Political Violence of 2007-2008:
In Kenya, voting is a process where one’s political alliances are often tied to one’s ethnic origins. The 2007 Kenyan federal elections erupted in mass violence and civil unrest as a result of the close relationship between politics and ethnicity.
|Name of Presidential Candidate||Political Party||Ethnic Background|
|Mwai Kibaki||Party of National Unity||Kikuyu|
|Raila Odinga||Orange Democratic Movement||Luo|
When Mwai Kibaki was announced as the winner of the federal election on December 30th, 2007, there were immediate suspicions about the legitimacy of the win. Beliefs that Kibaki rigged the election started to circulate throughout Kenya, and bitterness towards the Kikuyu and their perceived ethnic stronghold over Kenya became apparent. Raila Odinga publically rejected the results of the federal election, furthering the bitterness and tension between the Kikuyu and Luo peoples.
On January 1st, 2008, in the town of Eldoret, thirty Kikuyu women and children were burned alive in a church. This violent act of protest against the Kikuyu peoples set off a chain reaction of violence across the nation, namely between the Luo and Kikuyu peoples.
Geographically speaking, the violence in Nairobi and, more specifically, Kibera was the most brutal. In rural areas and smaller towns, the ethnicities of the people are relatively homogenous, meaning ethnic clashes are not as likely to occur. On the other hand, urban centers like Nairobi are defined by commerce and job potential rather than ethnicity, meaning there is a wide mix of ethnic groups.
In Kibera, there is a large population of Luo residents while the property owners are mainly Kikuyu. This ethic power relationship of landlord (Kikuyu) and tenant (Luo) was violently played out as Kikuyu property started to be destroyed in an act of protest. Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shephard interviewed a Kikuyu women named Wanjiru who was robbed and had her house burned down by Luo protestors. Wanjiru said that, “Before they took my money they said, ‘The Kikuyus have stolen the vote from us. How will you protect yourself?’”
The example above highlights how the 2007 election was not seen as a political rivalry between the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement, but an ethnic rivalry between the Kikuyu’s and the Luo’s.
The ethnic violence continued to wage throughout the nation and by January 22nd, 2008, 650 people had already been killed and 250,000 had been displaced from their homes.
The violence throughout Kenya continued until a solution was formed on February 28th, 2008, which was ultimately a compromise between Odinga and Kibaki to share leadership and power. The presidential position was appointed to Kibaki, but a prime minister position was created and appointed to Odinga. In the time it took to make this compromise, it was estimated that over 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced from their homes.
Since this compromise, Kenyan politics have stabilized and the federal election of March 2013 was carried out relatively peacefully and orderly.
Nonetheless, Kenyan democratic elections have proven to be a struggle for this nation since independence and some have argued this is one of the negative results of colonization in Kenya. Although democracy is thought to be the most effective form of government by European colonizers, this governmental process was thrust upon Kenya and its people. As a result, the democratic process has become undeniably intertwined with ethnicity and identity. But all hope is not lost … The general success of the 2013 federal election shows that the political process can evolve and change and African politics are not destined to be synonymous with ethnic violence.
The challenge in this section was to write about a horrific, terrible act through the eyes of someone who had witnessed it. This church fire happened. It was one of the most egregious acts of violence in a sea of violence. As in my story, some people did get out through the back doors just seconds before the church was surrounded and set on fire.
Before I began teaching and writing, I was a social worker, something I continued to practice part-time in conjunction with my other professions. I worked for Children’s Aid Societies, in a treatment centre, and in private practice. For 18 years, I also worked part-time in the emergency department of a community hospital. It was my job to interview people, to hear about the tragedies that had brought them to our hospital.
Often these stories were told with gripping emotion through tears and body-wrenching sobs. Sometimes they were told in a very detached manner. It wasn’t that these people weren’t devastated but that they were suffering so deeply that they became detached from the experience they had just been through. They needed to be detached in order to survive emotionally what they had survived physically. It was a defense, a way of coping, and often the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I chose to have Muchoki tell his story in this manner to both present the information to the reader, to facilitate the story and let you know of his history, but also because I was greatly influenced by the first interview we taped—the man who had been burned out his home four times. I wanted Muchoki to tell the story with the same tone and clarity, but with a sense of detachment.
It was personally hard for me to come to grips with what had happened in 2007-08. I had come to love Kenya. I always felt so welcome, so moved by the kindness of the people. How could any of this possibly have taken place? It was these questions that propelled me to do the research and to tell this story. This novel was created so I could gain some measure of understanding, and perhaps even more, to provide some closure for me.
It’s important to realize that this is real—over 1,500 people were murdered; tens of thousands were burned out of their homes and over 200,000 people fled in fear of their lives. Violence was done by one group against another purely based on tribal/linguistic lines and that these acts of violence were precipitated by all groups.
It’s also important to remember that throughout the country people chose to help each other. They reached across ethnic divides to offer comfort, support, and protection and did not participate in the violence. Good people did step forward to help quell the violence that engulfed and shocked this country.