Run up to Kenyan elections already bloody

Eric Kioko is in seventh heaven. He has been working since the first of January as ‘DJ Talanta’ with the popular radio station Ghetto Radio in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. It’s the first time he has a job since he lost an arm during the election violence of 2008.

Kioko is one of the thousands of victims of the orgy of violence that erupted after the election results in Kenya. He lives in Maathare, one of the slums that almost encircle Nairobi. It was one of the places where things went terribly wrong in 2008. The ethnic origin of the then 25 year old Kioko made him a target for his attackers. “Since then the government has done nothing to reconcile rivalling tribes. The tension has not been eased. On the contrary, tension is growing in the run up to the elections”, says Kioko in one of the narrow alleys of Maathare. The empty sleeve of his T-shirt moves softly in the wind.

Eric Kioko is a Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group in Kenya that boasts more than 40 tribes within its borders. Kiokos attackers were Luo, long time political rivals of the Kikuyu.

After the chaotic counting of the votes at the end of 2007 the electoral commission declared the incumbent and current president Mwai Kibaki, who is a Kikuyu, the winner.  His main rival Raila Odinga, a Luo, was convinced that his victory had been stolen with the use of fraud.  The Luo tribe, helped by coalition partner the Kalenjin tribe, turned against the Kikuyu. Three tribes got entangled in a vicious circle of attacks, counterattacks and revenge. More than a thousand people got killed and over half a million got displaced.  After heavy international pressure and mediation of ex UN boss, Kofi Annan, Kibaki and Odinga formed a government of national unity.

Peter Kioko (24) is an IT specialist.  He is not related to Eric, and even belongs to another tribe, the Kamba.  Both men meet on regular basis at the local football club. “Our parents beat into us a tribal notion. Later politician come to misuse that for their own gain. And we walk like meek sheep after them”, says Peter Kioko sarcastically.

His family fled Maathare when violence erupted in 2008. Peter stayed. “There is always somewhere in the slums a dead body, we are used to that. But what happened five years ago was even for us, hardened slum boys, a very frightening experience.”  The two young men talk in the clubhouse about the violence that is again rearing its ugly head in the slums.  A day earlier a Luo was knifed to death in Maathare. Within three hours thirty little houses belonging to Kikuyu are burning. The suspicion was that their tribe was responsible for the murder.

“Not only in the slums are people being killed, but also in the north and the east, hundreds of people have died in the last half year”, says activist John Githongo. “Members of government don’t seem to be concerned about the growing violence. President Kibaki does not even visit the afflicted areas. The government has lost all credibility.”

Githongo earned international repute as head of the anti corruption department in 2006 when he disclosed a big corruption scandal in which ministers were involved. Fearing for his live he went into self-exile in the UK for some years. His story was recorded by Michela Wrong in her book ‘It’s our turn to eat.’   Now he is head of Inuka, an organisation that offers information to urban and rural areas and calls for peaceful elections.  “The government has established commissions for reconciling Kenyans. But the members stayed in their offices and never went out there to talk to people.”

In the run up to the elections many Luo have left Maathare and went temporarily to Nyanza, the original home area of the tribe.  Dominic Otieno, born and bred in Maathare, will leave soon. Five years ago he lay for days under his bed because the house was surrounded by Kikuyu. Not a Luo could leave the area alive. Otieno has not a good word for the government, but he also remarks, “We also have our own responsibility. It is also our task to preach peace and reconciliation.”

Otieno explains why it went all so wrong in 2008 in the slums. There live large numbers of unemployed youngsters with much future perspective. They wanted to vent their anger on the better areas of town but the police cordoned them off in the slums, and they had to look for targets within their living areas.

Rival tribes live in ghettos next to one another, just divided by a ditch, a walk path or a small open space. Once they got incited, they did not need to look far for targets. “The youth was bribed by politicians to finish off their ethnic rivals. I’m afraid the youngsters will do the same for a few pennies this time around”, predicts Otieno.  Politicians believe if they could chase away the voters of their opponents they would have an easy victory.

“If the elections will end again in a blood bath then Kenya has to be labelled as a failed state. Only good leadership can prevent that”, concludes Githongo. He has little confidence in the police force to prevent and stop violence. The Kenyan police are known for being extremely corrupt. And as the last elections showed, the officers are divided along tribal lines.


Kenyans in The Hague

Political parties in Kenya are formed along tribal lines. After each election new and different coalitions of convenience are formed. This time two politicians have a specific interest to win the elections. Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kikuyu candidate who wants to step into president Kibakis shoes, has to go in April to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is accused of being part of the organisation of the violence in 2008. The same applies to William Ruto, political leader of the Kalenjin. Both candidates, who at the last elections were sworn enemies, now hope that their Jubilee pre-election coalition will win in order to form a government that would shield them from the ICC.

Also stand accused are Francis Muthaura, the former right hand of president Kibaki, and journalist Joshua Sang, suspected of hate speech in his radio shows.

Initially there was great enthusiasm amongst Kenyans about the trials in The Hague. There are regularly court cases against political leaders in Kenya which never lead, even with overwhelming evidence, to convictions.

The ICC should have made an exception. But in the last years there is growing fear that the ICC has insufficient evidence, partly because witnesses were intimidated, and the Kenyan government is extremely reluctant to hand over evidence to the ICC.


Dutch version of the article was published  in: Wordt Vervolgd, monthly magazine about human rights in the Netherlands



Ilona Eveleens
I have been since 1993 in Africa, first in South Africa and since 1996 based in Kenya. My work as an Africa correspondent for amongst others the Dutch daily Trouw, the German newspaper TAZ, several radio stations and magazines has brought me from the east to the west and from the south to the north of the continent. All aspects of Africa, be it politics, economics, culture or ecology has my interest. I have written a book on Kenya, which is a guide to get to know the country. Currently I also work as a trainer of mainly young African colleagues who want to do the best job in the world.

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