Beyond Mwai Kibaki and Coalition Politics in Kenya
By Prof. Maurice Amutabi, Ph.D
Many Kenyans are still suffering from Post Traumatic Politics Disorder (PTPD) and for good reasons, two years after the event. They are stressed out due to a bloated coalition cabinet that continues to suffocate them by milking them out of every cent. They are nervous because they have to shoulder the burden of huge salaries which are paid to Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga’s cabinet and they are not happy about it because corruption is on the rise. Many ministries have already been implicated in massive corruption scandals. The Ministry of Energy was involved in an oil scandal in which Kenyans lost billions of shillings. The Ministry of Education lost millions in a scandal involving false accounting for donor money meant for the free primary education program, with over 100 million ‘spent’ on false workshops. The Ministry of Agriculture was involved in massive grain theft, most of which was sold to the Sudan. The Ministry of Internal Security is under scrutiny due to massive cache of arms recovered in Narok and believed to have been taken out of the armory of Administration Police in Embakasi, Nairobi, with much of the ammunition recovered having come from the government-run munitions factory in Eldoret. This is amidst emerging information that the AP force was involved in rigging the 2007 elections. The Ministry of Local Government was involved in a scandalous acquisition of cemetery for Nairobi, to replace the old Langata cemeretry, in which conmen colluding with government officials shared 230 million to buy a plot that was valued at only 24 million.
The major problem facing Kenya now is the unsolved land question. Kenya has many squatters and landless people, who need land urgently. The post election violence has produced about 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) many of whom still remain in camps throughout the country. There is also the recent evacuation of illegal settlers in the Mau forest which has created another set of IDS. Kenya should not have land problems. The problem is that less than 5% of Kenyans own almost 60 percent of the arable land, led by the Kenyatta and Moi families. The other problem is that Kenya has 27 national parks (the largest number for any single country in the world), has unnecessarily large herds of wild animals. Does Kenya really need 60,000 elephants to get tourists (for South Africa has only 30,000 and is now the leading tourist destination in Africa South of the Sahara) roaming on land that could be useful to peasants? Parks occupy about 28% of land in Kenya and the number of landless is rising, for a country where 80% of the population has focus on land. Many observers think that Kenya does not need many national parks. Others feel that Kenya should not suffering food shortages with the water resources from Tana River, Yala, Nzoia, Sondu Miriu and other rivers. The waters from the Tana alone are enough to irrigate the entire North-Eastern Province,a and yet this has never been part of the government plan. There are no plans to rent out part of the land in Kenya to Gulf States in exchange for oil. If all land was put under cultivation or some use, Kenya would not have food shortages. The problem has been that most of the arable land has been taken over by few individuals who are hoarding it, while the rest is occupied by multinational corporations such as Unilever, Brooke Bond, Del Monte, Sasini, etc. Multinationals corporations have focused their energies on cash crops like coffee, tea and sugarcane, and now floriculture. Food crops have taken a backseat. Maize growing areas have been taken over and placed under cash crops like coffee, tea and sugarcane, leading to increasing food shortages.
Food prices are going up every day and inflation stands at 24 per cent by April 10, 2010. For the first time in 25 years, the minimum wage has not been raised by the President on May Day (May 1) in his presidential speech in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 the May Day crowd heckled the president and walked out on him. If Zimbabwe had not caught fire when Kenya was just smoldering, some of the events that have taken place in Kenya would have reached the media houses in the North – but since Robert Mugabe is now a bigger monster than Mwai Kibaki, the stories from Kenya have thinned down. Even NPR’s reporter Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, and BBC and VOA reporters have moved from our neck of the woods to Johannesburg. I am digressing.
In 2008, many Kenyans thought that the grand coalition would address urgent issues quickly – resettlement of IDPs (internally displaced persons) and re-evaluation of land policies to allow for settlement of squatters on some of the land that is hoarded by the rich for mere speculative purposes, or tax the unused land and pay the landless welfare. This might make Daniel Moi to sell his 250,000 hectares in Rumuruti to the government or some other landless Kenyans instead of paying tax on it. It might make the Kenyatta family to sell part of their land that lies between Ngata and Makutano – when we were kids it was protected by the Kenya police and has never been farmed or developed, except the colonial farm houses abandoned by departing mzungus (white settlers) . Buses take almost two hours to run the full course of the stretch of the land owned by the Kenyatta family – and except a new power station depot, I have not seen any new developments on that Kenyatta family land. Perhaps Kenya requires a land revolution – and not political revolution, for after four abortive attempts in 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007 the political route ain’t working. For the problems in Kenya revolve around land – people can be reconciled through the Truth and Justice Commission but up and until the land questions are resolved, Kenya will not have peace. The 2008 violence pitied the Kikuyu against the rest, and next time, it might be the Luo or Luyias against the rest. It is all about land, and the sooner this issue is addressed the better, and yet there appears to be no solution in site given that the type of leaders Kenya has lined up to succeed Mwai Kibaki, including his son Jimmy Kibaki, or Kenyatta’s scion Uhuru Kenyatta, will all protect land owners.
