Uhuru Decides 2013

Conflict In Context - Field Notes

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(A lot about the Land).

Uhuru will remain as president-elect,” says Betty, placing a basin of hot water on the floor. Her next client is badly in need of a pedicure. “The Court is having a recount for ‘the stupid voters’,” she says. “But we people know nothing will change.”

Betty is a Giriama, a tribe from down the coast. She runs a beauty saloon and restaurant in Lamu, a tourist destination offering a plethora of upscale villa rentals, a few good hotels and, for better or for worse, the luxury of empty beaches. Her husband is a cook with a European embassy in south Sudan. Together they make a pretty good living for themselves and to educate their three kids.

The couple is among the majority on the coast who feel the recount is a sham. The High Court is placating the masses to prevent the kind of bloodshed in 2007 after Raila Odinga, a Luo, ran against current incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu – and lost.

The Kikuyu may be the most populous of the nation’s 52 tribes. But in 2007, the majority of  registered voters supported Raila Odinga. So when Kibaki was announced winner, all hell broke loose.  Odinga’s constituents reacted with violence targeting Kikuyus. In some instances attackers blocked roads, pulled them out of matatus (ad hoc mini-vans) and hacked them to death.

The counter-narrative alleges that even before the results were tallied, Uhuru Kenyatta and friends were already planning to mobilize the Mungiki, a latter day Mau Mau cult, to murder anyone challenging Kibaki’s victory.  The International Criminal Court (ICC), has indicted Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes against humanity, claiming it has evidence linking the president-elect to the sect’s leader.

That election dispute left over 1,500 dead. Over 500, 000 remain displaced in the Rift Valley today.

So, on the days immediately following March 9th, when Uhuru Kenyatta was pronounced winner, Kenyans and diplomats with international community breathed a collective sigh of relief. The election process proved a relatively peaceful one.

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Betty’s relatively comfortable lifestyle does little to ease the pain of recalling how her father fought, suffered and eventually lost their ancestral plot in the town of Malindi. As she tells it, when she was small a group of Kikuyu arrived at their house with a bulldozer and told them they had 24 hours to leave. Betty’s father was luckier than most since he had other – albeit less desirable – plots to move the family to.

Jomo Kenyatta had created settlement schemes on behalf of landless Kenyans. The blueprint allowed Kenyatta and friends to buy land from the British Colonials on the cheap. Betty’s father didn’t have a legal leg to stand on; to this day the Kenyan government insists the title transfer from to British to Kikuyu hands was, if not wholly moral, perfectly legal.

“My father died of a heart attack trying to get his land back,” says Betty. “He was only 56.”


Resentment toward the Kikuyu is nothing new. Since the installation of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, in 1963, the tribe has enjoyed a dominant role in the nation’s power structure.  A 2011 Forbes article ranked Uhuru among Africa’s richest men partly thanks to his father, who acquired vast swatches of prime acreage the county in the 60s and 70s.

The coast’s mainly Swahili residents fear a turbulent future if Kenyatta become president, especially if the proposed Lamu Port gets a green light. Locals claim that “heavies from Harambi House” (Nairobi’s equivalent of Washington’s Capitol Hill) have been in turn-style fashion grabbing land around the port site.

Seemingly endless human rights violations of coastal residents perpetrated by the ruling elite has led the separate organization, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) to call for Mombasa to secede from the rest of Kenya. Even before authorities blamed the MRC for some violent incidents in Mombasa, the government had already declared the organization illegal.

If the needs and concerns of the locals are not addressed by whoever becomes president, warns a spokesman for Save Lamu, a grass roots environmental organization, the area may eventually become East Africa’s version of the Gaza strip.

Raila Odinga and his Cord party once again alleged “electoral manipulation.” Nairobi‘s High Court accepted a petition filed by Odinga challenging Uhuru’s victory. So far, so good.

On Saturday, the Court will announce whether Kenyans must return to the polls for a run-off election or Uhuru officially becomes Kenya’s fourth president. A Kikuyu friend of mine said if Uhuru stays, Odinga’s more “politically immature” supporters may react violently again. But not for long. Enough police with tear gas and other weapons are on standby to make sure that won’t happen.

Betty is convinced that should Raila win, the Kikuyu will not quietly into the night. “They cannot; they’ve been in power since day one.”

