Kenya: Political Violence, 06/11/02

Kenya: Political Violence, 06/11/02

Status: ROKenya: Political ViolenceDate distributed (ymd): 020611Document reposted by Africa ActionAfrica Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

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Region: East AfricaIssue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ SUMMARY CONTENTS: This posting contains a press releases and excerpts from theexecutive summary of a new report from Human Rights Watch onpolitical violence in Kenya. The full report, Playing with Fire:Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence, and Human Rights inKenya, as well as other material from Human Rights Watch on Kenya, is available online at

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Human Rights WatchPress Release, May 31, 2002Kenya: Political Killers Admit to Official Backing Weapons FlowRisks Renewed Violence (New York, May 31, 2002) Speaking for the first time, perpetratorsof armed attacks in the run-up to the last general election inKenya have said that they were backed by ruling party officials,Human Rights Watch revealed in a report released today. The 119-page report, entitled Playing with Fire: WeaponsProliferation, Political Violence, and Human Rights in Kenya, documents the dangerous nexus between arms availability and ethnicattacks in Kenya. The report highlights politically instigatedarmed violence on Kenya's coast during the last general electioncycle, in 1997. It calls for decisive action to prevent any suchviolence as Kenya prepares for general elections later this year."The spread of small arms and the manipulation of ethnic tensionsare an explosive mix," said Lisa Misol, researcher with the ArmsDivision of Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Kenya must stop weapons from getting into the hands of people who woulduse them to disrupt the vote."For years Kenya has been a conduit for arms shipments destined tonearby areas of violent conflict. More recently the flood ofweapons has spilled back into Kenya itself, making the resort toviolence more likely-and more deadly.Since the end of one-party rule in Kenya, election years have beenroutinely characterized by political violence.

Politicians whohave been implicated in past incidents of political violence havenot been held to account. Human Rights Watch describes in detail the armed political violencein Kenya's Coast Province in mid-1997 and the role of ruling-partyofficials in stoking the violence. A quasi-military force ofwell-organized and well-armed attackers carried out brutal attackson civilians from other ethnic groups in areas around Mombasa,Coast Province.In interviews with Human Rights Watch, several individuals involvedin the attacks acknowledged their direct participation in theviolence and described how it was organized. Their first-handaccounts and other evidence indicate that local ruling partypoliticians-with support from some national politicians-wereinstrumental in organizing, supporting, and sustaining theviolence in order to displace ethnic communities viewed as likely opposition voters in general elections that were held at the end of1997. More than a hundred people were killed and some 100,000people were displaced, bringing to 400,000 the number displaced asa result of political violence since 1992.

A government commission of inquiry was appointed in 1998 to lookinto ethnic violence in Kenya since 1991. After months of hearingtestimony, the commission submitted a report to President Danielarap Moi in August 1999, but the government has refused to make itpublic. "Kenya and the international community must act, and act soon, tocurb the spread of these weapons and bring to justice the peoplewho orchestrate violence for political gain," said Misol. Human Rights Watch called on the government of Kenya to take actionto prevent politically motivated ethnic violence and end impunityfor past incidents of violence; ensure accountability of localsecurity structures; and strengthen legal controls, particularlythose related to the manufacture, possession, and transfer offirearms and ammunition.


I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY[Excerpts only: For full text of the executive summary, and thereport, see: ]Viewed in contrast to many of its neighbors, Kenya is often seen asa bastion of stability. The country has several strengths thatmitigate against the outbreak of mass violence, but it alsoexhibits many of the factors that have been markers of civilstrife elsewhere in Africa: strong ethnic divisions, polarizedpolitical issues, political manipulation, rampant violence,socio-economic disparities and a lack of economic opportunity, and endemic corruption. When combined with the increased availabilityof firearms, this dangerous mix becomes all the more volatile. ...Small Arms Proliferation in KenyaSmall arms proliferation across the globe leads to the more rapidspread of violence and magnifies the devastating effects ofviolence, contributing significantly in areas of armed conflict tohuman rights abuses and violations of international humanitarianlaw. ... In Kenya and other countries not at war, the readyavailability of these weapons undermines security (including with relation to crime), erodes prospects for development, contributesto social disintegration, and makes the resort to violence morelikely-and more deadly. Kenya is vulnerable to weapons trafficking because of itsgeographic location in a conflict-ridden region. The weaponscirculating in Kenya originate from places as far away as China andthe United States, but most of them passed through war zones inneighboring countries before making their way to Kenya's illegalgun markets. ...For the time being, guns in Kenya are circulating on a small scalewhen compared to its war-torn neighbors.

