Kenya Explodes!

The mass explosion and conflicts that followed the obvious falsification of the results of the Dec. 27 Kenyan presidential election have raised many questions. But one thing is absolutely clear. Kenya can no longer be held up by the imperialist governments and publicists as a model of stability and prosperity for post-colonial Africa.

It is now just another story of the ruin and hopelessness that is afflicting the neocolonial states of the continent, of the effects of the continued dominance of the world capitalist economy over these countries even after their imperialist masters ceded formal governmental responsibility to local rulers.

Most fundamentally, the slaughter and destruction in Kenya are the consequence of the stagnation and inequality to which world capitalism condemns such countries. In this situation, small advantages for different groups become matters of life and death, something for which elements of the population are ready to kill and rob their neighbors.

This perverse logic is reinforced by the failure of the neocolonial governments to provide any perspective for economic improvement for all. In fact, if any government tried to offer such hope, the imperialists would use their resources to plunge that country into blood and fire. The examples of the Lumumba government and later the Kabila government in the former Belgian Congo demonstrate that.

Kabila was a follower of Lumumba, a radical anti-imperialist leader who was overthrown and murdered with United Nations complicity in 1961, shortly after Belgium had granted formal independence to the country. After the liquidation of Lumumba, Kabilia led a long-lasting guerrilla war against the Mobutu regime, another pillar of neocolonialism in Africa, until he finally defeated the dictator in 1997.

Because of his history Kabila was not trusted by the imperialists, and his nationalization of one railway apparently was enough to put them on the warpath. Only a year after Kabila’s forces marched into the Congo capital of Kinshasa, imperialist interests were able to sponsor a rebellion against his government that launched a still continuing civil war.

To date, this war of rapine and robbery has claimed the lives of more than 5 million people and thus dwarfs the conflicts in Kenya. That is the prospect facing any African government that dares try to offer its people any future other than one dictated by world capitalism.

In Kenya today, one of the centers of the worst ethnic clashes is the Rift Valley, in which the evils of the British colonial heritage have merged with the abuses of the corrupt neocolonial regime that succeeded British rule. In their attempt to crush the nationalist rebellion of the early 1950s, the British forcibly deported populations from this area, giving much of the land to white settlers.

When the British finally gave Kenya independence, being no longer able to afford the costs of holding the country by force, many of the dislocated people returned to their homes to find others in possession of what they considered theirs. Then the government of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president and a leader of the Kikuyu (who had been the backbone of the uprising against the British), granted land in the area arbitrarily to his followers. This created seething resentments among those not so favored, some of whom are out for belated revenge now. Kenyatta’s successors continued playing the patronage game.

Kenya remained a one-party dictatorship up until 1992, and a multiparty system was not really established until 2002 when an opposition coalition ousted the old ruling group. The victors included both the incumbent president, Kibaki, now trying to maintain office by fraud, and his rival, Raila Odinga. The opposition, however, offered no social and economic alternative to the old government, and thus it rapidly became a replica of it.

Today, Odinga, a populist politician whose father was a famous liberation fighter, has become the focus of some demands and aspirations of the poor, and is therefore regarded as “a dangerous man” by the crony capitalists behind Kibaki and their allies.

But so long as Odinga offers no real alternative to the capitalist economy, he will be destined to replicate Kibaki, just as that former oppositionist came to replicate the former neocolonialist strongmen.

The example of the Congo shows the danger of halfway alternatives. Kabila opened the way for the imperialist-sponsored civil war by failing to mobilize the masses behind a socialist program and trying to save himself by making alliances with various neocolonial states and leaderships.

A recent development in the Kenyan conflict is accusations that the inter-ethnic violence is being organized by politicians, mostly Odinga’s opposition coalition. In this situation, unscrupulous politicians will almost certainly try to exploit the ethnic antagonisms for their own benefit. It will also be hard to determine specific responsibilities. The real test of the political forces will be whether any offer a solution to the inter-ethnic conflict.

It is an oversimplification to call the Kenyan ethnic groups “tribes,” the usual term employed by the mass media in the West. Some of them number in the millions and have their own languages and distinctive economic profiles. But they are not nations either, although they represent a stage in nation formation.

The development of antagonistic nations is a result of the uneven development of the capitalist economy, which led some ethnic groups to dominate others. But this process is not far enough advanced in general in Africa, and specifically not in Kenya, to speak of oppressed and oppressor nations, even if it is necessary for principled anti-imperialist leaders to avoid appearing to favor any ethnic group over another.

Furthermore, much of the killing in Kenya cannot be attributed to ethnic clashes but are simply atrocities committed by police and paramilitary forces formed by a long history of repressive rule. Recently, Kenyans were outraged, for example, when TV showed that the police deliberately and cold-bloodedly murdered an unarmed demonstrator. The local and international press has already documented more than 60 killings by state forces, and such murders are probably a large proportion of the over 600 reported dead.

The blatant falsification of the election results in Kenya, following soon after the less blatant but obvious election fraud in Mexico, demonstrates that bourgeois-style elections tend not to produce results that can be seen as legitimate in neocolonial countries and therefore give rise to deep-going political crises.

Such elections are essentially huge expensive big-business-financed publicity campaigns designed to justify a sort of serial monarchy. When a government is elected, it has control of the patronage machine for years. It cannot be removed for a long time, even if it is quickly seen to be corrupt and to have reneged on its election promises.

Bourgeois elections are not democratic in the advanced countries either, but in such countries in normal times, the social contradictions are less explosive and they not so quickly discredited.

The more turbulent circumstances in neocolonial countries are showing the masses there that they need another means of choosing their political representatives—that is, direct elections based on their own social organizations, like the People’s Assembly advocated by the trade-union movement in Bolivia. This was the model of political representation demonstrated by the world’s first successful socialist revolution, the Russian workers’ councils, or “soviets.”