Mass action update – 14th December 2008

Mass action updates as at 16:15 Kenyan time.

  • Kenyan paramilitary police seal off Uhuru Park following reports of planned rallies.
  • Mwalimu Mati and his wife released from Langata Police Station following protests and blockading of Langata Road by civil society activists.
  • Police seal Kariakor roundabout after Mungiki threaten to demonstrate in the city.
  • Demonstrators dispersed from Ufungamano House.
  • Oscar Foundation head arrested.

Reports by Citizen TV, Nation Media and Capital FM.


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.

Raila demands release of ODM youth

Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, has demanded the release of youths arrested for ethnic and political clashes that erupted following disputed elections in December 2007.

Raila has also called for the prosecution of Kenyan police officers over the deaths of hundreds of supporters of his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) during the violence.

ODM is accusing the Kenyan government of detaining hundreds, if not thousands, of its youth following political and ethnic clashes in the first quarter of 2008. The youths were charged with rioting, murder, arson, rape and blocking highways. The country’s railway network was also vandalized by supporters of the Prime Minister. Kenya’s security forces have denied detaining ODM youth, saying that most of those arrested were given bonds while awaiting trial.

The violence caused the deaths of close to 1,000 people. Raila Odinga of ODM was running against President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU) in a tight contest. President Kibaki was declared winner with a small margin, but Raila and ODM rejected the results as rigged. ODM supporters took to the streets against the government.

As with most of Africa, both ODM and PNU were supported by rival tribes, and PNU supporters became the target of ODM attacks. Hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu, Kisii and Kamba were evicted from ODM strongholds in Nyanza, Western and Rift Valley provinces for supporting Kibaki. In retaliation, Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya were pushed out of Central and Eastern Kenya. At one point, it seemed as though Kenya would be partitioned into two. By March this year, at least half a million people were homeless, seeking refuge in sordid camps across the country.

Most of the ethnic attacks were in ODM strongholds, but Raila has said the violence was a spontaneous reaction to flawed elections and that there was no ethnic cleansing agenda. The party cites the shooting of 80 people in Kisumu, as evidence of state repression against peaceful demonstrators, a claim the government denies. Human rights bodies and aid agencies believe that slightly over 30% of total deaths were caused by police shootings. The rest were a result of machete attacks, lynchings and arson.

International mediation efforts led by former UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, and supported by the United States, resulted in a coalition government. Kibaki retained the presidency and a new post of Prime Minister was created to accomodate Raila. 42 ministers were appointed from ODM, PNU and ODM-Kenya, a splinter group of ODM.

ODM is convinced that it was robbed of victory in the elections while PNU accuses ODM of muscling its way into government. Though the coalition is holding, analysts say that supporters of Raila and Kibaki were unhappy with the compromise. The United States told both leaders that they must ensure the survival of the coalition in order for Kenya to remain peaceful and to continue playing its role as an American ally in the region.

The Prime Minister is facing growing pressure from ODM rank and file who resent his growing ties with President Kibaki and the Kikuyu ethnic group. Raila’s latest remarks could be viewed as a move to assure his supporters that ODM ideals are very much alive.

Schools unrest sign of changed society

The ongoing unrest in boarding high schools exemplifies the changed Kenyan society, manifested in a national student rebellion against outdated systems, failed authority and derelict facilities.

Those who have visited Kenyan boarding schools in recent years will not be surprised at ongoing events. If anything, what should surprise observers is why it took so long for the situation to boil over. Counsellors say the post-election violence that left hundreds dead and close to half a million homeless may have taught teenagers that violence is a legitimate means of expressing long-held grievances.

As usual, the Kenyan government was caught unprepared, only holding a crisis meeting after a student was killed last weekend at Nairobi’s Upperhill high school. This was the first fatality since unrest began in high schools a couple of months ago. Again as usual, the government vowed a crackdown on ringleaders of strikes while threatening to punish fuel station attendants who sold petrol to teenagers in school uniform.