They are smuggled intothe country a few at a time in a steady flow and sold by traders insecret markets, with some larger-scale illegal arms traffickingalso reportedly taking place. The impact of even relatively modestquantities of such weapons, however, is already being felt. The increasing availability of weapons in Kenya has helped fuelrising insecurity and, in some areas, the growing militarizationof society. Much media attention has focused on the prevalent useof sophisticated weapons in urban crime, particularly in Nairobi.Often, refugees living in Kenya are scapegoated as the source ofthese weapons. The proliferation of small arms is most seriousalong Kenya's northern and western borders, where pastoralistcommunities have ready access to AK-47s and other automatic riflesobtained from neighboring countries. The introduction and spreadof such sophisticated weapons among these communities hasintensified conflict and blurred the line between long-standingethnic competition-traditionally manifested in cattle theft orrustling-and political violence. Guns are now widely used to carryout acts of banditry and cattle rustling in Kenya, and have beenresponsible for growing numbers of human casualties, includingduring armed confrontations that pit ethnic groups against eachother. This grave insecurity, as rightly noted by a Kenyan civicleader, derives both from "the influx of small arms" and "carelessutterances and incitement" by politicians. Equally disturbing is Kenya's ruling party's use of violence toretain political power since the government was forced to concedeto a multiparty system in 1992.

It has been estimated that in thepast decade at least some 2,000 people have been killed and400,000 have been displaced in politically motivated violencedirected at ethnic groups perceived to support the opposition.High-ranking ruling party officials have been directly implicatedin instigating past episodes of violence, and the government hasnot taken adequate steps to punish the perpetrators. Whereas inthe large-scale violence in the early 1990s attackers relied overwhelmingly on traditional weapons such as bows and arrows,attacks in more recent incidents in 1997 and 1998 were carried outwith the aid of firearms. Attackers armed with guns enabledothers-armed with clubs, machetes, and other crude weapons-tokill, maim, burn, and loot with impunity. ...Violence for Political Ends: The CoastThis report examines in detail the outbreak of political violenceon the Kenyan coast in mid-1997 as a case study of both theorchestration of violence as a political tool and the devastatingimpact of small arms on human rights. At that time, the countrywas gearing up for elections and calls for constitutional reformwere increasing, putting the ruling party on the defensive. Againstthis political backdrop, well-organized and well-armed irregularparamilitary forces-known as "raiders"-carried out a series ofbrash and deadly attacks on non-indigenous residents aroundMombasa, Coast Province. Although the events chronicled in this case study took placeseveral years ago, Human Rights Watch believes that theinformation is still important, both to document the role of rulingparty officials in the violence and to expose the manner in whichit was organized, particularly as Kenyans prepare to go to thepolls again in general elections that must by law be held in 2002. The Coast raiders targeted members of ethnic communities thathad voted disproportionately against the ruling Kenya AfricanNational Union (KANU) party in the 1992 election, causing KANU tolose two of four parliamentary seats in one district that year. Asa result of the 1997 attacks these likely opposition voters wereforced to flee their homes and, in spite of an unexpected backlashagainst the government over police abuses, KANU won three of theparliamentary seats in elections later that year, with a fourthseat (the one in the area where the violence was sparked) beingwon by a KANU ally registered under a new party. In a neighboringdistrict that was also at the center of the violence, KANU won allthree parliamentary seats, as it had in 1992. President Danielarap Moi, who needed to win at least 25 percent of the presidentialvote in Coast Province to ensure his reelection, carried theprovince easily, and his vote tally rose considerably in violence-affected areas that previously had been oppositionstrongholds. The perpetrators of the Coast attacks were largely disgruntledlocal young men whose hostility toward non-indigenous residents ofthe region led them to support a divisive ethnic agenda that alsoserved the ruling party's political aspirations.

Many stronglyfelt that long-term migrants from other parts of Kenya, as well as other ethnic minority communities settled there, were to blame forthe poor conditions faced by their indigenous ethnic group, theDigo. They were motivated by anger over the economicmarginalization of the local population, which contrasted sharplywith the wealth generated by the area's tourism economy. Their goal was to drive away members of the ethnic groups originatingfrom inland Kenya-the "up-country" population-in order to gainaccess to jobs, land, and educational opportunities. They usedbrutal tactics to terrorize their targets for weeks on end. In a meeting of these interests, a number of local-level KANUpoliticians and supporters mobilized marginalized Digo youth totake up arms against opposition supporters for political ends. Ininterviews with Human Rights Watch, several members of the Digoraider force described how the assaults were organized with helpfrom local figures who were politically active with the rulingparty. For example, a number of local KANU politicians andsupporters were instrumental in recruiting young men to join theraiders. A politically connected spiritual leader used a localcultural practice, oathing, to bind the raiders to secrecy (while promising to make them immune to bullets). He also helped dictatethe raiders' targets and strategy. Most of the raiders' commandershad prior military experience, and raiders said some of therank-and-file members also had previously served in the Kenyanarmed services and a few were active-duty servicemen. In addition,the raiders benefited from the participation of a mysterious groupof highly trained and well-armed fighters whom they described assoldiers and, in part because they apparently did not speakSwahili, believed were foreigners. ...The evidence strongly suggests that higher-level governmentofficials and politicians, acting behind the scenes, alsocontributed to the organization of the raider force and supportedthe operations of the raiders once the violence was unleashed.Raiders described several visitors to their training camps, whomthey were told were KANU members of parliament (MPs) and key partyactivists. ... According to their testimonies, the raidersbenefited from both direct and indirect support from thepoliticians, the latter often supplied via their spiritual leader.In light of the sustained support they received from ruling partypoliticians, some of the raiders interpreted calls to halt the violence as a sign that it had gone on too long and had become aliability, not as an indicator that the politicians objected totheir actions. Looking back on the events that occurred in 1997, those raiders whodecided to speak to Human Rights Watch did so because they feltbetrayed and manipulated by the ruling party officials who used andthen discarded them. ... the raiders we interviewed maintain thattop Coast Province political leaders orchestrated the events frombehind the scenes on behalf of the government of President Moi. ...Despite numerous advance warnings, the government took no action tostop the raiders at an early stage.

