Moi lacks moral authority on ethnic clashes

According to the Daily Nation, former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi has asked Rift Valley residents who attacked and killed their neighbours during post election violence to apologize.

Daniel arap Moi. Picture by CNN.

Daniel arap Moi. Picture by CNN.

Moi said an apology would lead to true reconciliation between them and the neighbours whose property they destroyed in the violence that followed disputed elections in December 2007. The violence left close to 1,000 people dead and half a million homeless.

However, the former president conveniently forgets that ethnic clashes in Kenya were institutionalized during his tenure of office. Government documents, such as the Akiwumu Inquiry on tribal clashes reveal deep involvement by Moi’s allies in fanning the fires of hatred.

The return to multi party politics prior to the 1992 General Elections created ethnic tension in the country, setting the stage for the chaos of 2008. The genesis of modern ethnic clashes in Kenya lies in the Rift Valley province, home to Moi’s Kalenjin ethnic group.

Kenya has eight provinces. According to electoral law, a winning presidential candidate must get at least 25% of votes in not less than five provinces in addition to a simple majority of national votes. As campaigns for the 1992 elections gained momentum, it was obvious that Kenneth Matiba would get a majority of votes in Central, Nairobi and possibly, Eastern Provinces. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had a chance of getting at least 25% in his native Nyanza, in Western and Nairobi.

Matiba, a Kikuyu, also had strong possibilities of getting 25% in the Rift Valley thanks to the significant Kikuyu settler population. Moi, fearing that he could lose the presidency, began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley to ensure that he won the province. Huge chunks of the Rift Valley were declared KANU zones, in reference to Moi’s political party. Moi and his cronies went back to parliament unopposed.

Ethnic wars in 1992 pitted the Kalenjin – Moi’s tribe – with almost all settler communities in the Rift Valley. It was not only the Kikuyu who were affected but large numbers of Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kisii. Non-Kalenjin tribes in the Rift Valley were refered to as, “madoa doa,” meaning, “specks of dirt.” The Rift Valley is also home to the Pokot and Maasai tribes whose politicians were drawn into the Moi alliance, called KAMATUSA. Consequently, Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya settlers were evicted from Pokot and Maasai areas especially around Narok, Enoosupukia and Kapenguria.

The pro-Moi ethnic alliance began calling for Majimbo, a form of federalism. According to such personalities as the late Kipkalya Kones, late Shariff Nassir, William Ntimama and late Paul Chepkok, a federal system of government would ensure that each ethnic group governed itself and had monopoly over jobs, land and commerce within its enclave.

The comments were targetted at the Kikuyu, who have emigrated and settled across the country mostly for economic reasons. Since Kikuyu settlers had a relatively higher standard of living due to commercial activities, the calls for ethnic federalism proved quite popular in the Rift Valley and Coast province.

With the Luo tribe facing persecution due to its oppositionist leanings, both Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his son, Raila Odinga, condemned Moi’s tactics. 30 years earlier, it was Jaramogi and founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, who had turned Kenya into a unitary republic after rejecting Majimbo federalism.

As a result of the ethnic chaos, Moi won the 1992 elections with 36% of the vote.

Five years later, there were politically motivated ethnic clashes prior to and after the 1997 General Elections. This time, the flash points were not only the Rift Valley, but also the Coast. In Mombasa, Sharif Nassir, a Moi ally, led KANU campaigns in the city.

Mombasa was founded by Arab traders almost a thousand years ago. The population of Mombasa and the Coastal strip consists of the Swahili, who are of mixed Arab and African ancestry. There is also the Mijikenda tribe as well as Hindus, Persians and Europeans. The building of the railway and the expansion of the Mombasa port in the 20th century attracted large numbers of workers from the interior of Kenya. The workers came mostly from the Luo, Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba and Taita tribes. In the 1980s, a booming tourism industry attracted greater numbers of migrant workers in search of jobs and business opportunities.

During the 1997 campaigns, Nassir and KANU were worried that migrant workers would not vote for Moi. A campaign for Majimbo federalism was began, with Nassir claiming that migrant workers were taking up jobs at the coast meant for local people. Migrant communities were blamed for crime, prostitution and drug trafficking. As it turns out, the local Mijikenda tribe found these messages very appealing and gave their support to KANU. Then came terror.

In August 1997, a group consisting of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of raiders attacked the Likoni Police Station, just across the bay from Mombasa Port. Police officers were killed, prisoners released and firearms looted. Within the Likoni area, large numbers of Luo and Kikuyu were attacked and forced into trains heading for their ancestral homes. It was rumored at the time that the vanguard of the raiding unit consisted of Interahamwe militia, straight out of the Rwanda genocide. Other rumors indicated that the raiders were led by foreign-trained elite forces loyal to Moi.

Evidence was produced in the Akiwumi Commission of Inquiry implicating senior politicians in the Moi government and KANU party. An Asian farmer in Kwale District alleged that prior to the Likoni violence, his land was used to oath local youths but his reports to the police were ignored.

