Lenin once said that
capitalism is horror without end. Kenya is the most ghastly proof of
that assertion. This is a nation of approximately 36 million
inhabitants, situated on the equator on the East of African coast, with Sudan and Ethiopia
to the north, Uganda to the
west, Tanzania to the south
and the Indian Ocean to the east. To the
northeast lies Somalia.
The capital, Nairobi, is one of the largest
cities in Africa with a population of three
million. The average age of the population is only 18. Kenya is
blessed with a benign climate and fertile agricultural land, although 70% of
the country is arid and semi-arid. The combination of scenic beauty and
abundant wildlife made Kenya
one of Africa’s leading tourist destinations. Kenya has very
vibrant culture, which is due in no small measure to its ethnic diversity.
The basis of its economy is
agriculture and tourism. The main crops grown are tea, coffee, cashew, maize,
sugar and pyrethrum. It therefore has all the elements to become a prosperous
and successful nation. But almost half a century after independence from
British rule, it remains poor. The per capita income of the country is
approximately 300 dollars. Until recently
was held up as a glowing example of the success of the free market economy.
Here was a country that carried out to the letter the policies dictated by the
World Bank and the IMF. It was supposed to be a shining example of democracy, a
beacon of hope for what Europeans used to call "the dark continent."
Now all these dreams lay in ashes. In recent weeks Kenya has been
torn asunder by a wave of ethnic and tribal violence that has claimed nearly a
thousand lives. The immediate cause of the violence was the rigged election of
December 27th, when the sitting president Mwai Kibaki robbed the opposition of
victory by blatant electoral fraud. Immediately after the disputed election,
supporters of Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, who leads the opposition
Orange Democratic Movement, took to the streets to protest. Since Kabaki is a
Kikuyu, as are most of his supporters, the struggle assumed the character of a
bloody ethnic conflict.
Since them at least 1,000 have died and 200,000 been driven from their
homes in widespread violence. Every day the western media are filled
stories of new horrors, as ordinary poor Africans slaughter each other
machetes, clubs and knives. Houses are looted and torched and thousands
people forced to flee to other areas. Tens of thousands of families
forced from their homes. People have been hacked or burned to death.
been raped. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs
in Geneva said today there had been 167 rapes reported to the
hospital in the past month, with the youngest victim one year old.
The shooting dead, in separate incidents, of two Orange MPs, set off a
further orgy of killing in the capital’s slums and elsewhere. One was Mugabe
Were, a Luhya who was popular in Nairobi;
the other was David Kimutai Too, a Kalenjin. In the Luos’ provincial capital,
Kisumu, more Kikuyus were butchered, some of them "necklaced" with burning
tyres by Luo youths. In Eldoret, where Too was gunned down by a police officer,
hundreds of young men blocked roads with burning tires and rocks, chanting
"Kibaki must go". Smoke columns rose from smouldering ashes in what
remains of the city’s poor Nwagocho and Baraka housing estates. There police
shot and killed four people and injured five on Thursday evening and Friday
morning. They were accused of participating in looting properties and torching
residential houses and business buildings.
In revenge attacks in the western village of Ainamoi
a police officer was lynched by a 3,000-strong mob armed with bows and arrows,
spears, clubs and machetes. They accused him of wounding a civilian when police
opened fire on protests that broke out when news of Too’s death spread.
"The police officer injured three attackers before he was overpowered and
lynched on the spot," said police commander Peter Aliwa. Regional
officials said eight people were killed in the village of Ikonge, 240 miles
west of the capital, Nairobi, in a revenge attack linked to Too’s killing.
Around 100 men hacked six of the victims to death. The other two were killed
with poisoned arrows, the officials said. A further four people were killed by
police. The list of horrors seems endless.
Hypocrisy of the "international community"
The weak Kenyan national bourgeoisie is alarmed at these developments.
The country’s largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, which had tended to
support Kibaki during the election campaign, has lost patience with him. An
editorial declared that the government’s "inertia and ineptitude" were
"exposing base instincts and driving the country back to pre-colonial times".
The bourgeois are wringing their hands, but what is the solution? To this
question Daily Nation has no
|Clashes in Nairobi|
What of the "international community"? Surely nice democratic countries
like Britain and America will
help? In the face of this appalling slaughter, the response of governments has
been muted. Where are the shrill calls for regime change in Nairobi? Where are the resolutions in the
Security Council? Where are the plans for humanitarian intervention? There are
none. Why? Maybe it is because Kenya
has no oil, or maybe because the West has been backing Kenyan president, Mwai
Kibaki and his regime and see no urgency to change their mind. For whatever
reason, the nice, civilized, Christian leaders of the western world are in no
hurry to help prevent a catastrophe on the lines of Rwanda.