There is really no indication that the state will deal with the root causes of student unrest which include antiquated disciplinary systems, a changed society, overstretched schools and a poor example of leadership set by politicians.

Kenyan boarding schools are extremely miserable places, especially for the teenager of the 21st century. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of students is rife. Going to boarding school is almost akin to serving a prison sentence due perverse restrictions on clothing, telephones, radio, newspapers and television. Teachers routinely intercept and read student letters so as not to, “distract learning.”. Students are subjected to humiliating searches on their property and selves, with little indication of what actually is being sought.

Girls in Kenyan schools submit to crude “pregnancy tests,” which may involve teachers conducting a “physical” examination. The humiliation is unjustified when pregnancy kits are readily available in the market. Years after high school, many women shed tears at memories of these tests.

Dormitories are congested, usually holding double the intended capacity. In some schools, double decker beds have been replaced with triple deckers. There is no privacy and this has an impact on the emotional development of budding young people.

Toilets are clogged due to over-use. In some of the so-called national schools, sewage flows into sleeping quarters. Sewer rats thrive in these environments and its suprising that an outbreak of bubonic plague has not been reported. Most of our schools lack adequate water supply and this worsens the already bad sanitation problem. Clearly, you have blocked toilets that cannot be cleaned for lack of water.

Kenyan students are expected to do their own laundry as part of acquiring life skills but the lack of water makes this activity extremely challenging. In some rural schools, wearing dirty clothes for a month is becoming the norm, as congested boarding schools compete with neighboring communities for scarce water resources. In other areas, students must do their laundry on river banks. For those students coming from urban areas, these changes make them susceptible to violent reaction.

But by far the greatest contributor to student unrest is the tyrannical authority system in schools and which has existed since colonial times. The typical boarding school in Kenya is headed by a Principal, who is basically the Chief Executive of the school. The Principle appoints a Head boy/girl to command a prefect body that oversees students. Below the Head student will be the House captains, in charge of each dormitory followed by cube prefects typically responsible for about 10 students each. On the classroom side, each block of classes is headed by a Block captain while each classroom has a class monitor.

The prefects body is a hierarchical structure, where authority is greatly abused by the Principal and the prefects. There have been numerous cases of prefects assaulting other students with hardly any sanction from the school principle. Prefects get better accommodation, better food and greater academic opportunities than the rest of students. The word of the Principal and the prefects is as good as law. There is no opportunity for dialogue between students and the authority structure, and this contributes to bitterness within the student body.

Boarding schools were not always like this. The older generation of Kenyans who went to boarding school between the 1940s and 1970s have fond memories of the experience. Many of them came from traditional rural environments, making boarding school their first exposure to electricity, flushing toilets and clean uniforms. Indeed, many of the older generation wore shoes for the first time when they went to boarding school. The schools of the time were staffed mostly by European missionaries whose mode of discipline was both soft and firm. The missionaries were determined to impart Christianity and European values on their charges. Students were taught how to use a knife and fork, how to wear a tie, how to make a home and so on. Discipline levels were high but not authoritarian. Students were free to speak their minds as long as they did not blaspheme God or insult teachers.

The boarding schools of today may as well exist in a warped universe. Europeans have been replaced by indigenous Kenyan personnel. Nobody bothers to teach such important things as decorum, dressing and housekeeping. The emphasis is purely on academics, explaining why A Grade students are emotionally stunted. Physical facilities constructed by the colonialists are falling apart. Schools designed for 300 students now hold 700. The student-teacher ratio is appalling.

Dissent is not tolerated among teachers and students. Mediocrity has taken hold, as poorly qualified teachers get jobs due to influence from political godfathers. In some parts of Kenya, local communities insist only on teachers from their own tribes. Meddling by politicians eager to win votes has ruined many schools.

