I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Viewed in contrast to many of its neighbors, Kenya is often seen as a bastion of stability. The country has several strengths that militate against the outbreak of mass violence, but it also exhibits many of the factors that have been markers of civil strife elsewhere in Africa: strong ethnic divisions, polarized political issues, political manipulation, rampant violence, socio-economic disparities and a lack of economic opportunity, and endemic corruption. When combined with the increased availability of firearms, this dangerous mix becomes all the more volatile. The easy availability of such weapons within the country contributes to the growing culture of violence that is taking root inside Kenya. In addition to rising crime and generalized insecurity in recent years, the country has experienced repeated flashes of politically inspired ethnic violence, especially during election periods. Those instigating this deadly violence have not been held to account. This continuing pattern of violence and impunity, together with the spread of small arms, threatens Kenyan society and greatly endangers human rights.
Small Arms Proliferation in Kenya
Small arms proliferation across the globe leads to the more rapid spread of violence and magnifies the devastating effects of violence, contributing significantly in areas of armed conflict to human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. In countries emerging from war, the widespread availability of guns contributes to high levels of crime and makes more difficult the transition to a lasting peace. In Kenya and other countries not at war, the ready availability of these weapons undermines security (including with relation to crime), erodes prospects for development, contributes to social disintegration, and makes the resort to violence more likely-and more deadly.
Kenya is vulnerable to weapons trafficking because of its geographic location in a conflict-ridden region. The weapons circulating in Kenya originate from places as far away as China and the United States, but most of them passed through war zones in neighboring countries before making their way to Kenya's illegal gun markets. For years Kenya's territory has been a conduit for weapons shipments destined to nearby areas of violent conflict, but more recently the spread of weapons has spilled back into Kenya itself.
For the time being, guns in Kenya are circulating on a small scale when compared to its war-torn neighbors. They are smuggled into the country a few at a time in a steady flow and sold by traders in secret markets, with some larger-scale illegal arms trafficking also reportedly taking place. The impact of even relatively modest quantities of such weapons, however, is already being felt.
The increasing availability of weapons in Kenya has helped fuel rising insecurity and, in some areas, the growing militarization of society. Much media attention has focused on the prevalent use of sophisticated weapons in urban crime, particularly in Nairobi. Often, refugees living in Kenya are scapegoated as the source of these weapons. The proliferation of small arms is most serious along Kenya's northern and western borders, where pastoralist communities have ready access to AK-47s and other automatic rifles obtained from neighboring countries. The introduction and spread of such sophisticated weapons among these communities has intensified conflict and blurred the line between long-standing ethnic competition-traditionally manifested in cattle theft or rustling-and political violence. Guns are now widely used to carry out acts of banditry and cattle rustling in Kenya, and have been responsible for growing numbers of human casualties, including during armed confrontations that pit ethnic groups against each other. This grave insecurity, as rightly noted by a Kenyan civic leader, derives both from "the influx of small arms" and "careless utterances and incitement" by politicians.
Equally disturbing is Kenya's ruling party's use of violence to retain political power since the government was forced to concede to a multiparty system in 1992. It has been estimated that in the past decade at least some 2,000 people have been killed and 400,000 have been displaced in politically motivated violence directed at ethnic groups perceived to support the opposition. High-ranking ruling party officials have been directly implicated in instigating past episodes of violence, and the government has not taken adequate steps to punish the perpetrators. Whereas in the large-scale violence in the early 1990s attackers relied overwhelmingly on traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, attacks in more recent incidents in 1997 and 1998 were carried out with the aid of firearms. Attackers armed with guns enabled others-armed with clubs, machetes, and other crude weapons-to kill, maim, burn, and loot with impunity.
The increased presence of modern weapons facilitates the ability of opportunists in the Kenyan political arena to instigate armed violence for political gain. Similarly, the spread of sophisticated weapons makes it easier for groups under attack to arm themselves in what they portray as self-defense. For the past decade Kenyan political discourse has often embraced the language of violence. Looking to the future, ready access to sophisticated weapons only increases the risk of bloodshed.