As always, the attitude of the imperialists stinks of hypocrisy Britain and America
have given considerable military support to Kenya and they are still giving it.
Mr Kibaki has been warmly embraced in the past as an ally in the global "war on
terror". It is said that the European Union may seek "targeted" sanctions on Kenya, which
would punish Kibaki and some of his ministers and backers, while allegedly
sparing poorer Kenyans from the effects of general trade and aid sanctions.
This would mean travel bans on specified individuals and their families and
similar measures. But this kind of thing has already been tried in the case of Zimbabwe,
without producing any significant result. It will be a bit inconvenient for
Mrs. Kibaki not to be able to come to London
to do her shopping at Harrods, but that barely amounts to a slap on the
They have dispatched former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan to act as
mediator between Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Kofi Annan
says the political opponents had agreed a four-point plan for talks that could
end the violence "within seven to 15 days". "The first [point]
is to take immediate action to stop the violence," he told Reuters. But
these are just words, and there is no sign whatsoever of the violence
decreasing. Quite the contrary.
Diplomats, businessmen and church leaders are fervently hoping that
Annan’s negotiations will succeed. They know Kibaki is to blame for rigging the
presidential vote, they have agreed not to press for immediate sanctions so as
to give Annan more time. But time is not on his side. Kibaki is dragging out
the talks in the hope of bolstering his position without making any concession
on the election or on anything else. And the opposition supporters are being
urged to suppress their anger and lower their demands. That is all that Kofi
Annan and the "United Nations" has to offer: keep calm! Avoid violence! But
violence is increasing all the time and threatens to overwhelm society.
In view of the manifest impotence of Kofi Annan, the current UN
secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, flew from the African Union summit in Ethiopia to Nairobi to give him some support. The talks
resumed, Ban called on both sides to "look beyond the individual interest.
Look beyond the party lines … Now the future is on you." But these are empty words and have had no
effect. The gulf that separated the antagonistic parties before the elections
has now turned into an unbridgeable abyss. Such a conflict cannot be resolved
in purely parliamentary terms. In a speech at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Kibaki
welcomed the international mediation efforts but suggested the opposition
should take its grievances to the courts. He said: "The judiciary
has over the years arbitrated electoral disputes, and the current one should
not be an exception."
This speech shows the undisguised cynicism of Kibaki. Everybody knows
that the courts are stuffed with Kibaki’s allies. In any case, proceedings move
so slowly it could take months or years to reach a conclusion. This was a
transparent attempt at delaying tactics. A recount of the vote would solve
nothing because most Kenyans have no confidence in the electoral commission.
The Oranges are
demanding a new election, which would be the most democratic option. But even
if the election was held (and Kabaki has rejected it), who would convene it? It
is not likely that Kibaki and his supporters would sit alongside Odinga in an
interim government In the meantime the slaughter continues.
Crimes of imperialism
For many people in Europe all this
seems inexplicable. Some merely shrug their shoulders and make vague references
to tribalism, which is a term they do not understand. Others see it as a
confirmation that Africans are "primitive" people with "savage" instincts, as
opposed to civilized Europeans. Nothing, however, could be further from the
truth. There were always different tribes in Kenya,
as in every other country in Africa. There
have been wars between tribes in the past over cattle rustling or land
and natural resources such as lakes and rivers. But these tribal conflicts were child’s play compared to the bloody
wars we "civilized" Europeans have been waging for centuries, at the cost of
millions of dead. And the damage caused by these earlier inter-tribal
wars, pales in comparison to the arrival of foreigners, starting in the mid
15th century. The kind of all-out
genocidal conflicts we have seen in places like Rwanda
were unknown in Africa before the arrival of
the white man. They could only be the product of our own enlightened, civilized
The colonial subjugation of Kenya was accompanied by the same
violence as in other African countries. The colonists deliberately gave certain
privileges to some tribes at the expense of others. All over Africa,
tribal divisions were encouraged and intensified by the most Christian European
rulers. The British were especially skilled at this game. In Kenya they
introduced a rigid system for categorising the "natives" according to their
real or imagined tribal origins. They even invented non-existent tribes for
this purpose, like the Kalenjins, whose existence as a separate tribe seems to
date from the 1940s. It was the British therefore, who planted the seeds of
inter-tribal strife. They left behind them the same poisonous inheritance that
they had earlier implanted in Ireland,
Palestine, Cyprus and the Indian Subcontinent.
