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Sat. December 15, 2018
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IA-Forum Interview: Assistant Prof. Jacqueline Klopp
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International Affairs Forum: The December 2007 Presidential elections in Kenya have widely been condemned as “not credible”. Given the strong evidence discrediting the results, which confirmed Mr. Kibaki as the winner by a margin of 230,000 votes, what implications does this election have for the prospects of democracy in Kenya? Assistant Prof. Jacqueline Klopp: We’re all disappointed that the elections didn’t go better and that the institutions that we hoped would have been fair were corrupted, like the Electoral Commission of Kenya. The whole democratization process is a long-term project and there will be setbacks. This is a crisis point but it’s not unusual in Kenya. There has been a lot of violence around elections in the 1990s, 2002 was an exception, so looking to the long-term, Kenya started with a very repressive government, had a dramatic struggle in the 1980s and 90s and in recent times Kenya made tremendous progress but obviously not enough, or fast enough. This crisis moment also provides some opportunity for thinking about constitutional reform, which is part of the current negotiations with Kofi Annan. One of the things that is very disturbing is the orchestration of violence, even by people involved in the current negotiations; this is creating deeper problems in Kenya’s society, regardless of who will be elected next. To me, this is a deep setback; with well over 1000 dead, hundreds of thousands of people displaced, the country has Balkanized in a very serious way. The violence wasn’t preordained, you could have had electoral manipulation without the violence, but the fact that politicians turned to violence, the formation of militias along ethnic lines, is a very deep setback. IA-Forum: Do you think it is possible that violence and frustration could evolve into political fatigue and disillusionment with the political system? If fear for one’s life is the price they must pay to vote, will ordinary Kenyans be willing to go to the polls in the future? Klopp: I think there’s a tremendous amount of cynicism and disdain and a leadership vacuum. The goodwill Mr. Kibaki had going into the election-many people really believed he was moving toward an institutionalization of some reforms and change- was lost and now people are seeing him differently. On the other side, people who were hopeful that the ODM was an agent of reform are also rethinking this, especially in places like Eldoret, where ethnic militias are linked to ODM politicians. There are equivalents on the other side. People are deeply distraught about their political system. I don’t think that means, though, that if there is a re-run, people won’t go out and vote. Hopefully in that process there will be some good choices and many people will feel more compelled to vote for different reasons. However, the violence has reinforced the polarized dynamic of the past election. In the Kikuyu electorate, for example, some experienced persecution and hatred in parts of the Rift Valley and will vote for whoever can protect them, rather than for issues. And because of counter-violence and electoral fraud, many on the opposition side will feel, even more so, the need to vote for somebody who will protect them, so voting is an even higher stakes game. People will vote, but the problem is they’ll probably also continue to vote in a polarized way. IA-Forum: Opposition leader Raila Odinga, of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), responded to the election results by demanding a new election, and the establishment of a transitional administration. Though the establishment of a new government may satisfy the opposition, will it be enough to end the violence, which has ravaged the nation? Klopp: No, it won’t be enough to end the violence and it’s a mistake if anyone thinks that after negotiations in Nairobi, a power-sharing agreement will stop all the violence. There are very deep divisions, very deep transitional justice issues and also a culture of violence because there has been a lot of impunity for people who organize violence, at all different levels of the government and in the opposition. Also, with the internal displacement, you have new groups of dispossessed and traumatized youth who are potential recruits for new cycles of violence. The reports I’m getting from places like the Rift Valley, suggest that there is almost a civil-war-like dynamic in that part of the country. So even if an agreement takes place there is going to be a lot of work to demobilize militias and to calm people down. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to end the violence and then get at some of the root causes. The use of violence for political purposes is becoming a normal part of Kenyan politics. IA-Forum: Will a power-sharing agreement, mediated by Kofi Annan, effectively diffuse the situation? Klopp: The danger of the negotiations is that once both sides agree to a power-sharing agreement-and this has happened in the past- these issues of transitional justice and impunity are swept under the rug. And here the danger too, is that both sides are culpable of atrocities and violence so they have a mutual interest in sweeping those issues under the rug yet again. There is a danger that if a pact were to materialize and some of these considerations are not dealt with, we are going to have a very big problem as soon as the next election. IA-Forum: Although Kenya has experienced economic growth under Mr. Kibaki’s regime, the persistence of patron-client relations has concentrated wealth in the hands of few. What social and economic impacts will violence have within Kenya and the entire region? Klopp: I think the regional impact is already being felt, it’s a large impact. Kenya has been used as a United Nations hub for all relief operations in places like Somalia, Southern Sudan, and some of those operations have been disrupted. In terms of economics, a negative spin-off is the fuel crisis in Uganda. Commerce in the whole region has been disrupted because for quite a while the roads were blocked, and goods were not moving. If Kenya doesn’t improve, there is still a possibility the UN will have to think about the option of moving to Tanzania, one of the last remaining stable states. There is also the need for more resources that are already stretched thin. There is likely to be a famine in Kenya as the supply chains for agricultural inputs are disrupted and people are unable to plant. So there is a need for famine relief and as the conflict continues there is a huge strain on the whole region, which is already fragile and in need of humanitarian assistance. Kenya’s humanitarian crisis, with some 600 000 internally displaced people, added to the displaced from previous years, aggravates the deep problems in the region. IA-Forum: Land has long been a contentious issue in Kenyan politics. Where does it fit into this political crisis? Klopp: Contestation over access to land has always been fundamental to Kenyan