Once the raids had begun,government security forces did not mount serious securityoperations and instead took a number of steps that undermined theeffective pursuit of the raiders. In addition, they deniedeffective protection to the victims of the targeted raids and wereresponsible for a number ofserious human rights abuses, includingarbitrary arrests and torture, in a crackdown directed in partagainst opposition party activists whom they accused of beingraiders. ... In the end, despite hundreds of arrests and a longgovernment inquiry, no one has been brought to justice fororganizing the attacks. ...A Time of TransitionWith the next national election anticipated for late 2002, the newpolitical landscape in Kenya is one of transition and uncertainty.President Moi, whom the constitution bars from running again, hasindicated that he will step down. He arranged to merge KANU withanother party and recruited politicians from ethnic groups alliedto the opposition, thereby bolstering prospects for his party'selectoral success. Moi himself was elected chair of the mergedparty, a position from which he was anticipated to exerciseconsiderable power. At this writing there was much speculationabout whom Moi may intend to be his successor as president, aswell as jockeying for position among the contenders for power, butit remained unclear who would emerge as the ruling party'spresidential candidate. The opposition had not unified behind asingle presidential candidate. In February 2002 five oppositionparties announced they would coordinate electoral efforts and, ifelected, would share power. In early 2002, the country also remained focused on theconstitutional reform debate. One of the central reform issuesunder consideration was the devolution of state power. A number ofproposals, including a draft put forward by the ruling party in2001, envision a federalist system. In this context, the term"majimbo" (literally meaning "federalism") again gained currencyin the national political debate.

The proposals put forward werevague and left the modalities undefined, but politicians whopromoted their proposals as pro-majimbo were generally careful tostate that they did not wish to promote an ethnically exclusiveform of federalism, as had been advanced during previous electioncampaigns and had served as the rallying-cry for past incidents ofpolitically motivated ethnic violence. Nevertheless, some Kenyans,mindful of past violence carried out in the name of majimbo,remained wary. Events in 2001 and early 2002 showed that violence continued to marKenyan politics. For example, parliamentary by-elections in early2001 were associated with serious violence. Violence againstopposition activists continued, with police cracking down ongovernment critics in numerous incidents, and pro-KANU youth gangsattacking political opposition rallies. Sporadic violence betweenmembers of ethnic groups seen to be allied to the ruling party andthose perceived to support the opposition continued in the run-upto the 2002 election. Inter-ethnic fightingin late 2001 in theinterior of Coast Province, as well as episodes of such violencein Nairobi in late 2001 and early 2002, claimed dozens of lives.Many observers considered that politicians were to blame forinflaming existing tensions. ...The government has recognized some of the grave dangers small armsproliferation poses for the country and is working with regionalpartners to stem the tide of weapons with a focus oninformation-sharing, enhanced border controls, and harmonizationof legislation. It also has sought international assistance to curbweapons flows. Its efforts are welcome, but its approach andimplementation leave much to be desired. As with other securityissues, it has cracked down on select targets only.

It rightly hasrecognized the role of external actors, especially arms exportersin Europe and Asia who flood the region with weapons, as well asarmed groups in neighboring countries who supply recycled weaponsto Kenya. But it has been loath to examine its own practices,including its role as a transit point for regional weapons flows.Instead, it has scapegoated refugee populations for illegalweapons flows within the country, often associating all refugeesindiscriminately with the actions of armed and criminal elements.International donors, concerned with the potential for terroristattacks in the wake of the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and,more recently, attacks in the United States in 2001, have notquestioned this approach. Most dangerously, the internationalcommunity to date has disregarded the potentially explosive linkbetween weapons availability and domestic political violence.

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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