics to assert government authority, commanders in the rural areas abandoned their stations and took sides with their ethnic groups. A senior police officer in one of the worst hit areas told victims of clashes to take care of themselves.

The revelations are contained in a report released last month by the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. Due to the ongoing Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence, the press has been barred from mentioning the names of those linked to ethnic clashes. The Nairobi Chronicle has obtained a copy of the explosive report, which is freely circulating on the Internet. However, we are unable to publish names for fear of legal and other consequences.

Since release of the report, several politicians implicated in the violence have cited their innocence. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Tourism Minister Najib Balala, Higher Education Minister Sally Kosgei and Heritage Minister William ole Ntimama have denied organizing and funding the clashes.

In an interesting twist of events, three of the top politicians named in the report have since died. One was murdered by a policeman while the other two died in an accident. Its not clear whether the unnatural circumstances of their deaths have anything to do with the political and ethnic clashes.

By March this year, close to 1,000 people were dead and half a million rendered homeless. International mediation efforts resulted in a coalition government that has presided over a tense peace. Many of the displaced are still in camps due to continued threats. A few thousand have settled in Uganda.

The KNCHR report unveils a financial angle to the violence. Youth were paid between Shs400 to Shs500 (US$5.8 – $7.3) a day for their “services.” The monetary inducement is obviously appealing due to widespread poverty and high rates of unemployment in Kenya. There was a monetary scale of payment depending on the ethnicity of the victim: even in death, certain tribes attracted greater wrath than others.

Eyewitness accounts reveal that there existed a logistical and financial chain between politicians in Nairobi and youth on the ground. Mobile phones were used to issue orders and to confirm implementation.

Entire ethnic groups rose up against their perceived rivals and politicians played a key role in mobilization. Its possible that majority of ordinary people were not initially inclined to violence. However, there were threats of death for those refusing to participate. Indeed, many who resisted the call to arms had their property destroyed. This happened in all sides to the conflict.

Serving and retired security officers trained militia groups at the behest of politicians. In several instances, the use of firearms by civilian combatants was recorded. Its not clear how these militias obtained guns. Bridges were destroyed using explosive material. The KNCHR report has confirmed claims that top politicians plotted on importing heavy weapons from Ethiopia and Somalia.

There has been a lot of debate over whether the post election violence was planned. It may well be true that the early violence was a spontaneous reaction to a botched election. However, once the violence began, it assumed a life of its own and became a monster.

People felt that the Kenyan government had stopped existing. The security structure, the civil service, all of it collapsed. There was no government to protect the people.

Trade, transport and agriculture stopped functioning. Vast swathes of land were cut-off from the outside world. Chaos reigned as food and fuel supplies ran out. Nobody knew what was happening in the next district, let alone the rest of the country. Every man had to do whatever was necessary to defend families and property. That explains why ordinary citizens went to extraordinary lengths to donate their time, energy, money and other resources.

Amidst all these, the politicians were comfortably placed in Nairobi, issuing orders from the comfort of their plush residences. When asked to stop, they adamantly refused. By the end of January, newly elected Members of Parliament started earning hundreds of thousands in salaries as the countryside lay in ruin. It may just be possible that some of that cash was channeled into financing more chaos.

Has Kenya learnt anything from events of the past nine months? Only time will tell.

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