politics, and it does play fundamentally into this crisis in the sense that the Kibaki government moved very slowly on issues of land inequality and corruption. On the opposition side they’ve been presenting themselves as in favor of land reform, and that they were going to right some historical wrongs, including, for example, that the first President of Kenya, Kenyatta and his cronies accumulated large tracts of land. Through this kind of corrupt politics, various politicians have gained access to land in the Rift Valley and then sold it off in settlement schemes to many Kikuyu but also to people from all over the country. There was this idea that the opposition was finally going to deal with issues. Many ODM politicians though, like their government counter-parts, are implicated in corrupt land deals themselves and in mobilizing for violent “solutions” to these problems. I don’t think you can blame the Kibaki government for the deep land inequalities. You can blame Kibaki for not doing enough, although his government did formulate a new national land policy. Deep inequalities come from the colonial period, when white settlers got large tracts of land, and the two succeeding presidents who were involved in large amounts of land grabbing compared to what happened in Kibaki’s relatively short five years. I think it would be unfair to say that the Kibaki government really deepened land inequalities in this short period of time. They did have new national land policies that were an improvement. IA-Forum: There is palpable dissatisfaction among Kenya’s youth, toward political elite that is dominated by veterans from the independence struggle. Do you think there is a possibility of a generational revolution that transcends ethnicity? Klopp: The youth is divided, sadly. There are progressive actors, who conceive of politics differently and there is a type of generational gap with young people having much higher expectations of their political system, But at the same time you have enormously high unemployment rates and deep poverty- the Kenyan poverty rate is very high-, approximately 58% live under the poverty line- with those kind of conditions, even then you have incredibly progressive poor youth who mobilize for development and human rights, you get youth who are susceptible to accepting payment to burn houses and attack people. Before the election, there was a campaign against violence, which obviously failed, and there were youth meetings, one of which I attended in Nairobi, where there was lively discussion about preventing youth from being manipulated by politicians for money, and channeling them into constructive activities. So I don’t think you can make easy generalizations. We can definitely say there is generational change and different expectations but as in most cases, there are different mobilizations, some progressive and some not. Many who are trying to change things are asking for help now to build youth centers where you challenge youth to put their energies into constructive things. IA-Forum: Do you think this conflict will entrench ethnic divisions in areas in which different ethnic groups have historically lived peacefully alongside each other? For example, in Kenya’s Kibera slum, Kikuyu and Luo have lived as one community. Will this sort of peaceful co-existence be possible in the future? Klopp: It has to possible. It is possible. There is a tremendous interdependence of people in the slums, so there is hope. The silver lining to the violence is that people have recognized the gravity of the problem, which wasn’t happening before. So hopefully a lot of the activities I’m seeing around reconstruction and, peace building will bear fruit. What typically happens after the violence dies down is reflection and discussion about the ways Kenyans need each other. In some parts of the country this is going to be very hard. Whether people are ever going to go back to those places in large numbers- is unclear. I think it’s possible and I think it can happen, but it’s going to take a lot of effort. IA-Forum: Both sides of the political divide have been perpetrators of violence. Kalenjin, who supported Mr. Odinga in the prelude to the December elections have attacked Kikuyu, whom they deemed supporters of Mr. Kibaki, while Kikuyu have perpetuated the violence in an attempt to achieve retribution. What does the nature of the violence indicate about the political system in Kenya? Do you think this is a case where strongmen politics prevails? Klopp: Well if you have high level people in both of the factions that will share power, who are implicated, there is going to be just as strong an interest to say, “we’re not going to go there”. The Kenyan political class is very good at using, or misusing their constituents, mobilizing on ethnic lines, using violence and then switching their alliance when necessary, leaving a lot of unsolved deep problems. The opposition government is a very fluid political class. Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga have tried to share power before, they’ve been allies and then on opposite sides. The tragedy is that they aren’t representing real platforms, just their interests. They’re really fighting over power among themselves so sadly, unless there is concerted effort by new politicians and civil society, with trans-national support, strongmen politics will prevail and could tear the country apart. IA-Forum: How should justice be pursued so that the horrific killings of the past few months do not become just dark memories of the past, liable to be repeated yet again? Klopp: This time there really needs to be not just an investigation into the violence, which has happened before, there needs to be multiple investigations into the violence and a serious push for prosecution, which may have to be at an international level, because otherwise we go back to the impunity and there’s strong incentive to keep these militias and use them again in electoral cycle. Secondly, strong intervention at the community level needs to happen, especially with IDPs and youth who have been involved in militias-They need to be part of dialogues about what happened, to have a truth and justice reconciliation process that is community-based, not something top-down. There needs to be a concerted effort to engage youth in productive activities. There needs to be strong policy toward the internally displaced because they are the victims of violence and sadly IDP camps can become recruiting grounds for violence even though typically internally displaced people are swept under the rug and forgotten, so that needs to be at the centre. In terms of the government, there needs to be serious reform of the police, the courts, land administration, the electoral commission and a reduction of presidential power. There also needs to be a new curriculum, where cultural differences are explained and tolerance is advocated. Jacqueline Klopp is an Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs and is the interim Director of the Program in Economic and Political Development at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. 2002-2008

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