Violence for Political Ends: The Coast
This report examines in detail the outbreak of political violence on the Kenyan coast in mid-1997 as a case study of both the orchestration of violence as a political tool and the devastating impact of small arms on human rights. At that time, thecountry was gearing up for elections and calls for constitutional reform were
increasing, putting the ruling party on the defensive. Against this political backdrop, well-organized and well-armed irregular paramilitary forces-known as "raiders"-carried out a series of brash and deadly attacks on non-indigenous residents around Mombasa, Coast Province.
Although the events chronicled in this case study took place several years ago, Human Rights Watch believes that the information is still important, both to document the role of ruling party officials in the violence and to expose the manner in which it was organized, particularly as Kenyans prepare to go to the polls again in general elections that must by law be held in 2002.
The Coast1 raiders targeted members of ethnic communities that had voted disproportionately against the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party in the 1992 election, causing KANU to lose two of four parliamentary seats in one district that year. As a result of the 1997 attacks these likely opposition voters were forced to flee their homes and, in spite of an unexpected backlash against the government over police abuses, KANU won three of the parliamentary seats in elections later that year, with a fourth seat (the one in the area where the violence was sparked) being won by a KANU ally registered under a new party. In a neighboring district that was also at the center of the violence, KANU won all three parliamentary seats, as it had in 1992. President Daniel arap Moi, who needed to win at least 25 percent of the presidential vote in Coast Province to ensure his reelection, carried the province easily, and his vote tally rose considerably in violence-affected areas that previously had been opposition strongholds.
The perpetrators of the Coast attacks were largely disgruntled local young men whose hostility toward non-indigenous residents of the region led them to support a divisive ethnic agenda that also served the ruling party's political aspirations. Many strongly felt that long-term migrants from other parts of Kenya, as well as other ethnic minority communities settled there, were to blame for the poor conditions faced by their indigenous ethnic group, the Digo. They were motivated by anger over the economic marginalization of the local population, which contrasted sharply with the wealth generated by the area's tourism economy. Their goal was to drive away members of the ethnic groups originating from inland Kenya-the "up-country" population-in order to gain access to jobs, land, and educational opportunities. They used brutal tactics to terrorize their targets for weeks on end.
In a meeting of these interests, a number of local-level KANU politicians andsupporters mobilized marginalized Digo youth to take up arms against opposition supporters for political ends. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, several members of the Digo raider force described how the assaults were organized with help from local figures who were politically active with the ruling party. For example, a number of local KANU politicians and supporters were instrumental in recruiting young men to join the raiders. A politically connected spiritual leader used a local cultural practice, oathing, to bind the raiders to secrecy (while promising to make them immune to bullets). He also helped dictate the raiders' targets and strategy. Most of the raiders' commanders had prior military experience, and raiders said some of the rank-and-file members also had previously served in the Kenyan armed services and a few were active-duty servicemen. In addition, the raiders benefited from the participation of a mysterious group of highly trained and well-armed fighters whom they described as soldiers and, in part because they apparently did not speak Swahili, believed were foreigners. The security forces dispatched to quell the violence and subdue the raiders complained that the raiders were very well organized and in many cases better armed and more numerous than they were.
The evidence strongly suggests that higher-level government officials and politicians, acting behind the scenes, also contributed to the organization of the raider force and supported the operations of the raiders once the violence was unleashed. Raiders described several visitors to their training camps, whom they were told were KANU members of parliament (MPs) and key party activists. These visitors met with the raiders' commanders and, according to one raider, sometimes brought food, money, and even guns, as the raiders prepared for action. Other raiders, who were based at different sites or joined later, stated that they only learned of the involvement of national-level political figures after the violence was sparked. They said that these politicians visited their leaders and provided crucial logistical, financial, and political backing during ongoing raids on targeted communities. According to their testimonies, the raiders benefited from both direct and indirect support from the politicians, the latter often supplied via their spiritual leader. In light of the sustained support they received from ruling party politicians, some of the raiders interpreted calls to halt the violence as a sign that it had gone on too long and had become a liability, not as an indicator that the politicians objected to their actions.