In the end, she says, it really won’t matter who wins anyway.

“Uhuru and Raila are two elites fighting each other for government money. We know they are not fighting for our benefit. The people on the coast will never see any money or title deeds. So, we just want peace and for the tourists to return.”

CORRECTION — I originally reported Kenya as having 142 tribes. I lived in Tanzania for years and confused it with its 124 tribes. Kenya has 52 tribes (and according to a reader 10 are unregistered)

Related articles:  http://byliner.com/margot-kiser/stories/we-were-tortured-in-kenya-s-mau-mau-era-detention-centers


Coast talk

5 thoughts on “Uhuru Decides 2013

  1. Am a Kikuyu from Shella my father came in Shella 1968 no other tribe except the Swahili.Kenya is a tribal country everything is done along ethnic you combine to make a move and that is the truth.In coast u are blaming the Kikuyu for Nothing the Highest land holder in coast is Ali Mazurui, Swalehe Guru, Uhuru, TSS and the son of Moi Philip.You mean election would be fare when Raila winners i don’t think so We have the best Court ever I don’t think Uhuru stall 0.8 million the gap between him and Raila.Raila want the Re-election so that he can remain in power and they can drag the whole process if the court rules against Uhuru i tell u we shall have the election next year, but leave to the court.The mrc cant solve the coast problems even if the government of Kenya hand coast to mrc more poverty.Al Shababu started the same way oh fighting for our people. We need to be in a country where we have the constitution in place for your information we have the best constitution in the World if implemented so let go to court now.Enough of bl-ems Remember this is a new system every county with a house unfortunate lamu has a deputy speaker and others who are not educated to interpretation of the constitution that bad for development.Lamu we have new a port How will the house protect the Lamu environment under this unlearned people this will cost as very big let not blame the tribe.

    1. PS – thanks for your thoughts, Elias.
      How can the constitution protect those marginalized if as you admit the country runs along ethnic lines?
      re Lamu Port – which ‘unlearned people’ are you referring to? Local residents seem to be doing a pretty good job caring for it thus far.
      The big concern is the gov destroying the environment piecemeal (clearing mangrove forests, dynamiting coral reefs and dredging) during construction and then abandoning the project altogether.
      Are there measures to protect the environment and will the new government implement it? Progress is a good thing if it’s done responsibly and not at the coast of the environment which hauls in the tourists to the area.
      Progress at any cost is not peculiar to Kenya; it’s global. Destruction for naught a crying shame.

  2. Actually the received wisdom is *42* tribes in Kenya, and there are dozens of other ethnic groupings. But the definition of tribe is problematic.

    As for Lamu Port, it’s just a white elephant fantasy project, part of the “Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor”, which has no future at all unless some very major funding comes in to link Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia and give it some reason for existing. It’s a pipe dream, and should remain so in my view, while so much urgent infrastructural work needs to be done in Kenya. The unfinished feasibility project alone has cost Kenyan tax payers millions of dollars, much of which is comfortably tucked back in Kenyan bank accounts it would seem. My blog post about it at http://theroughguidetokenya.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/lamu-port-corridor-fraud-or-fantasy.html has a wide range of comments. I don’t think much physical work has yet been done there.

    1. Agh! Richard, sorry, only saw first line of your comment relating to tribe count and thought that was it.
      Agree with your assessment of port as pipe dream. Certainly is so far. Have you read anything recently about SS having made a deal to export oil directly to Eth as well as out of port in Sudan? Will find link and post if you haven’t yet seen. Also check out the Enviro Impact Assessment which is published on Save Lamu FB group page.
      Will dig into your blog in meantime.
      Thank you

  3. The country is in Ethic groups that many people don’t want to say or hear but that is the truth. The Kenya constitution proved the county leadership which you can tell Most are in ethic group or marginalized, so it’s upon the elected leaders to help the county. Lamu county assemble has many unlearned members starting with the deputy speaker among others, in the whole country, that will be a hard task for them to do the interpretation of the constitution and make rules for the county to protect the marginalized and the environment in Lamu. The leader’s dints protect the port construction in the first place so it’s hard to trust them any way. Port issue is out of our hands The Rich have took the control.But we can do something i believe, the locals residents have tried but in vain.

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