Thursday, January 31, 2008

Personal Accounts of the Kenyan Violence

I recieved a few comments about my quick blurb on Kenya. One (David from Raleigh) reminded me that the dominant Kikuyu tribe is hardly a majority; more like a quarter. Fair enough.

Another, though, was a personal account of one reader's experiences in Kenya. He didn't give me an email address or a website, but I hope he won't have a problem with reproduction of this or any other story he wishes to share.

So, here's David Waweru:

I was to Kenya twice last year. The first visit was in June - I hadn't been there for a while and was returning with the intention of registering as a voter. One of the first things I noticed, returning to the country of my birth was that the country was more polarised along ethnic lines than ever before.

It must be said that both sides were going at it, the one side blaming the other for the hogging of public wealth and resources, and the other alleging subversion, sloth and a hate campaign inspired by the other. Since I've had some experience of (and written against) anti-black racism, I had absolutely no desire to even remotely cooperate with either side. I decided not to vote, and so didn't register.

I returned in December, as a sort of one-man observation team. I'm familiar with the conduct of the campaign in parts of the Rift Valley (both North and South). It was clear that preparations for serious violence were in place: the hate speech now flowed freely (especially, and surprisingly, in the South Rift); it was clear that substantial numbers of children were no longer at school (especially in the North Rift); and people were beginning to get serious and detailed warnings - a friend of mine in an interethnic marriage moved his immediate family out and warned some of the others (he's now in very serious trouble for not warning all of them). I'm in an interethnic relationship; friends of mine arranged for me to talk to a woman who was also in one. She was extremely perceptive about the nature and likely sources of the violence; talking to her convinced me that there was going to be serious fighting, even in Nairobi, whatever the outcome of the election. Quite simply, neither side would accept defeat. For these reasons, I, like perhaps many other Kenyans, expected the post-violence.

What has surprised me has been the intensity of the violence, the clear evidence of long planning, and the fact that nominally progressive people have been willing to excuse it. Especially in parts of Kisumu, parts of Kibera, and in the North Rift, the intensity of the violence is unprecedented in our history. It is now clear that quite a lot of the violence was planned in advance and that some ethnic groups were selected at the planning stage (see below). Before the election, I was alarmed by the rhetoric of the politicians, and even more so by that of the activists. I too received the vile texts. But I was very sympathetic with the ODM's case for redistribution, and discounted at least some of the anti-GEMA rhetoric as the price of getting progressive politics a niche, however small in Kenya.

I was stupid. But I'm surprised that progressive or leftish people, who - now that the deliberately ethnic nature of much of the violence is clear - should know better, are quite willing to continue to excuse, ignore, minimise, or downplay just what is going on; that this is not at all about the liberation of the poor or an effort at bridging the wealth.
I don't have much to add to this, except to state that progressive and leftish people tend to "ignore and minimize" Africa a bit too much to begin with. In some cases, I personally believe this is fueled by confusion and frustration; progressives want to help, but outside of the NGO system are unsure of what solutions would be most appropriate. They resort to socioeconomic and class analysis because that's what's familiar, and it often does underpin ethnic strife, but things can get a bit rougher than that. When they do--when things move outside the economically-driven analyses of many progressives and (neo)liberals--they can have trouble accepting it.

(Conservatives, of course, simply don't care. Except for that nasty subset that think that Africa's troubles are fodder for their own racism, but other than that they simply don't care.)

So, no, I don't think it's malice.

Anyway, thanks for the account, David.

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