The Rift Valley, which has become the centre for much of the ethnic
violence, in colonial times this area was known as The White Highlands. Masai
cattle herders originally inhabited it, but the British, who wanted these lands
for themselves, drove them out. The seeds of the independence struggle
began from the very instant that communities were forcibly evicted from the
productive lands. Organized resistance begun after world war one, and initially
centred on issues such as access to education for Africans, land ownership
rights and tax rates. The struggle was intensified after the Second World War,
when black Africans returned from the front with military skills. They launched
a long and bloody guerrilla war
The Kenyan people suffered many deaths, and many freedom fighters were
imprisoned and sent to concentration camps. But in the end they won. Kenya became independent on 12th December
1963. This was a great victory for the
people. But the middle class leaders of the independence struggle continued the
oppressive and exploitative system as the British. Nominally independent, the
national bourgeoisie had a servile attitude to Britain. In reality, over forty
years after independence, Kenya
today is more dependent on imperialism than ever before.
What is the problem? The problem is this: that the people of Kenya fought a
heroic war of national liberation against British imperialism. The British were
forced to leave. But this, in reality, was only half a victory. The lion’s
share of the spoils went to the new middle class, the blacks who aspired to
European living standards and who secretly admired the old colonial masters and
wanted to be like them. The founding president was Jomo Kenyatta, the
legendary leader of the liberation struggle. He ruled Kenya from
independence until his death in 1978. Like Julius Nyerere and other African
leaders, he originally talked about socialism, and promised to free the country
from the curse of disease, ignorance and poverty. In reality, this was the
programme of the bourgeois democratic revolution. But under modern conditions
it is impossible for an underdeveloped country like Kenya to solve the problems of the
bourgeois democratic revolution on the basis of capitalism.
Bankruptcy of the national bourgeoisie
The national bourgeoisie is too
weak, and too dependent on imperialism, to tackle the most pressing problems of
the masses. The new black elite went to
smart British public schools where they learned to talk and think like the
white B’wanas of colonial days. They became shareholders in British and
American companies that installed themselves in Kenya and established a new kind of
colonial dependency. For the average Kenyan poor worker and peasant not much
changed. They had done all the fighting, but all they succeeded in doing was to
change one master for another. The new black bourgeoisie was just as rapacious
as the British, but even more corrupt, inefficient and rotten. In effect, they
were only the local office boys of the British and America imperialists.
After independence, the different groups of the ruling class were
struggling for power and influence. In this power struggle they based
themselves on tribal loyalties. They thus preserved intact the old British
system of divide and rule. Kenyatta, who was a Kikuyu, was in conflict with
Odinga Odinga (the father of the present opposition leader), who based himself
on the Luos. In order to bolster his position, Kenyatta distributed large
tracts of fertile land in the former White Highlands to his Kikuyu followers.
Other tribes like the Luo and Kalenjin were largely left out. Despite this, the
different tribes lived side by side in peace and often intermarried. There was
a feeling of a Kenyan national identity. But in recent years the feeling has
grown that the fruits of Kenya’s
economic growth were not being evenly shared. This sentiment gradually took the
form of resentment against the hold on power exercised by the dominant Kikuyu
The constant power struggles between the ruling and
opposition parties led to a concentration of power within the presidency. Kenya became a
de facto one party state (KANU), with a Bonapartist leader (Kenyatta). All
power was vested with the presidency. The independence of the judiciary was a
farce. Opponents were detained without trial while real threats were "eliminated".
Cronyism and corruption flourished. But thanks to the Cold War between Russia and
America Kenya was the darling of the West. At a time when the Americans feared
that Africa would end up in the Soviet camp,
Kenyatta was seen as a bulwark against "Communism". Lavish funds kept pouring
in while the "democratic" West turned a blind eye to government excesses, lack
of democracy and rampant corruption.
After the death of Kenyatta in 1978, Daniel Arap Moi, his deputy, took over.
But the underlying instability was exposed by an unsuccessful coup attempt by
the air force in 1982. Moi quickly consolidated power within the presidency,
just as Kenyatta had done. And the West again turned a blind eye. Under the Moi
regime corruption, which was always present, developed into something like a
fine art. Looting the state coffers was the rule, and those that benefited from
privatisation were expected to contribute to KANU’s party funds. Political
opponents were jailed without trial, tortured and otherwise eliminated. And
again the West said nothing.