Teachers have turned students into sexual prey. The phenomenon of sex-for-grades cannot be ignored any longer. Male teachers are guilty of misleading girls into love affairs, though there have been a few cases of women teachers doing the same. In Migori and Kuria areas of Kenya, cases of male teachers marrying their own female students are rife.

In other words, unlike the case 50 years ago, the teachers of today are the enemies of the student. Should Kenyans, then, be surprised that students are rebelling against a repugnant authority?

The ongoing school unrest is an indicator that serious reforms are required, especially in the boarding school system. The concept of taking children to a secluded rural environment with no access to modern facilities is as outdated as it gets. The world is moving very fast and its time Kenya borrowed a leaf from the education systems of more developed countries. Maintaining the current system on the basis of, “this is how its always been done,” is a sure recipe for failure.

National divisions in Kenya growing deeper

Kenya came close to catastrophe early this year, as violence sparked by disputed elections caused 1,500 deaths. Neighbour turned against neighbour, husband against wife. With the formation of a giant coalition government between the main protagonists, it was assumed that the experience would put Kenyans towards a journey of tolerance, peace and reconciliation.

A supporter of President Mwai Kibaki is ejected from the Kriegler Commission of Inquiry after heckling at pro-Raila submissions.

A supporter of President Mwai Kibaki is ejected from the Kriegler Commission of Inquiry after heckling at pro-Raila submissions. Picture by Nation Media Group.

Recent events indicate that, far from healing the divisions caused by ethnic and political violence, Kenyans today are more divided than they were during the violence. It is as though an evil force that has permeated the country wishes to consume more lives and relish greater destruction.

The behavior of Kenyans isn’t helping matters very much and the international community can only watch in consternation. Its hardly surprising that Kenya is now ranked as a failed state, alongside such basket cases as Congo (both), Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Haiti, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast.

An internationally appointed Commission of Inquiry into Kenya’s Electoral Commission has degenerated into shouting matches and fist fights as supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga refuse to acknowledge well-documented truths.

Recent by-elections exposed the facade of the giant coalition, where members of government threatened each other with annihilation then rushed off to attend cabinet meetings together. In Kilgoris constituency, both ODM and PNU politicians incited ethnic strife to ensure their candidate won the seat. PNU won after threatening the migrant Kipsigis community with death if they did not vote for the PNU-backed Maasai candidate.

Kenya’s people remain divided over the interpretation of the violence that took place early this year. ODM leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga insists that the violence was a, “spontaneous reaction to historical injustices and sparked off by a stolen election, which I won.” President Mwai Kibaki’s supporters view the violence as, “a culmination of a well-planned campaign of ethnic hatred fanned by ODM to win votes,” and that, “ODM did not prepare its supporters for defeat.”

With such divisions, even the country’s criminal justice system is grinding to a halt. On one hand, there are calls to unconditionally drop all cases relating to political violence. On the other hand, there are those who think that the perpetrators and planners of the violence should face the law. But, as in many cases of political violence across the world, the people regarded as freedom fighters are often also described as terrorists by the opposing side.

Who are the terrorists in Kenya and who are the freedom fighters? Is it the Mungiki or is it the Kalenjin warriors? Is it the looters of Kisumu or the Sabaot Land Defence Forces?

Kenya has become a country where sober debate no longer exists. Every dispute is interpreted as being either pro-Kibaki or pro-Raila. If an argument is pro-Kibaki, it must be anti-Raila. And vice-versa. Without debate, decisions cannot be made and the country cannot resolve its problems. Even the few decisions made are tinged with the same cancer of national divisiveness.

Because of the lack of national cohesion caused by splits within Kenya’s ruling elite, such problems as land, development, employment creation and allocation of state resources are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Kenya will continue to experience increasing instability caused by growing militancy in the face of impotence by the country’s security forces.

Indeed, so helpless have Kenya’s Army and police become that they are resorting to torturing innocent civilians while ignoring the criminals. Its ironical to find armed police demanding identification documents from market women while well-known gangsters sell hard drugs in nearby alleys.

