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A Time of Transition

Political debate in Kenya is once again heating up in the run-up to general elections set for 2002. Presidential succession has become the subject of much discussion and political intrigue. The jockeying for position has been particularly intense within the ruling party. President Moi has stated that he plans to step down as president and that the time has come for younger leaders to emerge.

In a move that has bolstered the ruling party's prospects for electoral success, in March 2002 KANU merged with the National Development Party (NDP), which has a largely Luo constituency. Moi, who had arranged the merger, was elected to the newly created and powerful post of chair of the merged party, which at this writing retained the name KANU. Moi also sought to broaden the ethnic base of the ruling party by recruiting politicians from communities associated with the opposition-including the Kikuyu-to join his government and giving them positions of prominence. Some in KANU and NDP had opposed the merger, but at this writing it remained unclear whether there would be significant defections to other parties. Five of Kenya's opposition parties, for their part, announced in February 2002 that they had joined forces and would work together to nominate candidates and, if elected, share power. The parliament's defeat of an anti-corruption bill personally endorsed by President Moi in August 2001 signaled the potential electoral strength of a united opposition.

Constitutional reform also has remained a topic of considerable debate, and the debate promised to grow in urgency with the approach of the 2002 national election. In January 2001 the chair of the government-appointed constitutional review commission was sworn in, and five months later the Moi government dropped its objections to the inclusion of civil society representatives in the commission. The commission announced in March 2002 that it would not be able to complete its work in advance of the presidential election.

In 2001 a top committee of the ruling party, joined by NDP, announced provisionally that the merged party would propose a major devolution of power to Kenya's regions under a federalism or majimbo model. Similarly, some politicians from other parties have also advanced majimbo proposals, drawing on the popularity of the concept in some parts of the country while generally seeking to distance themselves from the record of past ethnic violence in the name of majimbo. At times the new calls for majimbo have echoed those of the past, raising the specter of ethnic expulsions and violence. For example, a prominent KANU politician was quoted as stating in September 2001 that unless majimbo was introduced, Kenya would face "more bloodshed than that witnessed in Israel andPalestine today."54 Some figures in the opposition have promoted the idea of a transitional government or government of national unity to oversee the implementation of a new constitutional framework and to help ensure the fairness of the national election. There have also been calls for early elections from some quarters.

Kenya, facing an important presidential election and the outcome of the critical constitutional reform process, is at a political crossroads. President Moi's commitment to step down from power, together with his efforts to build a broader ethnic coalition in support of the ruling party and the expectation that he will designate his intended successor, have led some to anticipate that the political transition in Kenya to a post-Moi regime will be relatively smooth. At the same time, deadly inter-ethnic attacks in late 2001 and early 2002 attested to the potential for outbreaks of violence in the run-up to the 2002 elections, particularly when political leaders inflame ethnic tensions. Corruption, insecurity, and the sorry state of Kenya's judicial system were among the problems that continued to corrode public faith in the government. Moreover, the lack of accountability for past politically motivated attacks has contributed to very specific fears by victimized communities that they could once again become targets for electoral violence.

Guns at the Ready

Rising insecurity in Kenya, particularly the increased availability of small arms, has made more volatile an already precarious situation. The proliferation of automatic weapons among many pastoralist groups in northern Kenya in particular raises the possibility of an escalation into clan warfare. This is especially true in northwest Kenya. In the North Rift Valley, tensions between pastoralist communities over armed cattle rustling incidents and loss of life have repeatedly erupted into large-scale violence, with no effective government intervention.

For a recent example, in March 2001 more than fifty people from the Marakwet clan were killed by Pokot cattle raiders who burned hundreds of structures and stole thousands of livestock. Local leaders accused the government of laxity in its response, saying it failed to respond to a warning of an attack. One leader stated: "The government machinery has been quick to deal ruthlessly and mercilessly with the Marakwet whenever they are on a revenge mission in Pokot but will turn a blind eye or look unable to do the same when Pokots raid Marakwet inbroad daylight."55 An unconfirmed estimate suggests that, between them, the Pokot and Marakwet communities have at least 9,000 small arms and perhaps as many as 20,000, while conservative figures from confidential government security reports are said to indicate that there are at least 4,000 firearms, including G3 rifles and AK-47s, in civilian hands in Pokot, Turkana, and Marakwet districts in the North Rift area.56

The Kenyan foreign minister was reported to have suggested in early 2001 that the way to respond to the situation in the North Rift was to disarm the communities and leave security in the hands of the security organs and police reservists.57 This was unlikely to have reassured the Marakwet, since the government is often accused of selectively arming Pokots under the police reservist program, and it has long been alleged that Pokots use the government-issued weapons to carry out cattle raids throughout the North Rift.58 One leader stated:

