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Kenyan election spirals into violence

Kenya’s prosperous economy belies underlying economic structural inequalities

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Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: In the midst of an alleged election fraud, Kenya has spiralled into violence. President Mwai Kibaki claimed a second victory in the recent presidential elections. His political rival, Raila Odinga, claimed the elections were rigged. At least 300 people are dead, and approximately 100,000 have been displaced. To further analyze the situation in Kenya, I spoke to Angolique Haugerud, from Rutgers University.

VOICE OF PROF. ANGELIQUE HAUGERUD, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: The news coverage has emphasized the ethnic dimensions of this conflict. And there is a tendency in media in the West to portray Africa as a place where tribal rivalries inevitably and almost naturally yield conflict and violence, and that is fairly misleading. It’s clear that ethnicity is a part of this picture, but it is only one piece of it. And the conflict in Kenya is as much due to political party competition, modern efforts at democratization, and the kinds of political dynamics we see anywhere in the world. In Kenya we have had an election that was too close to call. The polls before the elections suggested that this would be a very, very tight race. And the results are disputed. They have been called into question by external observer team. The legitimacy of the election is in question. It’s not certain yet how much rigging there was. But many people in the country believe the election was stolen by the ruling party, by the party of Mwai Kibaki. It’s unclear what the solution to this will be. There are proposals for a recount. There are proposals now to actually hold a new election. And as we know, there’s a very intense diplomatic effort going on behind the scenes. And the United States is now sending a senior Africa specialist from the State Department to attempt further mediation. It’s a close relationship. And in recent years, of course, Kenya has been a very crucial strategic ally in the war on terror. It is a very strategically important country in that region. The U.S., like the World Bank, the IMF, and European donors have over the years emphasized neoliberal economic policies—privatization, user fees for health care, and so on. That’s a set of policies that were, of course, widely implemented in Africa by these international financial institutions, as well as through bilateral aid. In Kenya, those have accentuated economic inequality and poverty. Kenya has had a high rate of economic growth recently, around 6 percent or so. According to many macrostatistics, it’s a prospering economy. The problem, of course, is that those benefits, that that growth have not been widely shared, and at this point about half the population does have consumption levels that do not meet basic food and non-food needs. Many of the poor live in rural areas of the country, so they’re dependent on agriculture, and in Kenya about 79 percent of the population is rural. There are very strong regional disparities in the distribution of poverty in Kenya, and that’s very significant in this election. The lowest poverty levels in the country are in Central Province, which is Kibaki’s stronghold, where the poverty level’s at about 30 percent. And the highest poverty levels are in the provinces from which Raila Odinga drew much of his support. And there is a large percentage of the population unemployed. And Odinga, for example, drew a lot of support from the young and the poor. There’s widespread disaffection among those groups with President Kibaki’s government. And there are, as we know, problems of corruption in Kenya, and much discontent with respect to the way economic resources are allocated, in the sense that not everybody has shared equally in the economic prosperity, because there are strong regional disparities in poverty, with some regions suffering much more than others with respect to access to employment, education, good infrastructure. Before the election, for example, as often happens before elections in Kenya, politicians try to distribute material benefits to their constituencies at the level of parliamentary elections, as well as presidential elections. In some of the areas, Kibaki was able to win in Central Province, in Eastern Province. A lot of roads were paved in the months before the elections. And I know from speaking to people on the ground that that played a very significant role in his victory in some areas. So any president is in a position to dispense patronage resources, obviously, more effectively and more strategically than are other candidates. It’s important to remember that political alliances and enmities in Kenya shift very, very quickly, and to keep in mind that Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga were actually political allies a few very short years ago. And it’s often the case in Kenya that today’s political enemies are tomorrow’s allies. And there’s a sense in which we see a circulation of elites without any fundamental structural change in African societies when there are elections, so that we can speak of electoral democracy but not substantive democracy in the sense that there are no transformations in these underlying economic structures that actually perpetuate poverty and extreme economic inequality. What’s simmering beneath is sort of a much broader set of structural problems, a common set of economic issues that really do affect many African countries, issues concerning the global economy, business investment in Africa, which is, as we know, very highly concentrated in certain parts of the continent and almost absent in other parts of the continent. And then, within any particular country such as Kenya, we see that kind of unevenness as well. The kind of anger that’s boiling over now has to do, of course, with the sense that their votes didn’t count. People lined up for hours, as we know, in order to vote in Kenya last week. And a very high voter turnout, perhaps around 70 percent—much higher than occurs in the United States. There is, of course, a sense of outrage that the elections, the vote count was not done properly. There is also a sense of disenfranchisement that had already existed before the elections among the young and the poor. And there is also growing frustration among professional and middle class people about corruption and the consequences of that corruption with respect to international and other forms of investment. The positions of the principals, that is, the principal parties of Kibaki and Odinga, in terms of what they would accept as the next step, is quite changeable from day to day, and expressed in a number of quite contradictory statements at this point which are difficult to interpret. But what many people are hoping for is a new election.

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