Cablegate: Kenya's Electoral Crisis: Explaining Rift Valley

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E.O. 12958: N/A

C. 07 NAIROBI 4423
D. 07 NAIROBI 4235


1. The central region of Kenya's Rift Valley Province, known
as "Kalenjin land" after its indigenous inhabitants, is the
scene of the worst violence since the election crisis began
in late December. Kenya's history of ethnic politics, land
pressures, and shifting political alliances explain the
intensity and scale of the violence in this region. The
Kalenjin population has nursed grievances against the more
widespread Kikuyus ever since President Jomo Kenyatta handed
over Kalenjin land (some of it formerly occupied by white
settlers) to his fellow Kikuyus shortly after independence in
1963. Repeated failures to address Kalenjin grievances by
subsequent governments, even the government run by fellow
Kalenjin President Daniel arap Moi from 1978 to 2002, has
periodically led to violence in the Rift Valley, particularly
during the 1990s. Much of the 1990s violence was politically
instigated by Moi and his lieutenants who funded Kalenjin
"raiders" to de-populate pro-opposition, Kikuyu-settled areas
of Rift Valley Province.

2. An internationally acceptable solution to the current
crisis would have to include an acknowlegement by all sides
that Kenyans have the right to own land anywhere in the
country regardless of their ethnicity, but this will only
happen if Kalenjins feel adequately represented in and fairly
treated by their government. Strengthening parliament and
the judiciary, devolving government, and making much-needed
land tenure and property rights reforms would ameliorate the
current conflict. End Summary.

Rift? Why Rift?

3. It may seem counterintuitive that the worst ethnic
violence in the current crisis -- the aftermath of a bitterly
disputed Kikuyu vs. Luo presidential contest (see ref B) --
would occur in the heart of Rift Valley's Kalenjin country.
While the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest and most geographically
dispersed ethnic community, have borne the brunt of the
conflict wherever it has occurred, anti-Kikuyu violence in
Kalenjin-dominated Rift Valley has been much more organized
and severe than elsewhere. (Note: In Nyanza, the
Luo-on-Kikuyu violence was reportedly a spontaneous reaction
to allegations that the election had been rigged in favor of
President Kibaki (a Kikuyu) over opposition Orange Democratic
Movement (ODM) candidate Raila Odinga (a Luo). End Note.)
Some observers, including Human Rights Watch, have concluded
that ODM leaders and local elders planned and organized the
violence in the Rift Valley, although we do not yet have
evidence that the violence was pre-meditated.

4. Kenya's history of ethnic politics, land pressures, and
shifting political alliances make Kalenjin land highly
susceptible to ethnic violence. Approximately 250,000 people
have been displaced countrywide. While victims have included
members of many tribes, the vast majority at this point have
been Kikuyu. Kikuyus who haved lived their entire lives in
Rift Valley Province have seen their homes, farms, and
businesses burned. The official death toll from the violence
now exceeds 900. There are an estimated 83,700 internally
displaced persons (IDPs) in Rift Valley Province alone. (To
put this in perspective, an estimated one million Kikuyus
live in Rift Valley Province.) Eyewitnesses have blamed gangs
of Kalenjin youth, many of whom had just completed initiation
rites into the traditional warrior society, for the rash of
looting, burning, and violence.

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The Present of a People is a Sum of Their Past
--------------------------------------------- -

5. Much of the current Kikuyu-Kalenjin tension can be traced

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to land issues coupled with a strong dose of political
manipulation of this issue. Land issues are also at the
source of much of Kenya's history of political violence. As
a result of white settler confiscation of the richest Kikuyu
land in Kenya's fertile central highlands and severe
overcrowding in the reserves on marginal land left for the
Kikuyu by the British, the Kikuyu mounted the Mau Mau
rebellion in 1952 with the rallying cry "land and freedom."
The British reaction to the rebellion was infamously harsh.
The post-election violence this year is the worst in Kenya
since that seven year struggle in the 1950s. Both conflicts
are essentially over access to land. (While spontaneous
post-election violence in Nyanza, Western and Coast provinces
focused on the electoral dispute, it is clear that much of
the violence in Rift Valley Province is more directly related
to land grievances. To this day, it is exceptionally
difficult for non-Kikuyu to own land or operate businesses in
overcrowded Central Province.)