Single party rule effectively silenced all those who
disagreed with the government. In one instance the party disciplinary committee
reprimanded a cabinet minister because "he did not applaud enthusiastically
enough" after a presidential speech at a public rally. But by the end of the
1990s, the demand for free elections with more than one party became
irresistible. Such was the discontent that detentions without trial, beatings
and torture could not stop the movement for democracy. The regime was forced to
accept the first multi-party elections in 1992. However, the opposition was
fragmented along tribal lines, and in the elections of 1992 and 1997, KANU was
returned to power, to continue looting the public purse.
In 2002 the opposition united
behind a single candidate and inflicted a severe defeat on KANU. Under the
National Alliance of the Rainbow Coalition the opposition won a landslide
victory in December 2002, This appeared to many to mark the end of almost 40
years of uninterrupted rule by Kanu. The new President Mwai Kibaki declared
zero tolerance to corruption and promised to deliver a new constitution in 100
days. He launched a purge on the judiciary and promised to root out corruption.
But the ink was scarcely dry on these decrees when details of multi billion
corruption deals became known. As in the past, senior government officials were
implicated in massive corruption.
The opposition insists that Kibaki stole the December election and is
an illegal president. They are obviously right about this. But by unleashing a
wave of violence directed against the Kikuyus, the opposition leaders played a
fatal role. It is possible that the riots and pogroms were spontaneous – an
expression of the pent-up fury of young unemployed people that has been
simmering for a long time. But the leaders did nothing to stop it and there is
plenty of evidence that they are now encouraging it for their own purposes, as
is the government. In Eldoret, in Western Kenya,
Luo mobs burned to death more than 30 people who were sheltering inside in a
church. Such actions gave the excuse to Kikuyu extremists to organize revenge
attacks on Luos in other areas.
Kibaki’s argument that the country should carry on as normal is absurd.
The old unstable equilibrium has been destroyed and cannot be put together
again. The truth is that neither Kabaki nor Odinga can solve the problems of
Kenyan society. This is a conflict between two bourgeois politicians,
struggling to obtain a slice of the state pie for themselves, their families
and followers. But since the conflict is tribally based, and since both sides
accept the "market economy", if one side wins, the other side must lose. This
is a finished recipe for tribal strife, massacres, chaos and genocide.
Fear is spreading like an uncontrollable epidemic. The fear brings more
violence and the escalating violence begets even greater fear, creating an
uncontrollable spiral of violence. Kenya is alive with rumour. Some
say there are furious disagreements within Mr Kibaki’s circle in State House.
Others say he is poised to impose a state of emergency. Among Kikuyus, there is
fearful talk of Luo militias loyal to Odinga being trained in southern Sudan. All this
can produce an even more frightful an escalation in violence from machetes to
machineguns, which would be a catastrophe for all Kenyans. The use of
traditional weapons, clubs, machetes and poisoned arrows is terrible enough.
But if open civil war breaks out, it will make the recent atrocities look like
a party. These events, while horrific enough, have not yet reached the level of
wholesale slaughter that we saw in Rwanda in 1994. But the prospect
It is not impossible that Kenya could break up along ethnic
lines. Already the violence has caused the flight of several hundred thousand
Kenyans who belonged to ethnic minorities in their places of residence. The
Luos have been forced to flee from Central
Province and the Kikuyus
are fleeing from the west. If things were carried to the extreme, Kibaki’s
Kikuyu-dominated government would keep control the wealthy centre of the
country up to Nakuru, north-west of Nairobi,
while Odinga’s Orange opposition would seize
the west and much of the north. But this would still leave the problem of the
Rift Valley. Most of the Kalenjin people who live there are hostile to Kikuyu
political domination. This could easily lead to a bloody civil war, accompanied
by new horrors.
Until recently, this would have seemed an incredible prospect to most
Kenyans. The speed with which the entire social and political structure of what
appeared to be one of the most stable countries in Africa
shows the underlying fragility of bourgeois democracy everywhere. Capitalism
has failed to solve the problems of the people of Kenya, just as it has failed on a
world scale to deliver the kind of life that most people want. Lenin pointed
out that the national question is ultimately a problem of bread. The central
problem was, and is still, economic: Kenya’s
economic growth did not keep up with the rapid growth of population, which is
one of the fastest in Africa. The result was a
chronic shortage of jobs especially among the youth. The shortage of good
agricultural land and rural unemployment has had a serious effect.