Looking back on the events that occurred in 1997, those raiders who decided to speak to Human Rights Watch did so because they felt betrayed and manipulated by the ruling party officials who used and then discarded them. At the time, their aims overlapped with the desire of KANU to purge the area of likely opposition supporters. The raiders' own principal aim was to regain their ancestral land, while ruling party politicians supported them with a view to retaining and winningelectoral seats. The raiders now believe their spiritual leader maintained close contact with some of the ruling party's most prominent Coast Province politicians and acted as their local proxy. (KANU MPs later secured the spiritual leader's release from prison after his arrest in August 1997 and funneled large sums of money to him from party funds, lending credence to this claim.) On this basis, the raiders we interviewed maintain that top Coast Province political leaders orchestrated the events from behind the scenes on behalf of the government of President Moi. This interpretation also accords with the testimonies of two former KANU politicians who stated they have insider knowledge that a plot to spark violence in the Coast region was devised at very high levels and involved the Office of the President. (One of those politicians later denied making the statement.)
From the moment the violence erupted until the date of the 1997 general election, the actions of prominent KANU politicians with respect to the raiders were calculated to ensure a victory at the polls. There were several overlapping phases to the politicians' strategy vis-a-vis the ethnic violence. In the beginning, and most violent, stage of the violence, top ruling party politicians in Coast Province acted to support the raiders. Evidence of their support of the raiders' cause included their pressure for the release of the raiders' spiritual leader, visits some politicians made to the raiders' hidden bases, funding (often supplied indirectly, via the raiders' spiritual leader), their public promotion of ethnic federalism-or majimbo-and their support for an amnesty for the raiders, offered on the condition that the stolen weapons be returned. In a second phase, KANU politicians encouraged the raiders to rein in the continued violence after early attacks had forced much of the targeted up-country population in the Coast region to flee. The raiders described various attempts to demobilize them as the campaign wound down, by offering jobs and other incentives. In the third phase, after indiscriminate police abuses against the Digo presented a political risk to the party, KANU politicians made explicit attempts to minimize political fallout and bolster the party's support, most notably by enlisting the raiders' spiritual leader to campaign for KANU.
Thus, beyond the action of low-level KANU figures who were intimately involved in the organization of the violence, prominent KANU figures also played a dark role. Having supported the actions of the raiders at an early stage, later efforts to conceal its nature did little to dispel the perception that the ruling party and the Moi government was behind the violence. That measures to rein in the raiders came late and were at best half-hearted compounded this impression.
Despite numerous advance warnings, the government took no action to stop the raiders at an early stage. Once the raids had begun, government security forces did not mount serious security operations and instead took a number of steps that undermined the effective pursuit of the raiders. In addition, they denied effective protection to the victims of the targeted raids and were responsible for a number ofserious human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and torture, in a crackdown directed in part against opposition party activists whom they accused of being raiders. Moreover, powerful Coast Province leaders intervened to attempt to halt the initial operations of the Kenyan security forces, as well as to stop police investigations and secure the release of arrested politicians. Police investigations were seriously inadequate, leading courts to eventually acquit all but a tiny handful of the accused raiders. In the end, despite hundreds of arrests and a long government inquiry, no one has been brought to justice for organizing the attacks.
Echoes of Rwanda
The state-organized violence in Rwanda before and during the 1994 genocide provides an extreme example of the deadly effect of joining firearms to ethnically driven political violence. The Hutu elite governing Rwanda, determined to hold on to power, deliberately stoked fear and hatred of the Tutsi minority. Beginning in 1990 it directed massacres of Tutsi-and Hutu members of the political opposition-often using militia linked to the ruling party and formed and trained to kill. Once the genocide was launched in April 1994, the authorities continued using the militia and also mobilized citizens in a program of "civilian self-defense" led by soldiers, former soldiers, and police. All the while the Rwandan government described the killings as spontaneous outbursts of ethnic hatred and made no effort to halt the slaughter-much less bring the guilty to justice.
