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Condescension and ignorance are no help to Kenya

Issue 312
Front Page
Index
Headlines

Somaliland Claims Victory In Latest Sool Clash With Puntland

President Rayale in Washington

MP Alun Michael Pop's The Question In 'Prime Minster's Question Time'

Tribute To Legendary Singer Muhamad Yusuf Abdi 1940-2008

Kenya Opposition Calls 3 Days Of Protest

The New Somaliland Press & Publications Bill 2007

Somalia's Former PM To Run For President In 2009

The ERA Of Injustice, Corruption And Mismanagement In Somaliland Must Come To An End

Question about UNDP funding the police force of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government

''Somalia's New Reality: A Strategic Overview''

Regional Affairs

Kenya's Neighbors Start To Feel The Heat

Djibouti – Key U.S. Ally On The Up And Up

Editorial
Special Report

International News

EU pursuing new trade deals with Africa

Hail Caesar?

Asylum seeker figures soar

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

Condescension and ignorance are no help to Kenya

One step back, one step forward

Eyes Tight Shut

Borama Municipality confirmed the construction of 2km highway in side the town

Kenya failure bruises African Union ambitions

Food for thought

Opinions

Somaliland’s Democracy: Is The Major Issue In Doubt Now?

Peace Appeal: Uniting Against The Violence In Kenya

Thank You: Letter From The Leadership Of Qaran

Studying In Uganda: “Live To Learn, You Will Learn How To Live”

Why Are You Seceding… Brother?‏

KAMPALA: EHAHRD-Net APPALLED BY VIOLENCE IN KENYA-HRDs MUST BE PROTECTED

Somaliland elders never tire and retire


The West's patronising response to the recent events in Kenya betrays our lack of respect to a sophisticated continent

By Richard Dowden

January 6, 2008

Imagine: at the end of the Second World War, America and the Soviet Union decide they are tired of tribal warfare in Europe. The century is only halfway through and already some 90 million people have been slaughtered. The solution is a single European country imposed from above. So the Slovene President is trying to broker a provincial border dispute between France and Germany. Under France is a vast pool of oil but some of it is also under Germany - the Germans are all Muslim by the way. Meanwhile, the ancient tribal hatreds still cause frequent massacres among Greeks and Turks, Basques and Spanish and in Highbury and Tottenham. Tribalism is not an exclusively African disease.

Imagining a 'tribal' Europe gives you some idea of what African citizenship is like. The EU has only 23 languages; Africa has at least 2,000. Kenya alone has 40. Like an imagined Europe unified by force by outsiders, Africans played no part in the creation of their nation states. Their boundaries were drawn on maps in Europe by Europeans who had never even been to Africa and with no regard for existing political systems and boundaries. Half a century later, Africans were given flags and national anthems, airlines and armies and told they were now independent; Kenyans, Nigerians or Chadians.

Unsurprisingly, most Africans, especially in rural areas with little education, identify more with their own people, language, culture and society than they do with their nation state, especially if that nation state has done nothing for them. That is not to say they reject it. Kenyans are proud of being Kenyan; even Congolese, where the nation state is weakest, are desperately Congolese. There are no serious secessionist movements in Africa today, except in * Somaliland*
where there is no ethnic factor involved.

So while tribalism is an issue in Africa, it is not some weird atavistic African sentiment but a logical result of Africa's imposed history. Most Africans I have met speak three or four languages, intermarriage is common and there is, in normal times, little personal conflict between people of different ethnicity. What always astounds me in Africa is how well people of completely different cultures, customs and languages get along with one another.

In some African countries, there is one dominant ethnic group. In Zimbabwe, it is the Shona, in Uganda the Baganda and in Kenya it is the Kikuyu. The Kikuyu also dominate business and tend to be richer than other groups. Some of that comes through hard work and business acumen, but a lot of it comes through corrupt political connections, which has bred fierce resentment from those who have nothing. Almost half of Kenyans live in desperate poverty, on the equivalent of a dollar a day. But around them they see rich foreigners and some very rich Kenyans, mostly Kikuyu. In a 2005 opinion poll, Kenyans put equality as the issue that concerned them most, equality of opportunity as well as resources.

Given their poverty and frustration, Kenyans are remarkably patient and peaceful. But no wonder there was rage when an election appears to have been stolen by a corrupt Kikuyu elite. So in Nairobi's appalling slums crammed with desperately poor but hopeful Kenyans from all over the country, Kikuyu shops and zones have been attacked and Kikuyus killed.

In other parts of the country, Kikuyu outside their traditional area are also being attacked, as they were in Eldoret. In that part of the Rift Valley, land was taken in the Forties and Fifties for white farmers and the local Kalenjin driven off. At independence, the white 4471021 farmers left, selling to the highest bidders, who happened to be rich Kikuyu. They moved in other Kikuyu to work the land and their 'occupation' is deeply resented. Land in Africa is not real estate, to be bought and sold. It is sacred, where the ancestors still live, part of a person's blood and soul. It cannot just be sold like cloth. Ever since the white man left, there have been periodic clashes over land in the Rift Valley; Kenya's population has doubled since then, so competition for land intensifies.

Anyone who expressed shock at the recent violence in such a 'stable' country clearly knows nothing about Kenya. The British government was caught completely by surprise, but immediately deployed the language of a former colonial power. Gordon Brown said: 'What I want to see is...' His advice was wise but his tone set teeth on edge. Would he have used that language when another former British colony, the USA, had a hung election in 2000?

And Britain does not speak with credibility in Kenya. In every previous election in Kenya, British diplomats turned a blind eye to fraud, intimidation and rigging with bland words such as 'the result
broadly reflected the will of the Kenyan people'. They claimed the margin of victory was so great that the cheating did not affect the result. Maybe, but this time the margin was close and the cheating did matter. Britain did little between elections to push for a fully independent electoral commission. It couldn't - Britain's own elections are run by the Home Office. Instead, it poured aid into Kenya, even after members of the Moi and Kibaki governments were seen stealing hundreds of millions of pounds in broad daylight.

Ever since it bought into the aid agency view of Africa - 'all Africa needs is aid' - the British government has carefully reduced its capacity for understanding the continent. You do not, it seems, need to understand the poor in order to save them. In 2005, the 'Year of Africa', it closed three embassies on the continent and abolished Foreign Office country desk officers who built the institutional memory of specific countries. Unless you understand Africa and how it works, you cannot help it.

This ignorance and lack of respect not only led to Britain's disastrous isolation over Zimbabwe - what Britain sees as a moral crusade is perceived in Africa and elsewhere as a spat between Mugabe and British Prime Ministers. And instead of Britain or Europe sending an envoy to explore the possibilities for peacemaking, it is America's Jendayi Fraser, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, who has flown into Nairobi.

Richard Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society

Source: Sunday Observer


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