What then is the future of Kenya? Will there be a repeat of the violence witnessed early 2008? The unfortunate answer is yes because all the factors that led to the explosion of ethnic strife still exist. The people of Kenya have learnt nothing from that painful experience. Lies have become truth as people become both victims and perpetrators of ethnic bigotry. The educated class has sunk lower into the murk of selective amnesia and intellectual sycophancy. Meanwhile, the youth, who would have been the hope of creating a united Kenya, are fleeing the country in droves.

Alas, the future of Kenya is clouded in uncertainty.

Refugee leader tortured in Nakuru

A refugee leader in Nakuru was last weekend abducted and tortured for allegedly frustrating government efforts to close the camp.

While protesting the disappearance of their leader, two male refugees were shot by police on Saturday and are admitted to a Nakuru hospital in critical condition. The abducted man, Mr Peter Kariuki, re-emerged on Monday bearing horrific acid burns on his face. The refugees blame police for torturing Mr Kariuki, a claim that the government has denied.

Mr Kariuki says he was taken to a forested area, beaten and acid thrown into his face. His abductors accused him of inciting refugees against returning home. However, the refugees in Nakuru say they are unable to return to their former homes in the Rift Valley due to threats from the people who evicted them early this year. Many refugees are also demanding compensation from the Kenyan government, saying they have no homes to return to.

Reports from Kenya’s media indicate that the Nakuru District Commissioner has launched investigations into the incident when it became clear that the police were involved in Mr Kariuki’s ordeal.

The Kenyan government is eager to close refugee camps in the country, fearing they could become hotbeds of popular discontent. The camps consist of people displaced or evicted from their homes during ethnic and political clashes that erupted following disputed elections in December 2007.

By March 2008, about 1,500 people had been killed and 500,000 made homeless due to the violence. The violence began in the Rift Valley pitting the Kalenjin against the Kikuyu, Kisii and Kamba tribes. Ethnic clashes later spread to Western and Nyanza provinces where the Luo and Luhya evicted large numbers of Kikuyu, Kisii and Ugandans. Retaliatory attacks were launched in Nakuru, Naivasha and Limuru with the Kikuyu attacking and evicting Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya from those towns.

International mediation resulted in a coalition government between President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Luo. However, there remains conflict in the giant coalition over the circumstances relating to the violence. The President wants perpetrators of violence to face trial, while the Prime Minister wants them to be unconditionally released as, “warriors of democracy.”

The Kenyan government has been accused of forcibly closing down refugee camps and pushing people into areas of insecurity. In many instances, Kikuyu families trucked into their former homes in Kalenjin strongholds have been attacked.

The Kalenjin are demanding the release of youth arrested for participating in ethnic violence. In Eldoret, the Kalenjin have vowed to resist the return of refugees until their own people are released from police custody.

Hostage to Fate: A Story of Raila Odinga

Immensely popular to some, widely reviled by others, Raila Odinga’s every act and speech undoubtedly stirs up differing emotions across Kenya’s people. So divisive is his character that the terms, “Raila mania” and “Raila phobia” have emerged to describe the emotions associated with the man who is now Kenya’s Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga addressing a press conference following disputed elections in January 2008.

In the past year, Raila’s international profile has grown. Lots of people from across the world seek to understand who Raila is, where he comes from and what he represents. The Nairobi Chronicle has received many such requests, hence this article titled, “Hostage to Fate: A Story of Raila Odinga.”

The story is written by the Nairobi Chronicle’s Chief Editor, who has had the chance of personally meeting Raila himself at various points in Kenya’s political evolution. The Chief Editor does not claim a personal relationship with Raila for it is highly unlikely that the Prime Minister would recall the several occasions in which they have met!

Here, the Chief Editor narrates the stories of Raila when he was out there being the man that he is. Please click on the link below to download the full details.

Click to download the story in Microsoft Word Document. (214KB)