6. Outgrowing their rich but densely populated Central
Highlands homeland, Kikuyu are the only ethnic group that has
spread throughout Kenya in large numbers. Kikuyus own farms,
businesses and properties throughout the country. The Kikuyu
have a reputation, whether deserved or not, for being
unwilling to enter into business partnerships or employ in
senior positions Kenyans from other tribes. They are widely
resented for their wealth and power relative to other Kenyan

7. The Nilotic speakers of Kenya's southern highlands (as
distinct from Bantu speakers, such as Kikuyu) include Nandis,
Kipsigis, Pokot, Marakwet, Tugen, Elgeyo, and Sabaot. The
Nandis in particular were renowned for their effective
resistance to early British efforts to take their land. The
British eventually prevailed and successfully occupied Rift
Valley lands, but only after multiple attempts. The seeds of
an ethnic "Kalenjin" identity emerged as members of these
related but distinct groups served together with British
forces in World War II. ("Kale" or "Kole" refers to the
process of scarring a warrior who has killed an enemy in
battle, and "Kalenjin" -- or "I tell you" -- and was used in
Rift Valley wartime radio broadcasts.) The Kalenjin movement
was begun by a group of students from these groups who wanted
to distinguish themselves while attending an elite (and
majority Kikuyu) high school. The British colonial
government encouraged the Kalenjin movement as a way to
foster anti-Kikuyu sentiments, as they were busily trying to
suppress the Mau Mau uprising and peasant revolt from
spreading to other Kenyan ethnic communities.

8. Kenya's first post-independence president, Jomo Kenyatta
(a Kikuyu and the alleged leader of the Mau Mau revolt)
bought land in Kalenjin areas from departing white settlers
to resettle landless Kikuyu peasants or, in many instances,
to grant to political allies, cronies, and himself. While
this was done with the collaboration of his (Kalenjin) Home
Affairs Minister Daniel Arap Moi, this was a serious offense
to ordinary Kalenjins. In Kalenjin culture, there was no
such thing as individual land ownership. While individuals
could cultivate certain plots, the land as a whole belonged
to the Kalenjin people. The transfer of Kalenjin land to
outsiders was a serious affront.

9. When Moi became president in 1978, he did little to
address the continuing land grievances of common Kalenjins,
but, after an attempted coup in 1982, he did take bold steps
to exclude what had become a Kikuyu elite from government
service and replaced them with his own Kalenjin elite.
Predictably, many of these Kalenjin elite lost their jobs
after President Kibaki -- another Kikuyu -- came into office
in 2002. (Note: Many Kenyans take the attitude toward the
Kalenjins that since they enjoyed the fruits of power during
Moi's 24-year rule, they have nothing to complain about now.
However, Kalenjins reply that, while their community may have
been grossly overrepresented in the civil and security forces
during Moi's reign, their region did not receive
disproportionate budget resources and there was little or no
benefit to Kalenjins who were not members of the elite. End

10. Frustration over 'outsider' occupation of Kalenjin land

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turned violent in the 1990s. President Moi and officials in
the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) used the idea
of federalism, or 'majimbo,' (see ref C) to battle opposition
calls for term limits and multi-party democracy. KANU
officials described majimbo as ethnic federalism that would
require all 'outsiders' to return to their home provinces.
This led to ethnic clashes that killed thousands and
displaced hundreds of thousands throughout the decade. The
Rift Valley was particularly hard hit, and it was clear at
the time that the violence was planned, not spontaneous. The
then-ruling party, under Moi, armed and organized Kalenjin
fighters to 'raid' Kikuyu farms and homesteads in Rift Valley
in order to decrease the opposition votes in those areas.
Many of the people who were displaced from these clashes
remain so to this day (and most of them were Kikuyu, who
largely supported the opposition to Moi's rule). Those who
hoped Kibaki would address the problem when he was elected in
2002 were disappointed -- a comprehensive solution never
materialized. On the contrary, isolated clashes in Rift
Valley continued. See ref D for more background on Rift
Valley politics).

