Tuesday, March 11

Prunier on Kenya

Gerard Prunier has a new piece on Kenya in Open Democracy, taking a sharply critical look at Kenya's political past and present. He blasts the regimes of Kenyatta and Moi for being repressive and ethnically biased; the Kibaki government for not really being that much different; and the West for continually engaging in "political wishful thinking" about the character of Kenya's governments. The piece could use some more focus, and a little less bluster, but is well worth reading. For a taste here are the closing paragraphs:
The attitude of the international community, as exemplified by Colin Bruce - the Kenya representative of the World Bank (whom every street kid in Nairobi knows is renting his house from the Kibaki family) - has not helped. Its approach is to consider the violence as a kind of popular madness fuelled by the obstinacy of two men, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga: everything would be solved if only they "really talked" and if their followers could be persuaded to desist from their "crazy ethnic prejudices". In that case, the "legal order" would prevail, the incumbent would be "re-elected" and the "challenger" would accept some juicy face-saving compensation.

This approach is a complete denial of the systemic nature of the problem. But the international community cannot look realistically at the facts because it keeps treating a corrupt, ethnically biased and violent system as a constructive development partner simply because it has been capable of achieving a (jobless) rate of economic growth of around 6%. It is this attitude which fuels the present violence: regular young unemployed boys kill other regular Kenyans out of frustration at not being able to reach those who are really responsible for the situation. The perceptions are tragically reductive, targeting the "ethnic symbols" because nobody can reach the "big men" who are the true agents of the new social war.

This is what makes Kenya's post-election impasse so intractable. In 1992 or 1997, a cynical dictatorship could turn the killing machine off and on. But today a democratic electorate frustrated by the lies of fake reformers is sinking into low-level victimisation. Any "explanation" that relies on "ethnic prejudice" or "irrationality" has no chance of solving anything. What is happening is a social war; but as is so often the case, the victims are not the real perpetrators.

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