Kenya Heading for Civil War, Q&A with Duncan Olumbe

General February 26, 2008


**The opinions expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect the views of World Evangelical Alliance**

Q: How could such a “stable” country which had been touted as one of Africa’s few success stories degenerate so fast into senseless anarchy?

A: The horrendous chaos and bloodshed that ensued after the 27th December 2007 Kenyan elections left the whole world reeling in shock. What initially started as a spontaneous protest against Mr. Mwai Kibaki who was perceived to have stolen the votes to be re-elected as president, quickly progressed into total mayhem unparalleled in Kenya’s history. Mr. Raila Odinga, the Opposition leader, and his supporters felt cheated of their hard-fought victory and demanded that Kibaki steps down. Mr. Kibaki on the other hand maintained that he had won “squarely and fairly” and advised the Opposition to file an election petition case as per Kenyan law. When Raila refused to go court arguing that Kenya’s judiciary is thoroughly compromised in favour of the government, the crisis developed a life of its own resulting in a deadly cycle of destruction to date. Over 1,000 Kenyans are dead and over 600,000 displaced from their homes. Almost two months later, the crisis rages on.

Q: What is being done to end the crisis?

A: Frantic diplomatic efforts to save Kenya has seen Nairobi hosting top leaders from African Union, several African former presidents, United Nations, European Union, USA, UK, Nobel Peace Laureates, etc. This culminated in the current ongoing mediation efforts chaired by Kofi Annan (former UN General Secretary), and assisted by Graca Machel (wife of Nelson Mandela) and Benjamin Mkapa (former Tanzanian president).

Q: What has slowed down the mediation talks?

A: There was excitement when the talks made swift progress on the first two priority issues – an end to election violence and addressing the needs of the internally displaced people. However, the team has essentially ground to an irritating halt when they started tackling the third issue – the disputed, flawed elections, which triggered this crisis in the first place. What is infuriating is that in spite of the intense international pressure - visa bans, threats of economic sanctions, etc. - there is little progress over the last two weeks of the mediation talks on the critical issue of how to resolve the election fiasco.

Q: Why is it taking so long for Kibaki and Raila to agree on a way forward?

A: As has emerged from a number of conversations about Kenya, I firmly believe that the issue of stolen elections is very deeply rooted in the minds of Kenyans who supported Raila. Unfortunately, Kibaki’s regime and the international community seem to think that with time Kenyans will forget the elections and things will return to normal. I stand to be corrected but I do not see this happening any time soon. Until and unless the people who supported the Opposition’s vision for change feel that their grievances are addressed, we are in for very long troubled times ahead.

Q: Why has the international community been slow to respond?

A: I am amazed at how slow the international community has been in recognising the root problem. Initially, it was said that the Kenyan crisis was purely ethnic cleansing/genocide, specifically between the Luos and Kikuyus. It took weeks of relentless alternative communication especially via the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) staff, Kenyan bloggers, text messages, and emails to convince the world that the crisis had much deeper roots – i.e. historical injustices.

I was also amazed at how slow the international community was at admitting that the presidential elections were flawed. It was not until about two weeks ago when UK officially stated that it did not recognise the Kibaki administration as the legitimate will of the Kenyan people. This was also seen to be USA’s position from Condoleezza’s speech when she visited Nairobi on 18th February 2007. Interestingly, this was after South Africa became the first nation to publicly declare that they do not recognise Kibaki as president of Kenya (following the brazen manner in which Kibaki’s negotiators rejected Cyril Ramaphosa who had come to Kenya to help Kofi Annan’s mediation team). The Council of the European Union on 18th February added its voice resolved that there cannot be “business as usual” with Kenya until a legitimate political solution is agreed upon.

Q: What did Condi Rice achieve in her visit to Kenya this week?

A: When Condi Rice came to Kenya on Monday this week, there was great hope that America had finally woken up to the stubbornness of Kibaki and his regime. Unfortunately, she significantly mellowed down after protest by Kibaki’s ministers who insisted that Kenya is a sovereign state which does not need external interference. Such a view conveniently ignores the fact that Kenya is part of the international community and cannot be “left alone” to burn like Rwanda! It is poignant that when President Bush was in Rwanda Tuesday 19th he reiterated that never again should world leaders allow evil to happen anywhere in the world. However, it is actions that really matter, particularly now for Kenya.

Q: Is Kenya really on the brink?

A: I maybe wrong but I think that Kenya is on the brink of total collapse and civil war unless the international community takes the hard-line approach to confront Kibaki and his team. The voices of reason have proposed a transition grand coalition government urgently to halt this steady slide. Whereas Raila has climbed down from his initial demands for Kibaki to resign and an immediate re-run of presidential elections, Kibaki has refused to concede any grounds. Kibaki’s argument that any political solution must be within the current Kenyan constitution is in bad faith since Kenya’s current constitution is a relic of the colonial era which has precipitated the very crisis we are in! I fear that this kind of stubbornness is what going to force Kenya to irreversibly tip over the cliff into war.

Q: Is it really true that life is now back to normal in Kenya?

A: Anyone who thinks that the present relative calm in Kenya for peace is grossly mistaken. All indication is that Kenyans are “calmly” watching the Annan talks and should they collapse, we swiftly slide into total anarchy. Why? I think that the supporters of Raila and Kibaki are using this “truce” to prepare for the “grand finale” if the talks fail. What is also ominous is that apparently Kenya governance structures are collapsing. Armed youth gangs are controlling many aspects of our country – transport, trade, security, etc. Key pillars of the economy are in the doldrums – tourism dropped by 90%, agriculture is on its knees with famine threat, etc. Essential governance arms such the police, military, medical and education are increasingly along tribal lines. For example, thousands of school teachers and pupils have been displaced, and university lecturers and students are seeking transfers to teach/learn in institutions within their tribal land. It is in this highly ethnicized context therefore that I see civil war erupting should the Annan talks fail.