Unable to make a living on the land, large numbers of unemployed youths
migrated to the towns where they rotted in the slums of Nairobi and other urban centres. If the
economy were capable of providing jobs and houses for everyone, the antagonism,
suspicion and jealousy between people from different communities would loose its reason to exist. That is as
true for Kenya
as any other country in the world. In this way a volatile explosive mixture was
built up that has now exploded, tearing apart the fabric of society. If a
revolutionary party existed, it could give an organized and conscious
expression to the discontent of the masses. But in the absence of a
revolutionary alternative, other forces can come to the fore, the dark forces
of tribalism that have their roots in a distant past and have not been
The kind of atrocities that have been committed are the work of
declassed and criminal elements, incited by professional pogrom-mongers from
one side or the other. Most Kenyans are appalled at what is happening to their
country. But they feel powerless in the face of the tidal wave of collective
madness. The only force in society that would be able to halt the violence is
the organized working class. If the trade unions were worthy of the name, they
would put forward a class alternative to the tribal madness. They would
organize armed workers ‘militia, linked to the trade unions, to patrol the
workers’ districts and keep order, disarming and punishing the perpetrators of
Nature abhors a vacuum. In a
situation where large numbers of young people are taking to their streets,
either the working class will give the movement an organized expression and
clear goals, or they will inevitably fall under the influence of the tribalists
and pogrom-mongers. Unfortunately, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions,
the main trade union federation in Kenya, has adopted an abstentionist
position during the present crisis, arguing that the problem was politically
instigated and should be "solved politically". The leaders of COTU call on Kibaki
to resolve the crisis through negotiation. This is a betrayal and a complete
dereliction of duty.
Historically the Kenyan trade unions were dominated by KANU
and have had close links with the government. Despite this, there have been
important struggles over wages and jobs, as in 2003, when the Kenyan workers
staged a wave of strikes swept the country. This shows the revolutionary
potential of the working class, which is being undermined by the class
collaboration policies of the leadership. The working class must adopt and
active role, completely independent of any bourgeois party or leaders. It must
strive to place itself at the head of the nation and lead the struggle for a
fundamental change in society, which is what the overwhelming majority of Kenyans
desire and need.
What is needed is a genuine workers’ party, cutting across all tribal
and ethnic divisions, organized to fight the bosses and the rotten government
of Kabaki. Such a party would fight for democratic demands, starting with the
demand for new elections to sweep Kabaki and his corrupt clique from power. But
elections by themselves will solve nothing. Democracy is an empty phrase unless
it signifies a genuine transfer of power to the people, to the majority of
society, which are the workers and peasants.
The bourgeoisie has had decades to show what it was capable of doing
for the people of Kenya.
Now look where it has ended! The capitalist showcase of Africa
has been reduced in a matter of days to burnt-out villages and heaps of
corpses. An even greater tragedy hangs over the heads of millions of innocent
men, women and children. Cynics and sceptics will say the idea of socialism and
workers’ unity is impossible. No! What is impossible is for men and women to
continue living in this rotten, decaying capitalist society, a society that
destroys everything that is humane and decent and reduces people to the level
of animals. And if you treat people like animals, they will behave like
Some will say that what we propose is utopian. But what we propose is a
society based on human solidarity and not greed for profit. It is that greed
for profit that is ultimately responsible for the misery of millions of people
in Africa and all over the world. It is the
rapacious greed of the landlords, bankers and capitalists, both the well-heeled
bourgeois of London and New
York and their local office boys of the Kibaki type, who have
robbed Africa of its treasure and reduced its
people to slavery. That, the critics of Marxism say, is "practical", but what
we advocate is not.
But we have had enough of your "practical" policies, and we have seen
all too often where they lead. What we see in Kenya is barbaric, but the
barbarism is the result of the failure of capitalism: failure to give work to
millions of unemployed youths, who are condemned to rot in the slums of
Nairobi; failure to feed and clothe the people, to provide them with decent
houses, schools and hospitals: in one word, failure to provide them with even
the most basic conditions of a civilized existence. You deny people a civilized
life and then complain of barbarism! But capitalism ultimately means barbarism
and what we see on the streets of Narobi today can be repeated even in the most
civilized nations on earth, if this degenerate system is allowed to continue
much longer. The choice is either socialism or barbarism, not only in Kenya but also
on a world scale.
Is humanity inevitably condemned to a descent into barbarism. Of course
not! There is a force that can prevent
this. That force is the international working class, a class that is able to
transcend all the old barriers of race, colour, nationality and religion. Karl
Marx said: "the workers have no country". The working class can only survive by
developing class unity, surmounting all distinctions of colour, race, tribe or
creed. We are neither Kikuyu sot Luo, neither Catholics nor Protestants,
neither black nor white: we are brothers and sisters fighting for the same
cause. We are soldiers of the world socialist revolution. That is the only
message of hope for the workers and peasants of Kenya and of the whole African
London, 5th February, 2008.