We know that Kenyatta [Moi's predecessor] armed Pokot to act as a buffer zone from external raiders emanating from neighboring countries. However, the community have turned the same guns against their immediate neighbours, with the Marakwet and Turkana suffering most.59

High tensions between pastoralists in northwest Kenya have been further aggravated by politicians who advance a divisive ethic agenda. Francis Lotodo, who served in the Moi cabinet from 1998 until his death in November 2000 and was considered a close ally to President Moi, was notorious for making inflammatory statements.60 For example, in 1999 he reportedly told all Marakwets living in West Pokot District that they should "pack and move out" before the year's end andinstructed Pokot youths to make sure that the "Marakwet is not given room in the Pokot land."61 The use of inflammatory rhetoric in the North Rift did not end with Lotodo's death; to the contrary, incitement by Pokot leaders reportedly increased in 2001.62

The arming of Pokot men, combined with inflammatory comments by politicians, the absence of accountability for such statements, and the lackluster response of security forces to Pokot raids, have contributed to open speculation that the government at some level may have a hand in spurring the violence. Some leaders of other pastoralist communities in the North Rift Valley have accused the government of at least tacitly, if not openly, supporting the Pokot raids, even referring in one case to "a government-sponsored Pokot invasion."63

The situation in the North Rift remains explosive. The deputy secretary-general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya blamed insecurity on both the "influx of small arms" from neighboring countries and "careless utterances and incitement" by politicians representing the Pokot, Marakwet, and Turkana communities in the North Rift.64 The Kenya Human Rights Commission has argued similarly that the deadly raids in northern Kenya, particularly those carried out by the Pokot community that has received arms from the government, are part of a strategy by the ruling party to use intimidation tactics to reestablish political dominance in parts of Rift Valley Province in advance of the 2002 elections.65 A December 2001 NCCK report on violence in the North Rift likewise pointed to the dangerous linkages between arms and political incitement and attributed much of the violence in the North Rift to the combination of both factors.66 Unfortunately, the Kenyan government has thus far failed to take action to counteract this crucial nexus between arms availability and divisive political agendas.

There are other potential flashpoints for politically charged inter-ethnic violence in Kenya, as evidenced by violence in late 2001 and early 2002 thattogether took dozens of lives. In December 2001, following a visit to the area by President Moi, a rent dispute in the Kibera slum of Nairobi erupted into violence by attackers armed with clubs and machetes, resulting in more than a dozen deaths. Members of the political opposition, as well as some civic leaders and landlords, blamed President Moi and a minister in his government, who they alleged incited the violence with comments favoring the tenants.67 In Tana River district, in the interior of Coast Province, 2001 saw repeated incidents of violence, particularly late in the year, that resulted in over one hundred deaths. Again, politicians were accused of fanning the flames of ethnic tensions. In this case, religious leaders, opposition politicians, and President Moi himself attributed the violence at least in part to inflammatory statements by politicians.68 Allegations of incitement to violence also surfaced in connection with the brutal slaying of more than twenty people in March 2002 in the Kariobangi North slum of Nairobi, which were attributed to a youth gang.69

Elsewhere in the country, some groups have organized themselves into militias, ostensibly to be able to defend their communities against attack. In other cases, a group's mistrust of the Moi government and fear of being targeted for political violence has been the prime motivation for secretly organizing and acquiring arms. A 1998 government report found that victims of ethnic violence in Rift Valley Province "were prepared (or indeed were preparing) to organise their own security."70

Members of the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group and a frequent target of state-sponsored attacks, confirmed in 1999 that they were very conscious of their security and had taken steps they hoped would defend them from any renewed violence. In some communities, they said, Kikuyus have procured some weaponsand organized small armed groups to protect themselves in anticipation of renewed violence. For example, a Kikuyu elder stated that Kikuyus in central Kenya, whom he described as relatively well-off and strong in number, were better prepared for violence than their fellow Kikuyus in other parts of the country. But he added that elsewhere Kikuyus were beginning to take similar steps:

The idea of organizing people to arm themselves came to us this year [in 1999]. We have seen the symptoms...Everyone in this country is feeling insecure unless you are KAMATUSA [an acronym used to describe the ethnic groups most closely associated with KANU]...Kalenjins are well-armed; now the Kikyus, Kisii, and Luhya are preparing to defend themselves."71

When violence broke out in Rift Valley Province's Laikipia district in early 2000 for the second time in as many years, opposition politicians reportedly proclaimed that the people of Laikipia should be armed and that they were willing to contribute the funds necessary to purchase the weapons.72 The following year an MP representing Laikipia stated:

