Affairs

Diplomacy

Politics, protests and pop music— Nairobi

Preface

Kenya is welcoming a procession of international visitors this month that indicate both the depths it has fallen to and the heights it could once again reach.

Kenya, International relations, Politics, Pop music, Protest

11 October 2009

Kenya is welcoming a procession of international visitors this month that indicate both the depths it has fallen to and the heights it could once again reach.

Kofi Annan arrived at the start of the month to gently remind Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, and prime minister, Raila Odinga, that they still haven’t reformed Kenya’s constitution, electoral system or land disputes.

As Annan left, Wyclef Jean and Akon swept in for last Saturday’s MTV Africa Music Awards, a glitzy event which saw Kenyan artists, Nameless and Amani win two of the top awards.

Bumping into the hip-hop stars on their way out will be Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who is expected in Nairobi later this week. The Argentine has begun investigating the post-election protests, which killed around 1,300 people in early 2008. Several prominent politicians, including cabinet ministers, are believed to be on his hit-list, accused of financing and orchestrating the violence.

Attempts to establish a local tribunal to try the perpetrators failed after parliament, itself filled with people accused of organising violence, rejected it. Reconciliation efforts in the Rift Valley, the scene of the worst of the troubles, have also been unsuccessful. Thousands of those forced out of their homes still do not believe it is safe enough to return. As Annan arrived last week there were fresh reports that Kikuyu and Kalenjin militias in the Rift were rearming – this time with machine guns and Kalashnikovs rather than machetes and bows and arrows.

With Kibaki constitutionally obliged to step down at the next election in 2012 the jostling to become his successor has begun in earnest. Coalitions are being built between rival politicians but they are not based on ideology. There is no left and right in Kenyan politics, no conservative and liberal. Instead the only thing that politicians use to unite and divide is tribe. The question which Kenyan politicians ask each other is, “How many of ‘your’ people can you deliver to the polls?”

Kenyan citizens, particularly those that have grown up in the multi-ethnic Nairobi, increasingly reject this way of doing politics but so far no new leaders have broken through.

The country desperately needs something to change. It is in the midst of a food and water crisis, partly brought on by East Africa’s worst drought in a decade and exacerbated by corruption and mismanagement. A dozen senior officials in the agriculture ministry were fired earlier this year for selling maize reserves. The board of Nairobi Water was sacked for diverting water away from the city and selling it elsewhere.

Anecdotal evidence suggests crime is increasing although as no reliable figures are kept it is impossible to know for sure. With police unwilling or unable to protect civilians, self-defence groups are springing up in slums and villages.

Kenya may have a burgeoning local cultural scene that is able to attract international music stars. But as the editorial in yesterday’s Sunday Nation warned, there are “troubling signs of a nation that is quietly heading towards disintegration”.

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