The price of historical injustices
On the evening of December 30, 2007, I was seven, I sat legged crossed next to my grandfather as we keenly listened to BBC Swahili World Service broadcast that incumbent President Mwai Kibaki had been re-elected, and that hundred were feared dead minutes after the then electoral commission boss Samuel Kivuitu had declared Kibaki as the winner of the closely contested election pitting him and his 2002 kingmaker Raila Odinga. The tone of the broadcaster, who was obviously not a Kenyan screamed disappointment. Like him, several people had expected Raila to win massively with a wide range and that this was a case of open electoral fraud. Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in at the lawns of StateHouse, a contrasting occurrence to his first term election when he was sworn in at Uhuru Park in broad daylight with a mammoth in attendance. That Mwai Kibaki was declared the victor did not go well with his main competitor Raila Odinga who then called for mass action among his supporters to protest these elections results. This morphed into complete post elections violence which claimed lives of about 2, 000 people and left a half a million homeless. Many pundits believe that there is no way Mwai Kibaki could have won that election. The Chairman of the Electoral Commission in later interviews after declaring Kibaki the winner states that he could not determine who won that elections between Kibaki and Odinga and that through his wisdom as a seasoned lawyer and electoral manager, decided that Kibaki should be declared the winner. A commission of inquiry that was set up after the violence to investigate the violence, christened the Kreigler Commission Report could not also tell who won the elections. All reports in the public domain therefore seem to agree that the winner of that contested elections could not be determined and that it was not the incumbent president Mwai Kibaki. Now, how did Kenya get in this situation that almost plunged Kenya into a full civil war and instability? You will find your answers here.
Kenya, just like many other African countries was established on a quick sand, with the systems that were inherited from the colonizers being very weak to push a new fragile country into prosperity. The very first government of Kenya can be blamed for the violence of the 2007 elections though it took place close to 45 later. When Jomo Kenyatta took over the government from the colonizers, his government embarked on a spree of plundering public resources, with the president himself being accused of irregularly acquiring up to 500, 000 acres of land. Most of his critics were either killed like JM Kariuki or thrown into political oblivion like his Vice President Jaramogi Odinga. This wanton plunder and assassinations including that of Cabinet Minister Tom Mboya planted the seed of tribalism, with tribes looking at each other with suspicion and hatred. For example the killing of Mboya completely destroyed the relationship between the Luo and the Agikuyu communities. The successor of Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, a former teacher followed on his paths as he had promised when taking power. Moi’s government has been blamed for massive corruption and ethnicity, further worsening the issue of tribalism. When Moi left power, his successor came from the opposition and was voted in overwhelmingly in widely touted as the only free and credible elections Kenya has ever had. It was therefore believed that he was going to transform Kenya from an era of human rights violations o an era that thrives in democracy and rule of law.
After assuming power for his first term, Kibaki is reported to have trashed the agreement that he had with Raila Odinga to make him (Odinga ) the Prime Minister. It is reported that Kibaki also refused to give Raila his right share of cabinet ministers. This blatant refusal of Kibaki to honor the pre election agreement made Odinga bitter, and they fell. Odinga vowed to retaliate and commanded his troops to shoot down any government agenda in parliament. In 2005, the President proposed a new constitution, and the country went for a referendum to vote for or against the draft constitution. In defiance, Raila Odinga vowed to oppose the Draft Constitution and together with opposition then led by current President Uhuru Kenyatta, he spearheaded the NO team, a team that campaigned against the draft constitution. When the referendum was held, the NO team carried the day, and Odinga gave Kibaki a painful revenge, and the first time, a massive government project like a dra. Drawing unmatched confidence from this victory, Raila Odinga vowed to go on with his revenge spree transforming the NO team into a political party, Orange Democratic Movement and he used it to vie for presidency challenging the incumbent President Kibaki.