With Moi declared as winner of the 1997 elections, Mwai Kibaki, who came second, went to court to petition the results. Kibaki claimed that there had been electoral malpractices that gave Moi an unfair advantage over his opponents. Moi’s allies in the Rift Valley were outraged by what they saw as Kibaki’s challenge and a fresh round of ethnic clashes began. Kikuyu settlers in Laikipia District were especially affected by incidences of raiders burning homes and looting livestock.

From this overwhelming evidence, it is clear that Moi should be the first person to apologize as far as ethnic clashes are concerned. Otherwise, his calls for Rift Valley people to apologize can only be considered hypocritical at worst and cynical at best.


Near collapse for 100 year old railway

A railway line between Kenya and Uganda, built by British colonialists a century ago, faces closure thanks to mismanagement, corruption and civil war since independence.

Steam engine on the Kenya - Uganda Railway during the colonial era. Picture by

Steam engine on the Kenya - Uganda Railway during the colonial era. Picture by

In spite of a burgeoning population in the East African region, and expansion in trade, the Kenya – Uganda Railway is carrying less cargo and passengers today than was the case in 1960 when independence washed across Africa. Hundreds of kilometres of line have been ravaged by vandals after they saw the railway lying idle for decades. Locomotives have been described as, “museum pieces.” The same wagons left behind by the British are still in use today.

Where passenger trains do operate, the schedules are as rickety as the trains. Twenty years ago, the Mombasa to Kisumu line had eight passenger trains a night, with reliable timetables. Today, the passenger service has been cut to two passenger trains a night, if at all. Often, trains break down in the middle of the African bush. A journey that would have taken 10 hours in the 1980s can easily take 24 hours today. Passengers have to travel in darkness as the lighting system broke down long ago. Toilets have been converted into “passenger cabins.”

Regional industries long gave up on trains, in spite of the fact that road transport is very expensive. Delays, pilferage and damages to goods in transit was simply not worth the savings. By July this year, the railway was handling only 7% of regional cargo, a figure described by its management as, “the most that our capacity can handle.” Consequently, the highway between Mombasa and Uganda resembles a convoy as thousands of trucks ferry containers in every direction. The rate of road accidents increased dramatically as overloaded roads simply crumbled under pressure.

With this sorry state of affairs, the governments of Kenya and Uganda implemented a concession plan backed by the World Bank. Under the plan, a private railway operator would run the railway exclusively for 25 years. In exchange, the Kenya and Uganda governments would get annual concession fees. On the surface, it was a good plan because both governments had neither the funds nor the political will to rehabilitate the railway.

However, the plan was doomed to fail. Selection of the private operator – the concessionaire – ran into difficulties as influential forces sought to muscle their way into the potentially lucrative railway sector. By 2006, two front runners had emerged: Rift Valley Railways and an Indian firm linked to Indian Railways. Rift Valley Railways is a consortium consisting of Sheltam Rail, Transcentury Ltd, Centum Investments and Babcock Brown Investments. Sheltam Rail is a South African railway company while Transcentury and Centum represent Kenya’s wealthy ruling elite.

Technical reports indicated that the Indian firm ought to have won the concession. But the Kenyan and Ugandan governments dithered over the matter before finally settling on Rift Valley Railways. By the time the concession documents were signed in November 2006, Rift Valley Railways barely had the funds to revamp a railway system that was on its last legs. However, all was not lost for the Indian firm for it won the Tanzanian railway concession.

Trouble for Rift Valley Railways(RVR) began in January this year. Political and ethnic clashes in the wake of Kenya’s disputed elections brought the economy to its knees. Rioters and militant groups blocked roads and railways. In some places, such as the Kibera slum and in Kisumu, the railway was completely uprooted by supporters of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Not only did Rift Valley Railways lose hundreds of millions as trains lay idle but it had to spend millions in reconstruction.

In July, staff of the RVR went on strike over poor working conditions, delayed pay and uncertain terms of service. The workers claimed that RVR was not willing to employ them on permanent terms while expatriate staff got huge pay perks. Meanwhile, the Kisumu to Nakuru railway line was closed due to vandalism.

RVR announced that it was bringing into its board two additional shareholders to boost the firm’s management. The two are Primefuels Kenya Ltd and Mirambo Holdings of Tanzania. They joined the existing board made up of Sheltam Rail, Transcentury Ltd, Centum Investments and Babcock Brown Investments.

The closure of the Kisumu – Nakuru line, coupled with the workers’ strike caused a huge pile up of cargo at the Mombasa port. Ships could not dock as manufacturers suffered from delays. Uganda, Southern Sudan and Rwanda – which all depend on Mombasa – protested to the Kenyan government.

This week, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, chaired a meeting that fired RVR’s Chief Executive, Roy Puffet. “The government of Kenya and that of Uganda have decided to give the RVR management three months to do whatever they can to restore services,” said Raila. According to the Standard daily, the meeting also resolved to allow other shareholders into the consortium in order to inject Shs260 million (US$3.8 million) into operations.

More importantly, was the decision to revoke RVR’s exclusivity in railway operations between Kenya and Uganda. This, Raila said, was to allow for the construction of a parallel railway line using the international standard gauge. According to Kenya Railways, the construction of the new line requires about Kshs50 billion ($746 million).

This money will be impossible to get considering budgetary constraints facing the Kenyan and Ugandan governments amidst rising oil and food prices.