The land policy in Kenya is flawed. The policies do not affect only the Kikuyu but every hoi poloi in Kenya who is unfortunate enough not to have a ‘tall’ relative in government. The colonial laws were never changed after independence and Kenyan political elite families like (Jomo) Kenyatta’s and (Daniel) Moi’s took advantage and own too much land. Kenyatta’s family owns more than 25 per cent of the land in Nairobi – most of the land east of Doonholm and Umoja, Embakasi and Komarock and Ruai. The family owns more land in coast province, almost 20 per cent of the coastal strip of the Indian Ocean, and 80 per cent of old Taita-Tavetta district. The family owns thousands of hectares in the Rift Valley especially around Nakuru and Rongai. The current value of the Kenyatta estate is often put at about 2 trillion Kenya shillings. Which means than even if each member of Kenyatta’s immediate family (they are now about 35) were to use 1 million shillings (about $10, 000) per day and each lived to be 70, they would still die as billionaires. The family has been selling the land to developers and smiling all the way to the bank as the rest of Kenyans wallow in grinding poverty.
Moi’s family has also accumulated a lot of land – most of it formerly government-owned land which Moi grabbed during his presidency. Then there is land acquired by Kenyatta’s and Moi’s ministers and cronies from the state – hived from forests and national parks and converted to private use. More recently well-connected and powerful Kenyans have taken formerly government owned lands from Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) at Ngata Ndabibi fa and ADC Jabal and Kenya Forestry Research Institute, among others see (http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/638768/-/view/printVersion/-/x2rc79z/-/index.html )
Millions of acres of land have been acquired by senior servants and politicians to the extent that today much of the land that was used for research and demonstration has been grabbed. Peasants and the hoi poloi are aware of this grand theft and helpless about it, hence their hope in the ballot, which did not work. The peasants see the same old political names being recycled. And now, there is talk that Uhuru Kenyatta, Gedion Moi and then Jimmy Kibaki want to become presidents. The legislation on the maximum land a family should own (proposed at 50,000 hectares and which I still think is too much land per family) might never succeed with these type of names being recycled in Kenya’s political dispensation. That is the reason why in the past, the constitutional amendments have been built in large part around the protection of the interests of these fat cats and their descendants. It is the reason they have come out fighting against the new proposed constitution, led by former President Daniel Moi who has vowed to vote no.
One of the worrying trends of Kenya’s political scene is that the sins of politicians are spreading to the civil service and the courts so that the rule of law is becoming more and more miasmic. The civil service cannot be relied upon either – for it has served only as a recruitment center to join the ‘eating chiefs.’ Appointment of Permanent Secretaries has been suspect, based on patronage. Some PSs have been retained even after reaching the mandatory requirement age of 55, and at least two of them are over 70). Among those who have attained retirement age and were retained by Mwai Kibaki were the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura (oldest), Prof Karega Mutahi (Education – since been suspended from corruption allegations), Patrick Nyoike (Energy), and heads of key parastatals and financial institutions. But that is not what is causing PTPD in Kenya. What is bothering many is the fear that they are likely to have the same faces in future given the list of the emerging list of those who are declaring to run for presidency in 2012, even before the ambers from the fire generated in the last election have cooled down. The courts are doing their own purge, dismissing colleagues they think are tainted, but nobody is buying their self-cleansing, for it has all the marks of one group having the rivals for lunch, when the other planned to have it for dinner, that is, it depends on who strikes first and not about who is right or transparent and accountable! They are all rotten eggs.
Two ministers in Mwai Kibaki’s PNU side of the cabinet – Uhuru Kenyatta and George Saitoti, – have announced that they will run for president in 2012. Martha Karua a former minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs is also in the hunt. Uhuru Kenyatta handles Finance Ministry and George Saitoti heads the Internal Security portfolio. Many people would not have a huge problem with these three even if it were not lost to observers that the three are Kikuyu. The problem is that Uhuru Kenyatta was born with a golden spoon in his hand and does not know the problems of the poor. He will not advocate for any changes that will threaten the status quo and yet he was re-elected, largely as a result of buying off his opponents. Those who rose up to challenge him were simply called to meetings and came out talking unity – ‘for the sake of unity and develoopment, I have decided to reconsider my candidacy of running against Uhuru Kenyatta’, a trend that is worrying many Kenyans. Uhuru Kenyatta will not change the land policy in Kenya and on which future peace is predicated. His name has also been linked to the nefarious Mungiki movement, a gang of hoodlums that has killed and maimed thousands on behalf of some politicians. It is a gang for hire.