The Current Crisis

11. Ethnic rivalries played a predominant role in the run-up
to the 2007 election, and ODM presidential hopeful Raila
Odinga made majimbo (federalism) a key platform of his
campaign. Odinga tried to de-emphasize majimbo's negative
ethnic connotations, saying that the devolution of power to
the provinces was the only way to ensure equitable
distribution of resources to marginalized communities. This
positive view of majimboism did not resonate with all parts
of Kenya's electorate, however, and many feared that a return
to talk of majimbo would mean a return to the violence of the
1990s. Whatever Raila's intent, the more sinister version of
majimbo -- 'outsiders must leave' -- came to pass in the Rift
Valley Province in the aftermath of the disputed elections
and the increased antipathy toward the Kikuyu community that
those events engendered.

12. A recently circulated piece of Kalenjin hate literature
illustrates commonly held frustrations used to justify
violence against Kikuyus. The piece describes resentment of
Kikuyus' perceived unfair occupation of land and
disproportionate access to government resources for
education, jobs, and infrastructure. Kalenjin bitterness is
not reserved for Kikuyus, however. There is also no love
lost for former President Moi, a fellow Kalenjin (who
supported Kibaki's 2007 re-election bid): "He stole from us
and did deals with these guys. He enriched himself so much;
he is always ready to sacrifice his own people for his own
benefits...what you guys need to understand is that this is
all about resource distribution...As if this was not enough,
they stole our votes and asked us to do what we think we can
do. This is right guys, 'Do what you think you can do if you
are man enough.'"

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How Can the Roots of This Conflict Be Addressed?
--------------------------------------------- ---

13. Many observers blame ODM pentagon member William Ruto, a
hardline Kalenjin and Moi lieutenant, for the Rift Valley
violence. Ruto actively organized pro-Moi Kalenjin youth
during the violent crises of the 1990s and rumors about his
involvement in the current crisis abound despite his public

14. Kalenjin religious leaders recently implored us to look
deeper than Ruto, however. Kalenjins, they stressed, make
decisions by consensus. Ruto is only representing the views
of his people -- in fact, he is a prisoner to them, they
said. Some have blamed Ruto for instigating violence
regardless of the election outcome, since violence began
prior to the announcement of the results. One leader
defended Ruto, however, claiming that he learned on December
28 that the election results had been manipulated in the
government's favor and that the final tally was already
decided. This is why Ruto started raising objections before

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the results were announced, he said. (Comment: The religious
leader claimed that he himself heard the final numbers two
days before they were announced. Our own analysis of the
election results shows that the final tally announced on
December 30 differs from the sum of the individual
constituency tallies as provided to us by the Election
Commission. End Comment.)

15. While empowering hardliners like Ruto has almost
certainly worsened the situation, arresting him (and those
like him) who may have organized or encouraged violence
addresses only a symptom of a much deeper problem. Any
internationally acceptable solution would require an
acknowlegement by all sides that Kenyans have the right to
buy and own land anywhere in the country regardless of their
ethnicity. The only way Kalenjins and other disgruntled
minority groups would agree to this, however, is if they feel
adequately represented in and treated fairly by their own

16. Strengthening parliament and the judiciary as well as
implementing majimbo in its best sense -- 'increasing local
control over resources and governance while protecting local
minorities from prosecution by local majorities' -- could go
a long way toward restoring a sense of ownership and control
over local affairs by those who have been excluded and
neglected over the years. Land tenure and property rights
reform could also help (see ref A). No matter how the
solutions are crafted, they will require the buy-in of the
Kalenjin community as a whole. (Note: Land reform and
regional imbalances in national budget allocations are
specific elements of the former dialog proposed by Kofi Annan
to reconcile the government and opposition. End Note.)

17. Comment: Making progress on these complex issues will be
difficult. There is still strong disagreement about the
conduct and results of the presidential election, and
hardliners still outweigh more moderate voices. At present,
both sides' tactics are making the situation worse, and both
sides have shown a disturbingly high tolerance for violence.
If international and grassroots efforts fail, Kenyans living
in Rift Valley will continue to bear the brunt of the

© Scoop Media

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