As Kenya neared the General Elections of December 27, 2007, Raila Odinga grew in popularity and at one time filled the historic Uhuru Park with a crowd exceeding 50, 000 people, a record that had never been seen in any presidential campaign rallies. Raila also led in all but one opinion polls conducted by different firms. Raila moved in to assemble a team called the Pentagon that had political supremos from all the regions except Central Kenya, the backyard of his main competitor Mwai Kibaki. Therefore, it was expected that Raila would easily win the elections as he was the most popular candidate in all of the eight provinces except one.
Kenyans went to the ballot on the 27th day of December 2007 to cast their votes for their preferred candidates. When results started coming out, Raila Odinga had a strong early lead. But suspiciously, there seemed to be a delay in announcing the final presidential tally forcing Odinga and his party, Orange Democratic Movement to announce their own results declaring Raila Odinga the president on December 29. Hours later, the electoral Commission continued to transmit results which seemingly placed Kibaki ahead of Odinga. A day later, in closed door at the famous Kenyatta International Conference Center, the then Electoral Commision of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuiti declared Mwai Kibaki the winner of the presidential polls. Within minutes of this announcement, chaos started rocking many Kenyan towns as locals protested what they called stolen elections.
President Kibaki quickly convened the parliament which was dominated by Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement Party. In that seating, the members of Odinga party refused to accept the legitimacy of President Kibaki and even swore allegiance to Mr Odinga as president. What followed was a divided house that could not transact any parliamentary business and it was not made any better by the fact that the Speaker came from Odinga’s party. Even as legitimacy questions and violence rocked the country, the president didn’t flinch as he went on to appoint his cabinet. As Kenya got into the New Year 2008, the pomp and color of ushering the new year were replaced with gunshots and blood birth. On the eve of the new year, January 1, 2008, a church packed with women and children from Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group was burnt to ashes in Eldoret town which was a stronghold of Mr. Odinga and dominated with the Kalenjin ethnic group. That incident sparked waves of tribal attacks throughout the country, and the politicians from across the divide encouraged their tribesmen to carry out killings to any different tribe that seemed to have supported another candidate apart from the most popular with the community.
At the heart of this was Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu community which is the largest, the Kalenjin which had supported Mr Odinga to the last man and the Luo which is Mr Odinga’s community. You remember the issue of land that is traced back to the very first government of Kenya? During the times of the first President, he gave land to his Kikuyu tribesmen in Rift Valley which was originally for the Kalenjin and this had been a tension for many decades, and now that the Kalenjin found themselves in opposing sides with the Kikuyus, they maimed and chased away the Kikuyus from Rift Valley. Naivasha, a tourist attraction faced the ugliest scene of this post elections violence cum ethnic violence. Naivasha had huge flower farms that employed many people from the Luo community but the location itself was full of Kikuyus as the locals. The Luos in this place were hacked to death in their hundreds. This saw police vehicles carry these dead bodies to Nyanza, the region dominated by the Luos. In Odinga’s backyard of Luo Nyanza things were not any better. The police opened fire to protesters killing them in their hundreds. The protesters also looted shops and markets. In the capital Nairiobi which is the most cosmopolitan town in Kenya saw both ethnic and police orchestrated killings. Slums like Kibera and Mathare which were Odinga’s strongholds saw massive death tolls and human rights violations including rape. While sexual violence was mainly meted on women, even men had their share as they suffered forced circumcision, sodomy and mutilation of their Genitalia. The situation only got worse day by day and it was apparent that the violence would soon turn into civil war where a section of the citizenry had rejected the legitimacy of their president.