For Prof. George Saitoti, the rags to riches story can be aptly applied to him. In 1984 Prof. Saitoti was driving a beaten up old Volkswagen beetle. But his fortunes changed when the mathematics professor was plucked out of the lecture halls of the University of Nairobi by then president Daniel Moi, nominated to parliament and made a minister of Finance. Few years later 58 billion shillings disappeared from the Ministry/Treasury through the Goldenberg theft or ‘pen heist’ as the scandal was described. Although Kamlesh Patni was blamed for the ‘pen heist’, Prof. Saitoti came out of the ‘pen heist’ as a billionaire. Of course he has come out strongly denying any wrongdoing, like all politicians do. It is believed that Saitoti financed Mwai Kibaki’s party in the last elections – and has recently been seen next to the President, as president in waiting. He cannot bring about any fundamental changes due to the fact that his rating on transparency and accountability is below zero. Then there is Martha Karua, whom many Kenyans think should be at The Hague now, standing trial against humanity for the inflammatory statements she kept issuing in defense of the rigged elections, which only helped to fan he violence. She has suddenly become very rich having joined the ‘boys’ at what they do best, and cannot be relied upon as a change agent. Then there is Jimmy Kibaki…wait for it. He has founded Simama Kenya, a club similar to Youth for KANU (YK 92) created in 1992 to fight against the opposition. The YK 92 grouping is increasingly remerging as part of the forces fighting against a new constitution and for many reasons. Let us go back to Simama Kenya and Jimmy Kibaki.
Kenyans have increasingly been seeing President Mwai Kibaki’s son Jimmy get increasing media attention, and significant publicity by the office of the President. His presence in public events is disturbing for one without any official title, but ‘the son of the president’! Are you kidding me! Jimmy has indeed appeared in high profile places. He has announced that he will be backing Hon. Eugene Wamalwa for president in 2012 but many do not believe him. They know this is a smokescreen as the real leader will be announced later. Jimmy Kibaki’s face was the main focus during the swearing of the bloated grand coalition cabinet in 2008, which announced his arrival in public space. He has attended state functions, such as dinners with foreign dignitaries, and nowadays arrives with his own escort and motorcade. What do you make of that, for a chubby 45+ who has never worked other than the fact that he is being groomed for the presidency by his retiring octogenarian dad? Tell me. And how would you not suffer from PTPD, living in a crowded and dilapidated camp in Nakuru or Eldoret?
As we engage in assessing Kenya two years after the election debacle and post grand coalition period, a few cautionary signposts seem warranted. The report card for the Grand Coalition Government is bad, far much below average. Kenyans should leave ethnicity out of the equation and look the Kenyattas, Mois and Kibakis of the day and demand land reforms. They should forget about the whole stupid notion of class as some scholars are starting to debate, for it just takes from the real issues. As scholars and pundits rush to offer suggestions on the way forward, Kenyans need to know that unless resources are redistributed equitably, mungiki and urban violence will only escalate, and ethnic tensions and conflicts will only get worse.
How about the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)? I hate it when I read that Truth and Reconciliation is top on the agenda and yet members of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) have not come around to agreeing on anything. That is simply claptrap, and will not simply wash unless neutral individuals who have not had their hands soiled in the past are recruited. There is need to create a new TJRC with great minds and people of integrity like Prof. Yash Ghai, retired politician Phoebe Asiyo, retired Archbishop Raphael S. Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki, retired Rev. Timothy Njoya, Prof. Ali Mazrui, Prof. Wangari Maathai, retired General Daudi Tonje, Tabitha Seii, among others.
The grandstanding and posturing by ethnic kings should end. I also think that the heavy emphasis of facile notions and blame game of pointing at ethnicity in Kenyan politics as the problem only masks the real issue – land. It is a game that the kulaks and lumpen and comprador bourgeoisie are willing to play and which the hoi poloi have no chance of winning for they are constantly pitied against one another as the rich share the cabinet slots and the spoils. I know that is seductively easy to point fingers at ‘ethnicity’ and walk out, but believe that some hard decisions need to be made, including taking out some national parks and forests, to settle in people. Kenya needs to transcend old frameworks and parameters of seeking solutions to Kenya’s problems – a revised constitution addressing political issues will not do it, but land reforms and leaders with vision might ensure that Kenya’s gets second liberation. The land owners are busy fighting against the new constitution because they fear that their ways will be exposed. Land reforms are urgent in Kenya and the proposed constitution is a good starting point. This might be the only way of saving the hoi poloi before their vote is bought by Uhuru Kenyatta, Gideon Moi, Jimmi Kibaki or George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and their rivals at the next election, in 2012.
By Prof. Maurice Amutabi, PhD,
Central Washington University,
400 University Way,
Language and Literature Building, 100T,
Ellensburg, WA 98926