Kenya in crisis

Kenya used to be considered one of the most stable nations in Africa. But come December, 2007, that reputation was shattered, and it won a new one – the most violent democracy in the world. Following massive controversy and rigging allegations, which were confirmed by foreign observers, violence broke out on a colossal scale across the once-peaceful nation. The government, and President Mwai Kubeki, were condemned for rigging the polls, and the opposition, led by Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement gave vent to its rage by instigating the public and in the days that followed, over 900 people lost their lives.

Up to 600,000 people have been displaced following the chaos. The largest single loss of life was when a church providing shelter from the violence to 200 people was set alight by rioters, burning 35 people to death. The people who were sheltering were members of President Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, against whom the ODM have been accused of facilitating violence. Age-old tribal rifts have been torn open again by the polls, and in areas like the Rift Valley, where different tribes used to live together harmoniously, rape, kidnappings and, quite simply, racial violence and hatred have one again come to the fore. Yet it is Kenya’s poor who are pitted against each other, those who live without running water, and with infant mortality rates up to 7 times the national average. Those who have least are those who are losing the most. Another important issue has also sprung up; namely, the results of the massive fear and hectic violence nation-wide on the country’s numerous AIDs patients. Out of 600,000 people who have been displaced in Kenya’s post-election violence, at least 15,000 are HIV-positive.

Health officials are still trying to assess the impact six weeks of violence has had on the country’s battle with AIDs.

Just how big a setback this has been may only emerge once a durable peace deal is in place – for some AIDs patients that might simply be too late.

The economy has been hard-hit as well, as Kenya’s main industry, tourism, went down the drain, following foreign fears and international media coverage of the hectic state of the country. Tourism was on the crest of a wave. It was the country’s top foreign revenue earner and brought in about $1bn last year. And yet over the last month, over 20,000 people working in tourism have lost their jobs. The other big industry was also linked to tourism – horticulture, a thriving sector, with 65% of Kenya’s vegetables and flowers making their way to Europe. A recent meeting of 300 heads of Kenyan industry drew up a report estimating the damage to the economy. They suggested that the chaos of the past few weeks would cost $3.6bn by the end of the year, and as many as half a million people could lose their jobs. It is not a pretty picture, and such estimates simply strengthen the fears that the effects of this crisis will be felt for a long, long time, across many different strata.

There is a valuable example here for us in this country, a vision of what can happen when elections are controversial, rigged or simply not a capable of truly transmitting the views of the people. It is a blessing for Pakistan that we had such a peaceful election, widely hailed as relatively fair, with results accepted on all sides. Yet there is a warning in the Kenya example for politicians too – rousing the rabble may be effective as a show of strength, but it can quickly, and heartrendingly, spiral out of control. The politics of moderation are what is needed, the world over, without manipulation or instigation, but with just one all-important element: human participation, and the transmission of the people’s voices.

By: Akbar S Ahmed

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