January 3, 2008
I suspect that many of you do not have a clear understanding why a rigged
election could produce such violence as burning women and children alive
in a church. This email is to give a brief historical background of why
Kenya has seemingly so suddenly erupted into ethnic violence.
The British colonized Kenya early in the 20th Century. The nature of
colonialism was total control from a strong center. In the case of Kenya,
there were British settlers, few in actual numbers, but each controlling
large estates. To run these estates and have the comfortable life that
they wished, they needed lots of labor; the cheaper the better. So the
colonial Government put a tax on each adult male where he had to work
six months per year to pay the tax which was then used for the benefit
of the settlers. The settlers were harsh and cruel to their African laborers.
The Kikuyu homeland is on the slopes of Mount Kenya. The amount of land
they had was small for the population and consequently many of them were
forced onto the settler's estates to work for them. But the Kikuyu, as
everyone admits, are a very industrious, hard-working people who early
on saw the benefits of education. Others became the low-level functionaries
that any Government needs.
During the WWII many
young men were drafted into the British army (my father-in-law was
in Malawi and Burma!) and served wherever needed. Their
eyes were opened by what they saw and when they returned to Kenya after
the war, they found that they were given the same menial, low-paying
dead end work. By the early 1950's this dissatisfaction gave rise to
a protest movement called "Mau Mau." This was mostly among
the Kikuyu. They forced people to take an oath to oppose the British
rule. Perhaps 90% of the Kikuyu in Central Province on Mount Kenya took
the oath, willingly and
unwillingly. The remaining 10% were the loyalists who worked for the
British colonial Government. Although Jomo Kenyatta was jailed as a Mau
Mau leader, they soon realized that he was really a loyalist--his son,
Peter Kenyatta, with Jomo Kenyatta's blessing, was one of the leaders
of the loyalists. Kenyatta was separated from the other Mau Mau leaders.
The suppression of
Mau Mau was brutal in extreme. Percentage wise more people died during
the suppression of Mau Mau during the 1950's than
during the 1994 Rwandan genocide--torture was prevalent, women and children
were put into concentration camps with little food and medical care.
Large numbers died. No one should be under the illusion that the British
were "better" colonialists than the Germans or Belgians. The
technique the British used here was to deny everything with massive cover-ups.
Much of this history is only now being uncovered.
During this same time, the British implemented land consolidation in
Central Province. The result was that the loyalists received nice, large
land holdings at the expense of the Mau Mau people who were in jail.
When they returned they found that most of their land was lost. With
only Small fragments of land remaining they were unable to support
their Families And were forced either to work for the Kikuyu loyalists
or to emigrate to other parts of Kenya which were not so heavily populated--in
particular many went to the Rift Valley province.
Some of the most successful loyalists went into business, using the
dispossessed Kikuyu to do the labor that they needed. In particular,
the Kikuyu many times replaced Indian shopkeepers in small towns and
villages. As I will discuss below, many more became the conductors and
drivers of the matatus (mini-buses) that dominate Kenya land travel.
now, some of these businessmen have become tycoons.
The British, at the time of independence in 1963, handed the Government
to their loyalist supporters. The Kikuyu business tycoons and the Kikuyu
political establishment formed a strong bond during the Kenyatta presidency.
When Moi, a Kalenjin, took over on Kenyatta's death, he quickly made
a deal with the Kikuyu establishment that he would not bother their businesses
and they agreed to let him on the Kenyan gravy train, which included
gigantic corruption and looting of Government funds. Kibaki was at one
time part of both the Kenyatta and Moi Governments.
When people -- including the Kikuyu elite -- got tired of Moi, they
tried to replace him. In 1992 and 1997 Moi divided and conquered the
opposition. One of the techniques Moi used was to promote violence in
his homeland of Rift Valley. In 1992 perhaps 1000 Luo, Luhya, and Kikuyu
were killed by the Kalenjins and more than 100,000 were made homeless
(including Malesi Kinaro). As with the British rule, the Government closed
the Rift Valley province to everyone and little is known of the details.
When it was over,
everything was publicly covered up, but everyone is still very tense,
right up to now. As we can learn from the developments that led to the
Rwandan genocide, each cycle of violence increases over the previous
one. I have no doubt that this is why the people were burned in the church
in Rift Valley rather than elsewhere.
But in 2002 Moi was too old for another term and he selected Kenyatta's
son, Uhuru Kenyatta, to run for the presidency. The opposition this time
decided not to become divided, but united under Kibaki and soundly defeated
Uhuru Kenyatta. At this point Kibaki had the opportunity to bring all
Kenyans together as a real nation, but he soon dropped all the non-Kikuyu
who had helped him into office and the controlling clique became a group
of Kikuyu politicians and businessmen. So, in 2007, the others (Luo,
Luhya, and Kalenjin) who felt betrayed by Kibaki, joined together in
the ODM (Orange Democratic Movement) to oppose Kibaki. Musyoka, a Kamba,
stayed out of the coalition
and formed his own party--ODM-Kenya.
To summarize, since independence the Kikuyu have directly or indirectly
controlled the Government and controlled Kenyan business. Through this
time, they continued and promoted the centralized system of Government
given to them by the British. The President was all powerful, as he controlled
the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Government. It was
a hybrid presidential and parliamentary system with
the President being all powerful. The 2007 election campaign revolved
around devolvement" meaning decentralizing. Naturally Kibaki and
the Kikuyu opposed this since this meant giving up their power to the
Let us return to the matatu business. There are 80,000 matatus on Kenyan
roads, most of which are owned and operated by Kikuyu. I estimate (I
sit a lot in the matatus and have ample time to analyze the business)
that a matatu has an income of $100,000 per year: on average each Kenyan
spends over $200 per year for matutu transportation. The conductor rents
the vehicle for the day, including the driver, and pays for gas and other
expenses keeping whatever is left over at the end of the day. So, he
has to push and push to make
sure that he doesn't actually lose money. The relationship between the
conductor -- who is always trying to increase the price of the ride,
stuff more people into the vehicle, and get the driver to go faster --
leads to amazing antagonism. There is no customer service, but customer
dis-service. The riders continually believe that they are being abused
and taken advantage of. This happens almost every time one gets into
So it is payback time. It is amazing how only Kikuyu shops and homes
were burned and everyone else left intact. Those at the bottom are taking
it out on those whom they feel are on top. They have no contact with
the Kikuyu tycoons and politicians and so they are taking the pent-up
rage of forty-four years of independence out on the average Kikuyu in
their community. The Kikuyu are then retaliating by killing the other
ethnic groups that happen to live in their communities. This also explains
why Kibaki (read the Kikuyu elite) wished to stay in power by rigging
the election--they will be the losers. At stake here is continuing with
the status quo with the Kikuyu on top or changing the essential nature
of the Government so that everyone has its piece (but will the Kikuyu
their fair share or will they be punished).
Malesi Kinaro will want me to throw in another part of the mix. With
the large population increase in the past, there are many youth. Many
of these have been educated to the secondary level or even above and
then they are left with nothing to do, alienated from Kenyan society.
These are the shock troops of the rioters and looters. They see no future
so they can easily be turned to violence. This is the tinder and the
spark was the announcement that Kibaki won what everyone in western Kenya
considers was a rigged election. The youth waited until the result was
announced on the radio and then immediately attacked matatus (I saw the
plumes of 8 burning matatus), Kikuyu shops and homes, and then the Kikuyu
Hope this helps you to understand the situation some.
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