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Both the Odingas and the Kenyattas are Foreign Impositions not Choices of Kenyans

There is reason why Kenya appears to be on the brink. For a long time Kenya was widely perceived as being a shining example of economic and democratic progress especially since 2002, when the 24-year dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi was swept aside. But all is not well. The country has clearly been moving toward an ethnically charged conflict that is hell bent towards a possible civil. This has been seen since a disputed election on December 27, 2007. President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of a second term after a vote that opposition candidate Raila Odinga denounced as rigged and that European Union observers agree was seriously flawed and commissions of inquiry that were formed to look into the election have since concluded that the election was not credible and that it was not clear if Kibaki won that election. As tens of thousands of Kenyans fled their homes and hundreds lay dead, part of the blame rests with Britain and its imperial legacy.

Ten years on and nothing significant has changed. Many things appear to have remained the same and other observers would argue that in 2013 general elections the ICC played a role in slowing down hate speech and ethnic rivalry that often characterizes Kenya’s political processes, especially elections. Elections are a very polarizing process in Kenya. They often lead to bitter contest that causes displacement and death. In 2013, this was not the case. Some of the contestants had been indicted by the ICC and politicians were afraid of beating the tribal drums of violence. Today they can. The ICC has since been deflated.

The immediate cause of the crisis in 2007, that continue to haunt Kenya, was and still remains Kenya’s delicate ethnic balance. Kibaki, was a member of Kenya’s largest and probably most powerful ethnic group, the Kikuyu, who total about 22 percent of the population; Odinga, is a member of the Luo, who comprise some 13 percent of the populace and live predominantly in western Kenya. In their bitter contest, in which Odinga promised to end ethnic favoritism and spread the country’s wealth more equitably, ethnicity was the deciding factor, and a marred victory on either side had always been likely to spark violence. Kibaki was supported by the Kenyattas, who have a history of rivalry with the Odingas. Both families are rich, elitist African political dynasties who have far more in common with each other than they do with their supporters; in their struggle over power, both are using their followers as proxies in a smoldering war.

And then there is Britain, Kenya's former colonial ruler, which now prides itself on being a purveyor of global democracy. Thinking of Britain and its role in Kenya, just as many other parts of Africa and the world, one cannot help but spot a distinctly colonial view of the rule of law, which saw the British leave behind legal systems that facilitated tyranny, oppression and poverty rather than open, accountable government. And compounding these legacies was Britain’s famous imperial policy of ‘divide and rule,’ playing one side off another, which often turned fluid groups of individuals into immutable ethnic units, much like Kenya’s Luo and Kikuyu today. In many former colonies, the British picked favorites from among these newly solidified ethnic groups and left others out in the cold. We are often told that age-old tribal hatreds drive today’s conflicts in Africa. In fact, both ethnic conflict and its attendant grievances are colonial phenomena. Kenya’s problem was sown, nurtured and sustained by Britain.

The elitist political rivalry between the ordained political kingpins imposed on Kenya by Britain have been the single most significant factor for what has come to be known as tribalism in Kenya and which stands in the way on nation building. Kenya has refused to become a nation. The elites who have since independence captured and enjoyed state power as they engage on corrupt deal to enrich themselves and their colonies, have every reason and have faithfully so maintained and even deepened the old imperial heritage of authoritarianism and ethnic division. The British had spent decades trying to keep the Luo and Kikuyu divided, quite rightly fearing that if the two groups ever united, their combined power could bring down the colonial order. Indeed, a short-lived Luo-Kikuyu alliance in the late 1950s hastened Britain’s retreat from Kenya and forced the release of Jomo Kenyatta, the nation’s first president, from a colonial detention camp. But before their departure, the British schooled the future Kenyans on the lessons of a very British model of democratic elections. Britain was determined to protect its economic and geopolitical interests during the decolonization process, and it did most everything short of stuffing ballot boxes to do so. That set dangerous precedents. Among other maneuvers, the British drew electoral boundaries to cut the representation of groups they thought might cause trouble and empowered the provincial administration to manipulate supposedly democratic outcomes.

Old habits die hard. Three years after Kenya became independent in 1963, the Luo-Kikuyu alliance fell apart. Kenyatta and his Kikuyu elite took over the state; the Luo, led by Oginga Odinga (Raila Odinga’s father) formed an opposition party that was eventually quashed. Kenyatta established a one-party state in 1969 and tossed the opposition, including Odinga, into detention, much as the British had done to him and his cronies during colonial rule in the 1950s. The Kikuyu then enjoyed many of the country’s spoils throughout Kenyatta’s reign; something that they continue to do to date, after all, Kenyatta II is in power.  

The Kikuyu’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when Daniel arap Moi, a member of the Kalenjin ethnic minority, assumed dictatorial power in 1978. He managed to hang on for more than two decades. Western Kenya enjoyed the economic benefits of state largess until Moi was voted out of office in 2002, at which point the pendulum again swung back to the Kikuyu, led by the incoming President Kibaki.

Fears of ethnic ascendancies, power-hungry political elites, undemocratic processes and institutions -- all are hallmarks of today’s Kenya, just as they were during British colonial rule. This does not excuse the undemocratic behavior of the current Kenyan president, nor that of his opponent Odinga, both of whom are bent on seizing power and neither of whom is necessarily a true voice of the masses. Nor does it excuse the horrific violence that has unfolded throughout the country or the appalling atrocities committed by individual Kenyans. Rather, it suggests that the undemocratic historical trajectory that Kenya has been moving along was launched at the inception of British colonial rule more than a century ago. It is not hard to discern similar patterns, deliberately stoked ethnic tensions, power-hungry elites, feeble democratic traditions and institutions, other former British colonies such as Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Iraq that share similar imperial pasts. In retrospect, the wonder is not that Kenya is descending into ethnic violence, but how it has taken long to happen!

As we approach yet another very divisive elections, go ye home and think that you may come to the knowledge that the Kenyattas and the Odingas are not here because they love Kenya and because they want good for Kenya and because they have the interest of Kenya at heart. No. They are a construct of Britain, a remnant of Britain’s way of life that thrives in conflict. We have to make decisions. Once again elections are here. Do not pray for peace! Pray for wisdom that you may discern well and make wise choices. We must choose between Britain and Kenya. Forget Uhuru Kenyatta when he tells you that foreigners are set to interfere with the choices of Kenyans. Uhuru himself is a British choice and a great beneficiary of the tribalism created and sustained by Britain. He has never been a Kenyan choice just as Raila is not. 
Both the Odingas and the Kenyattas are Foreign Impositions not Choices of Kenyans Both the Odingas and the Kenyattas are Foreign Impositions not Choices of Kenyans Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 13, 2017 Rating: 5

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