As the violence went, all countries in the Eastern Africa region were bearing the economic brunt. Kenya is the economic hub of this region and that with violence going on, it meant that the economies of these countries would hurt. Country like Uganda which is landlocked depended solely on the port of Mombasa in Kenya and that it could barely survive as Kenyans tore apart. This made the international community to quickly think of sealing a peace deal. This involved a 39 day mediation period spearheaded by the former UN Secretary General Koffi Annan as he details in his book, a Life in War and Peace. With Annan, there were also members of international community christened the committee of Eminent Persons. They lead the peace talks that dragged for weeks as each party remained adamant that they had won power. The other members of the peace negotiations team included US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Former Tanzania Presidents Jakaya Kikwete and Benjamin Mkapa, former Ghanian President John Kufuor, and South African former first lady Graca Marcel. The thorn in the mediation was that Kibaki’s side was not ready to accept compromise that would reduce the powers of the president and share cabinet with Mr Odinga’s party. As Kibaki’s side dragged the mediation talks, the number of Kenyans dying were increasing and Koffi Annan writes that at one point, he was very afraid that the Kenyan situation could quickly turn like the Rwanda Genocide. It is believed that Odinga had agreed very early in the negotiations to drop the presidency to Kibaki but wanted a section of the cabinet. However, Kibaki’s side wanted to take everything or nothing and Mr Annan writes that it got to a point that he (Annan) almost abandon the talks and have Kibaki blamed for the violence. It is this threat of blame that somehow softened the heart of Kibaki as he half-heartedly accepted the peace deal. Though there exists another unconfirmed theory that the peace deal was reached by MR. Kibaki and Mr Odinga alone in Sagana State Lodge, Nyeri after Mr Annan had already given up. How true this account is remains scanty.
A deal was finally struck and sealed with a National Accord signature and a handshake between the two protagonists. However, Annan says that even with the agreement, he was not happy, as the agreement had taken far too long than expected. The agreement meant that Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga would share cabinet power, with Kibaki continuing with his tenure as President and Odinga occupying a new crafted office of the Prime Minister. Mr Miguna Miguna who was an aide of Raila Odinga but has since fallen out with him, claims in his book Peeling Back the Mask that the 2007 Post Election Violence deal was one that Raila Odinga compromised everything including his win while Mr Kibaki compromised nothing, only taking everything from Odinga. These sentiments remain to be a huge topic in the court of public opinion.
When the deal was signed, close to 2,000 people had lost their lives, and a half a million lost their homes. In a bit to prosecute the perpetrators of this violence, Kenya settled on the Hague based International Criminal Court. A commission was formed to investigate the real faces behind the violence who were all to be tried at ICC for crimes against humanity. On the list were the current President Uhuru Kenyatta who was then a close ally of President Mwai Kibaki, Henry Kosgey who was the chairman of Odinga led party, current Deputy President who was then the biggest supporter of Raila Odinga, Francis Muthaura who was the then Secretary to the Cabinet of Mwai Kibaki, radio presenter Josua Sang accused of spreading hate through radio and the then Commissioner of Police Mohammed Hussen Ali. The cases have so far been either withdrawn or vacated, with Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto getting elected as President and Deputy President respectively.
On the positive sides, the Post Elections Violence led Kenya into crafting one of the most progressive constitutions in the world with limited presidential powers and increased powers of the judiciary and also a detailed bill of rights. It is worthy to note that a new court, the Supreme Court was introduced to be the final arbitrator on presidential elections dispute. However, it is regrettable to note that these legal reforms have done little at ensuring electoral reforms. Kenya has since had two elections under the new constitution and all of them have been disputed. The first one in 2013 landed at the Supreme Court and the then Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in a much criticized decision, upheld the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president. In 2017, the veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga disputed the election results that placed him as a runner up to Uhuru Kenyata and took the matter to the Supreme Court. The Kenyan Supreme Court then made history for being the first court in Africa and only the fourth in the world to nullify a presidential election. A repeat election was ordered, an election that Odinga boycotted citing lack of transparency. Odinga ended up swearing himself at the historic Uhuru Park in 2018 as the People’s President.
Kenya is currently headed for the third elections under the new constitution and Raila Odinga will make his fifth stab at the presidency after the failed attempts of ’97,’07,’13 and ’17 and his main competitor is the current Deputy President William Ruto who was his biggest supporter in the elections of 2007 that ended up in chaos and bloodbath.