Q: What should be done to avert the seemingly inevitable war?

A: I think that since Kibaki and his group are not willing to share power with the Opposition, they must be forced. We recall that last week when the US slapped visa bans on 13 Kenyan leaders perceived to be hindering the Annan talks, the talks made significant progress. All key western powers (EU, UK, USA, etc.) should come out jointly and publicly to enforce visa bans on stubborn leaders plus their immediate family members. This would to force their family members who are right now in the west to come back to Kenya and face the horrible sense of despair and uncertainty that ordinary Kenyans live with daily. Such public declarations would also increase local and international pressure on focussed individuals instead of mere speculation and rumours.

These people’s assets (bank accounts, property, investments, etc.) in foreign countries should be frozen immediately. This would force them to corporate since business in Kenya is currently at a standstill and what is sustaining these rich Kenyan leaders is their staggering wealth stashed abroad. Another proposal is for the international community to seriously consider “taking out” these stubborn Kenyans; they could be given asylum elsewhere. Ultimately, the international should urgently consider deploying either UN or NATO peacekeeping force in Kenya. Sadly, AU forces are not recommended due to perceived pro-Kibaki stance (Kibaki attended the recent AU Summit and justified his re-election without being challenged). Whereas some might argue that Kenya is not yet too bad to warrant UN forces, I think that is extreme optimism. The situation is already very serious: unofficial estimates put the tool at several thousands dead and close to one million displaced in less than two months! Why must the world wait until one million are dead before intervention? Given the ethnically polarised police and military in Kenya, the situation is only waiting for the final spark to ignite into an almighty inferno. For the international community to fail to be proactive with the Kenyan situation is to fail the people of Kenya!

Q: Why must Kenya’s democratic gains be protected?

A: Why should a few Kenyans hold 37milion Kenyans hostage by their arrogance and impunity? Why should the world watch as these few individuals drive Kenya into anarchy? Why is the international community hesitant to call a spade a spade – that the elections were flawed? All the election observers concluded that Kenya’s presidential elections were flawed; why has it taken this long to clearly condemn the rigging? Right now Kenyans do not necessarily care whether it was Kibaki or Raila who won the elections; the greater issue is whether we shall have faith again in any future elections. Why bother if elections are meant to be stolen? If Kibaki is allowed to go scot-free with this, I fear that Kenya and most of Africa can as well say goodbye to democracy. Kenya was such an inspiration to the rest of Africa after the 2002 general elections which brought to an end the 24-year rule of President Daniel Arap Moi. To allow such immense democratic gains to go down the drain would be irresponsible. And even if the international community is tempted to turn a blind eye, I believe that Kenyans will not allow their democratic gains to be used by Kibaki & co. as toilet paper. Kenyans shall stand up to this ethnic bigotry no matter how long it takes and costs.

Q: What then is the immediate future for Kenya?

A: The ideal scenario - Annan talks succeed. That would enable Kenya to rise out of the current rubble to develop workable governance structures, a new constitution, hold new elections in at most two years’ time, etc. Everyone should do everything possible to make this a reality and anyone who is jeopardising the talks must be dealt with ruthlessly. The second scenario – Annan talks fail. This seems to be the line that Kibaki and his team are currently pursuing. Immediately the talks fail, I foresee widespread re-emergence of chaos all over Kenya. And the Kibaki government would then embark on a ruthless and lethal repression of the fresh uprisings (just like they did last month in anti-Kibaki strongholds). Their reasoning is that Kenyans would be beaten into submission. They imagine that even if international military intervention arrives at that point, it will be too little too late. But I foresee Kenyans aligned to Raila fighting to the bitter end; the rest of Kenyan tribes shall not accept the perceived brazen subjugation by the people of Central Kenya to continue indefinitely. That will therefore mark the end of Kenya – different ethnic groups will rise up to control their “territory”. Ultimately, we might see some regions seceding to form their own “country”, encouraged by Kosovo.

Q: Why this urgent call?

A: Unless something is done urgently now, we are headed there with deadly precision. Anyone with political leverage should realize the gravity of Kenya’s situation and act fast. Bravo to the unrelenting efforts of KNHCR, Human Rights Watch and others in highlighting the Kenyan crisis to the world. Unfortunately, the Church in Kenya lost its voice, and eyes, long before the elections and is now groping in the dark; the blind leading the blind! The silence from the global Church is even more deafening; I am yet to hear any passionate voice from the World Council of Churches, Vatican, World Evangelical Alliance, Lausanne Movement, etc. Neither is anything coming from international mission organizations like AIM, SIM, CMS, etc. And while Christian relief organizations like World Vision are busy tying the bandages, they are too careful not to ruffle feathers by trying to address the underlying root-cause issues in the Kenyan crisis! May God save Kenya in this desperately dark hour of need. Please pray with and for Kenya.

(Views expressed here are those of the author and does not necessarily represent the position of MTA).

Duncan Olumbe, a Kenyan, lives and works in Nairobi where he coordinates Mission Together Africa (MTA), a fairly new mission initiative seeking to catalyse mission movement across Africa. Prior to this he worked with the Kenyan IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) movement as the Missions Director and directed the Commission 2004 (a mission

convention for Eastern & Southern Africa, similar to Urbana). Duncan loves reflecting on political matters in order to give a Christian influence in an area which is largely seen as "too corrupt". He is married to Rose and they have three young sons.