In the months before as well as during the genocide, the government distributed firearms to its civilian supporters. By doing so, it gave them not just the means to kill but also the assurance of having greater power than the unarmed Tutsi, thus making it easier for them to kill without fear. Large massacres-in which thousands of Tutsi were slain-began with attacks by military troops or civilians armed with firearms. The initial slaughter killed a large number of the intended victims, overcame resistance, and paralyzed others with fear, making it easier for later waves of assailants-armed with machetes, clubs, or other similar weapons-to kill with ease.
The perpetrators of the 1997 violence in Kenya's Coast Province employed similar tactics, albeit on a much smaller scale. As in pre-1994 Rwanda, Coast politicians exploited ethnic divisions to preserve and expand their own power. They blamed a group of perceived outsiders whose ethnic identity was taken as an indicator of their support for the political opposition. Drawing on the reserve of ethnic hatred they fomented, politicians mobilized supporters to carry out acts of targeted violence with complete impunity. They began with political attacks carried out by party youth groups and later created a quasi-military organization of youth motivated and trained to kill the designated "enemy." The killers, in turn, depended on guidance from their political leaders, as well as the expertise of highly trainedand well-armed military leaders. Their ability to target and wipe out their victims was greatly increased by the use-even the mere possession-of firearms.
In essence, the strategy of the Coast killings, as well as the Rwanda slaughter, hinged on two factors: the manipulation of ethnic divisions into ethnic hatred for political ends and the organization and arming of groups of supporters who could execute or orchestrate widespread killings.
A Time of Transition
With the next national election anticipated for late 2002, the new political landscape in Kenya is one of transition and uncertainty. President Moi, whom the constitution bars from running again, has indicated that he will step down. He arranged to merge KANU with another party and recruited politicians from ethnic groups allied to the opposition, thereby bolstering prospects for his party's electoral success. Moi himself was elected chair of the merged party, a position from which he was anticipated to exercise considerable power. At this writing there was much speculation about whom Moi may intend to be his successor as president, as well as jockeying for position among the contenders for power, but it remained unclear who would emerge as the ruling party's presidential candidate. The opposition had not unified behind a single presidential candidate. In February 2002 five opposition parties announced they would coordinate electoral efforts and, if elected, would share power.
In early 2002, the country also remained focused on the constitutional reform debate. One of the central reform issues under consideration was the devolution of state power. A number of proposals, including a draft put forward by the ruling party in 2001, envision a federalist system. In this context, the term "majimbo" (literally meaning "federalism") again gained currency in the national political debate. The proposals put forward were vague and left the modalities undefined, but politicians who promoted their proposals as pro-majimbo were generally careful to state that they did not wish to promote an ethnically exclusive form of federalism, as had been advanced during previous election campaigns and had served as the rallying-cry for past incidents of politically motivated ethnic violence. Nevertheless, some Kenyans, mindful of past violence carried out in the name of majimbo, remained wary.
Events in 2001 and early 2002 showed that violence continued to mar Kenyan politics. For example, parliamentary by-elections in early 2001 were associated with serious violence. Violence against opposition activists continued, with police cracking down on government critics in numerous incidents, and pro-KANU youth gangs attacking political opposition rallies. Sporadic violence between members of ethnic groups seen to be allied to the ruling party and those perceived to support the opposition continued in the run-up to the 2002 election. Inter-ethnic fightingin late 2001 in the interior of Coast Province, as well as episodes of such violence in Nairobi in late 2001 and early 2002, claimed dozens of lives. Many observers considered that politicians were to blame for inflaming existing tensions. In addition, violence between well-armed pastoralist communities in northwest Kenya continued and at times threatened to escalate. Tensions remained high in northern border areas, with both local and cross-border attacks contributing to the insecurity and bloodshed, and arms inflows appeared to continue unabated. With the growing presence of guns, Kenyans expressed increasing concern about the spread of violence. Fearful of the potential for ethnic violence tied to the 2002 electoral campaign, members of communities that had been victims of past attacks told Human Rights Watch in 1999 that they themselves had begun organizing self-defense groups and procuring weapons, and reports to that effect have continued.