It should be noted that all the neighbors of the Kikuyu in Laikipia-the Maasai, Samburu, Tugen and Pokot-have guns and homeguards [referring to police reservists]. The government has left only the Kikuyu without guns.... I am calling on the Minister in charge of Internal Security to end insecurity in Laikipia. So far, I have been pleading with the Kikuyu to restrain themselves. I am not ready to sacrifice my political career by trying to avert tribal clashes, which is a Government responsibility. [The government should defend the Kikuyu] or we shall use every way possible to defend ourselves.73

The vicious cycle of self-arming raises the risk that armed confrontations might be sparked and, in a politically charged environment, quickly spread. So long as the Kenyan government neglects to take measures to control weapons flows, to ensure that politicians are not able to arm groups, and to guarantee accountabilityfor past political violence, the potential for renewed violence and accompanying human rights abuse persists. Political disputes risk turning violent, ethnic tensions risk being manipulated or sparking bloodshed independently, and marginalized populations risk taking weapons into their own hands. Kenyans have on the whole resisted turning to armed violence to settle grievances, but the risks are too high and the past too instructive for that possibility to be ignored.

54 "Kenya: Minister launches newspaper to campaign for federalism," East African Standard, BBC Monitoring, September 9, 2001. The speaker stated that he was not advocating the expulsion of non-indigenous residents: "We all love one another and majimbo will ensure the continuity of this." Ibid. 55 "Anger mounts over Pokot killings," Daily Nation, March 14, 2001. 56 Judith Achieng, "Government accused of laxity in probing cattle thefts," IPS, March 26, 2001; Muggah and Berman, Humanitarianism Under Threat, p. 66. 57 "Minister says deal on small arms imminent" Daily Nation, March 26, 2001. 58 KHRC, Raiding Democracy: the Slaughter of the Marakwet in Kerio Valley, (Nairobi: Kenya Human Rights Commission, 2001), pp. 41-43. 59 "Anger Mounts...," Daily Nation. 60 He was reportedly charged with incitement in 1997 for "making war-like statements" (the charge was dropped), had earlier been charged and jailed for "promoting war-like activities" in 1984, and was temporarily expelled from KANU in 1989. "Kenya's energy minister dies in South African hospital," Associated Press, November 9, 2000; Kaplish Barsito, "Why the Pokots weep as they bury the king," Daily Nation, November 18, 2000. 61 "Lotodo censures KenGen over jobs," Daily Nation, November 11, 1999. Lotodo was reported to have made similar remarks later in 1999, which he denied. "Minister denies telling non-Pokots to leave," Daily Nation, December 31, 1999. 62 KHRC, Raiding Democracy, pp. 48-52. 63 "Editorial: When will govt act in the North Rift?" Daily Nation, March 11, 2000. See also, David Mugonyi, "Ex-MP says Govt abetting rustling," Daily Nation, March 13, 2000; Gitau Warigi, "Who's Fuelling Cattle Rustling by the Pokot?" East African Standard, February 14, 2000. 64 "Probe arms influx, cleric urges state," Daily Nation, April 15, 2001. 65 KHRC, Raiding Democracy, pp. 3, 24-29, 37-45. 66 Ken Ramani, "The guns of Kerio Valley and the looming danger," East African Standard, December 11, 2001. 67 "Minister accused of instigating clashes in Nairobi slum district," KTN TV in BBC Monitoring, December 4, 2001; Marc Lacey, "Residents Flee Slum in Nairobi After 12 Are Killed in Clashes" New York Times, December 6, 2001; "Kenya's slum war," BBC, December 7, 2001; "Slum women march to Moi's office," Daily Nation, December 7, 2001; Marc Lacey, "Officials Gather in Nairobi Slum To Quell Deadly Rent Clashes," New York Times, December 9, 2001. 68 "Opposition party official arrested over ethnic violence in southeast," KTN TV in BBC Monitoring, December 16, 2001; "Religious leaders blame government over ethnic clashes," Daily Nation, December 9, 2001; "President Moi visits slum area affected by clashes" KBC radio, December 7, 2001; "Police reservists disarmed in Tana River," IRIN, January 4, 2002. 69 David Mageria, "Kenyans warn of tribal conflict after slum carnage," Reuters, March 7, 2002. 70 Standing Committee on Human Rights (Kenya), First Public Report of the Standing Committee on Human Rights (Nairobi: December 1998), p. 143. 71 Human Rights Watch interview with a Kikuyu elder, Nakuru, Kenya, May 14, 1999. 72 "Kenya: Opposition MPs claim killings in central region `state-sponsored,'"East African Standard, BBC Monitoring, January 24, 2000. 73 Muthui Mwai, "Stop these raids, MP tells State," Daily Nation, April 7, 2001.

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