05 March 2013

Kenya: Moving Past the Tribal Politics Story

By now, millions of Kenyans have completed voting for their next president – some of them having done so at personal risk or after waiting hours in long lines.

Kenyans know already how important it is that this election, unlike the one in 2007, go well. Unfortunately, it’s not as widely recognized outside Kenya why this election is of global significance.

US Media Tells Only Part of the Picture

The most casual observers are well aware of the violence that followed the 2007 presidential elections. It matters, but the reasons are not being explained well. Violence is the story that leads just about any coverage about Kenya’s election. (Here’s a sarcastic ‘report’ by a Kenya newspaper, the Daily Nation, of foreign journalists preparing to mount their own attacks on each other in order to have stories of violence….)

Mentions of machetes are all but required and the cause is boiled town to tribalism. Recent fighting in areas like Turkana in the north and the Tana River region near the cost are held up as examples of what may come. This map documents the fighting that has been documented in Kenya by the UN since last January.

The problems in the most disputed regions have less to do with the elections themselves than with the lack of an adequate solution to mediate claims between different groups over land and resources. Just because there was fighting along tribal lines after the 2007 election and there is tribal fighting in parts of Kenya does not mean that the two are related, let alone drive entirely by tribalism. Some of the problems that contributed to the post-election violence in 2007 have yet to be resolved. By most accounts corruption, especially rampant petty corruption by police, persists. Furthermore, the very leaders who are running for office are facing criminal trials at the International Criminal Court.