The government has recognized some of the grave dangers small arms proliferation poses for the country and is working with regional partners to stem the tide of weapons with a focus on information-sharing, enhanced border controls, and harmonization of legislation. It also has sought international assistance to curb weapons flows. Its efforts are welcome, but its approach and implementation leave much to be desired. As with other security issues, it has cracked down on select targets only. It rightly has recognized the role of external actors, especially arms exporters in Europe and Asia who flood the region with weapons, as well as armed groups in neighboring countries who supply recycled weapons to Kenya. But it has been loath to examine its own practices, including its role as a transit point for regional weapons flows. Instead, it has scapegoated refugee populations for illegal weapons flows within the country, often associating all refugees indiscriminately with the actions of armed and criminal elements. International donors, concerned with the potential for terrorist attacks in the wake of the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and, more recently, attacks in the United States in 2001, have not questioned this approach. Most dangerously, the international community to date has disregarded the potentially explosive link between weapons availability and domestic political violence.
A Note on Methodology
Our work is intended to complement previously published accounts by nongovernmental groups that examined, among other topics, the causes of the violence in Coast Province, its impact on civilians and the December 1997 general election, and the role played by politics and individual politicians in the bloodshed. We have focused sharply on one dimension of the violence: its organization. In addition to our own interviews, we have relied heavily on sworn testimonies and cross-examinations offered by government and individual witnesses as part of aneleven-month commission of inquiry into Kenya's so-called ethnic clashes formed in 1998 and known as the Akiwumi Commission, after Justice Akilano Akiwumi, the commission's chair. The report submitted by the Akiwumi Commission to the president in August 1999 has not been made public, and little if any further action has been taken by the government. Our request in 1999 for access to the official statements from the Akiwumi Commission was rejected. This notwithstanding, we have in a number of cases had access to official transcripts of the Akiwumi hearings, provided by a participant in the commission's proceedings, as well as testimonies before the commission that have been reproduced in the press. We have supplemented these accounts of sworn testimonies before the Akiwumi Commission with documents provided by some of the witnesses. We have also reviewed documents and unofficial transcripts of the criminal trials of accused raiders, in this case provided by a lawyer for the defense.
For this report, Human Rights Watch set out to investigate the impact of weapons inflows on the level and nature of political violence in Kenya. To find the answers to some of the sensitive questions we intended to ask, we went directly to those with first-hand knowledge: the perpetrators of the violence, as well as the victims. Gathering testimonies from the perpetrators presented serious investigative challenges, as those with whom we wanted to speak often lived in hiding or in fear. With the assistance of local interlocutors, we identified and interviewed five young men who described in detail their direct participation in violent attacks in Coast Province, as well as one who was recruited to become a raider but said he did not take part in the raids. We also spoke with a number of witnesses or victims of the violence and others who had intimate knowledge of the events in question, sometimes using an interpreter. Whenever possible, we conducted interviews individually and in private. For the most sensitive interviews, we also selected locations where the interviewees would not feel threatened, and did not disclose what other interviewees had told us.
As nearly two years had elapsed since the events described by our primary sources, particular care was required to cross check claims and to assess statements that could have been influenced by either extensive news reports or hazy memories-or were deliberate misinformation. Some of the information these sources provided was incomplete or relied on circumstantial evidence and conjectures, and corroborating their testimonies was difficult. Nevertheless, we found that the former raiders were forthcoming about the extent of their participation in the violence. Nor did most express regret, so we do not think they sought to blame others for the violence in order to avoid full responsibility.
Importantly, their testimonies essentially told a consistent story-a story that had not previously been comprehensively told. It is the story of why and how large groups of highly disaffected youths in pursuit of an ethnically exclusive politicalagenda were recruited, armed, trained, and led to carry out brutal attacks on civilians from other ethnic groups. It is, tellingly, a microcosm of the politically motivated and militarily organized brutality that, on an immensely larger scale, unleashed a genocide in Rwanda and devastating ethnic violence elsewhere in Africa. Our hope is that it serves as a warning to prevent further bloodshed in Kenya and beyond.
1 In this report, the term "the Coast" refers to a geographic region known by that name in Kenya, rather than only to areas near the Kenyan coastline.