Majimbo! may get you soon

Nairobi – Kenya : Since the crack down on the Mungiki sect at the end of June, 458 bodies of people shot dead by the Police have been brought to the city’s morgues. The police say they are all Mungiki gang members.

According to the press, hundreds more bodies have been thrown in the forests around Nairobi for the animals to eat or in the river for the crocodiles.

Mister X, a Kenyan who has a job as a driver for one of the European missions, says two of his cousins were shot dead in July because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He says the police listed them as Mungiki gang members. “They were not gang members,” he says. “They just got caught in the crossfire.”

The Police have been given orders to shoot-to-kill in their operations in the slums. Mungiki has been cutting off heads and other body parts of all those who don’t pay protection money or are suspected of denouncing them. Unlike the police, Mungiki don’t hide their victims.

One might think that this police crack down would be the main theme of the general election campaign now in full swing. This is not the case. Although Kenyans pride themselves on being a peaceful country, the number of dead in all forms of violence around the country (cattle rustling, land grabbing, tribal rivalry, Mungiki etc.) seems to indicate the opposite.

Nor is the question of the great disparity in the distribution of wealth at the center of the campaign. Most of the money in Kenya, a wealthy country with 6.5% economic growth, is in the hands of a very small number of people, and most of them either in government for the past thirty years or close friends to those in power. Sixteen-and-a-half million Kenyans live on under one dollar a day.

The incumbent, President Kabaki, who was in the preceding governments he denounced for corruption, has yet to make his wealth known as have his two main rivals. Elected on a clean-hands program, he has ordered many investigations over the past five years but no charges have ever been filed. Kabaki now even has the support of former President Arap Moi, one of the richest men in Kenya and the man he denounced for running a corrupt government (a government Kabaki served in as senior minister).

Moi, like many other very wealthy Kenyans, whose money and land comes from nebulous sources, is afraid of the lead in the polls enjoyed by Raila Odinga, a demagogue with a Marxist slant.

But it is Odinga who set the agenda for political debate in the country: Majimbo. Although nobody can say exactly what they mean by this system of Federalism, which would mean changing the constitution to decentralize government, everybody has taken a position for or against it. And Odinga has reduced all the countries woos to Majimbo. Youth unemployment? Majimbo! Corruption? Majimbo! Land distribution? Majimbo!

In a country with 42 recognized ethnic groups and a 43rd category known as ‘other’, and where the central Kikuyo have traditionally ruled to the disadvantage of everybody else, one might think more local government would be better. But Majimbo in any form could and probably will lead to the worst forms of tribalism and this in turn will lead to violence.

Local officials will run their fiefs like tribal chiefs (if they are not already one in the same). People who lost their lands in the corrupt land distributions of the past will come back to get what they think is theirs. (The big problem in Kenya is the absence of deeds or ownership papers for much of the property).

In other words, what may not be a very peaceful Kenya but is a very stable Kenya could easily follow its neighbors, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and DRC into a spiral of ethnic conflict if Majimbo is enforced.

Odinga is also a favorite among the youth because he is promising more state created jobs in the civil service. Kabaki insisted on private entrepreneurs and wanted to get Kenyans working.

All small businessmen and middle strata employees expressed support for kabaki. “Work more to earn more” as Sarkozy would say.

Our driver mentioned above is one of those people. He has two acres of land an hour and a half North of Nairobi. “I have two cows and sell the milk,” he says proudly. “And I have 300 coffee trees.”

Mister X, his wife and four children are doing very well by Kenyan standards. He drives home to his family every week end in his 1972 Datsun sedan. Despite the loss of his two cousins, Kabaki has his support. Unfortunately for kabaki, such Kenyan success stories are few and far between.