What next for Kenya? The Poor will Suffer — That’s Certain

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The big guys are still talking. Agreement was reached last week on a framework peace plan, brokered by Kofi Annan (the Ghanains previously sent in President John Kufuor to no avail — you can’t help but admire their persistence). The framework commits both parties to avoid inflammatory statements and hold more meetings. Annan is pushing them still — the outline of an interim government might emerge soon (breaking news: a deal to write a new constitution is reported here). At least parliament was recalled — a key step.

In public both the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Raila Odinga and the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by Mwai Kibaki are keeping to a hard line: claiming no deal is in place. You might say it’s what happens in private that matters — around the negotiating table. That’s only partly true. Political leaders need to rein in their increasingly volatile and aggressive supporters. More murders (at least 1,000 since December) add fuel to the fire — and generate a momentum that the politicians might find hard to stop. “Let Annan do his bit but there is going to be no resolution. The clashes will continue”, said one youth manning a road block (see a BBC report here).

Will the agreement work? Who knows. The poor will suffer — that’s certain. For them it gets worse day by day, in at least 5 ways:

1. Family incomes are under intense stress. Tourism revenue has collapsed. One Masai community used to earn £400 (approx $800) per month from tourist visits: now all gone (story here). Over a quarter of a million people have fled their homes (and livelihoods). Result: more chronic poverty (see Tom Jayne et al on Kenya here).

2. Education and health-care are very disrupted. HIV and TB patients are finding it hard to collect their life-saving medicines. TB patients must repeat the whole course again (see Rhona’s blog on The Lancet Student). And TB develops drug resistance when treatment is incomplete. NGOs are working hard to help. But one MSF worker describes the situation of a HIV-positive mother who needs formula milk for her baby: “It broke my heart to see this woman, badly beaten up, sitting in the waiting bay with her four month old baby. She was making her way back home to fetch the baby’s patient card when they got hold of her. She looked completely petrified.” (story here). Infant mortality is rising.

3. A lasting solution must address Kenya’s deep inequality (see my paper here). This dates back to colonial times but intensified after independence in 1963, especially when former president Daniel arap Moi got to work. His network of patronage kept the big guys happy while the economy, once of Africa’s most promising, stagnated (growth picked up again over the last few years, the result of the global commodity boom). The Kikuyu — the country’s largest ethnic group and the one to which President Kibaki belongs — have dominated politics and commerce (Moi, who backed Kibaki in the elections, is from the Kalenjins, one of the smaller communities). Kibaki has lost some of the support of Kikuyu professionals — who have done well from the economic growth of the last few years. This is a sign of hope. When there is growth, the contending parties have an incentive to keep it going — if they have benefited. But many Kenyans have missed out or not benefited at all. They can take the economic hardship — because they are already used to hard times. The politics and the economics of conflict therefore interact. Consolidating a political solution depends on delivering tangible gains to the excluded (and fast).

4. As the economy sinks, so it becomes easier for nascent warlords to recruit the poor for their purposes — the slums have divided along ethnic lines. Most of the ODM protestors — in Nairobi and other places — belong to the Luo and Klenjin communities. They turned on the Kikuyus. Kibera, the big Nairobi’s slum, saw much anti-Kikuyu violence. And then the Kikuyus took their revenge. This is an acceleration of the rising ethnic violence seen over recent years (especially over land claims, further exploited by local political leaders). Organized crime is profiting handsomely from the looting, taking the banditry that has bedeviled Kenya to new heights (see this video by the Guardian’s Xan Rice). Conflict that starts as grievance often ends up driven by greed, making it all the more difficult to halt (see discussion here and here).

5. How to restore faith in the democratic process? The peaceful transition in 2002 — which ended the 24-year old presidency of Moi — gave hope to the poor that their vote would achieve real change (go here and read Joel Barkan in Foreign Affairs). The longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes for the parties to move beyond the framework peace deal. And without a permanent deal the murders will continue. Time works against peace.

6. For aid donors it’s a tough call. They have large programmes in Kenya. They must act in good faith (and be seen to be doing so). The World Bank got off to a bad start, when a leaked memo appeared to support the result of the flawed December election. The director of the Royal African Society, Richard Dowden, has a scorching Op-ed piece in the Guardian on the British response. The ODM has called on donors to shut down aid: “A government that steals the vote from its own people will steal any aid given to it” (reported here). That’s a very powerful argument. Zimbabwe is the precedent (no OECD-DAC aid to speak of, just humanitarian help). But aid sanctions are tools that need to be kept in reserve as we await the outcome of the Annan initiative.

We leave the last word to Edward Clay (who was the UK’s High Commissioner to Kenya 2001-05). In a letter to the Economist he writes: “…the poorest, whether in the slums of Nairobi or in the rural areas, had all too little to lose in the recent violence. Most people living in the slums are inhabitants of shanties erected at the whim of rapacious landlords, who are themselves part of the political class. Some of these residents have now had their votes stolen as well…. The poorest attack their equally poor neighbours and set fire to the little they have in common not because they hate these targets in themselves but because they see no other adequate way to express their grievance”. That is Kenya today.

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One Response to “What next for Kenya? The Poor will Suffer — That’s Certain”

  1. Anish Says:

    Nice way of expressing things.

    –Anish
    http://coversports.blogspot.com

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