‘NO’ for Violence in Kenya

‘NO’ for Violence in Kenya

Criminal politicians and an old dictator support NO rallies in Kenya.
There’s going to be trouble in Kenya on August 4 and for a few days afterwards, but not as serious as in 2007. Continue on safari, but be vigilant.

A week from Wednesday Kenyans go to the polls for the first time since the violent election of December, 2007. This time they aren’t electing anyone. They’re deciding either YES or NO to a proposed new constitution.

But this time, unlike last time, modern Kenyans and their astute politicians are taking extraordinary preparations to keep peace.

A special commission has been set up by the government to monitor the country’s temperature in the run-up to the referendum.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has been active, independent and very useful. They’re also a little bit worried.

Commission member Alice Nderitu yesterday said that the “threat of violence is real.” But she hastened to add, “It’s tense but manageable.”

And this time the Kenyan government is buoyed by a Coalition of the World that includes the U.S., the UN and a beautifully created internal Kenyan coalition called “Uwaino.”

The phrase in Swahili used mostly in cooking roughly means blending together, or combining diverse components into something sweet and good.

But the main function of the new organization is to allow Kenyans from around the country to anonymously text any indications of election violence brewing.

Based on nearly 5,000 messages received this weekend, the coalition identified certain areas of the country where tempers are rising.

Those areas are in the west and north, pretty far away from Nairobi and not near any popular tourist areas.

Western and northwestern Kenya are analogous to America’s deep south. Divided ethnically from the rest of Kenya in a similar way that southerners felt disenfranchised from American power centers in the last century, western Kenyans are fearful that their rural, less worldly lifeways will be oppressed by the heavy hand of modern Kenya.

Less educated and less likely to enjoy the benefits of a modern Kenya, people living in places like Kisumu, Kericho up to Eldoret are being ginned up by old leaders like the former President Daniel arap Moi.

Moi, who barely escaped a national tribunal that was going to charge him with a multitude of crimes during his 21-year dictatorship, has been holding NO rallies and focusing on really very small parts of the new constitution that are hot button issues to a less educated electorate.

Abortion and roads, in particular. The new constitution explicitly allows abortion in cases where the mother’s health is in jeopardy (it goes no further; that will be up to subsequent legislatures). And the devolution of power reducing the new President’s powers means that a guy like Moi can’t come in and direct that all new road building be around his home town.

Like at home in America where the real issue (growing health care costs) get subverted by sound-bite absurdities (death panels), Moi is telling his constituents they won’t get any new roads and there will be none to travel to heaven, either.

Ah, democracy by sound-bite.

Uwiano has also identified causes as well. A number of text messages received last weekend identified a little known hate radio broadcast linked to two Members of Parliament, Kiema Kilonzo and Waweru Mburu, both of whom are likely to lose their jobs in a restructured electoral map under the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the government has hired an additional 15,000 national police (who aren’t always themselves the best peacemakers, by the way) and deployed them into areas expecting trouble.

And the U.S. has spent some serious diplomatic capital in this referendum. Vice President Joe Biden was in town last week promoting a “peaceful vote” and the very active U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has if not crossed the line of neutrality come really close in supporting the YES campaign.

All polling shows the YES will take the day pretty easily. Even the powerful Christian church alliance, which had campaigned for a NO vote, this weekend started to break apart with some very respected clerics coming out full swing for YES.

And notably, the only political leaders supporting the NO vote are those who we now think were responsible for the last round of violence, and who are likely to be prosecuted by the World Court for those crimes. (Education Minister, William Ruto, leads the pack.)

These are powerful men back in their rural constituencies. The fact that Moi is even free is an indication of the power he still wields.

So I doubt this is going to go over as quietly as an election for a Chicago mayor. But I don’t think it will be very disruptive, either.