Kenya: In politics there are no permanent enemies, only permanent promises

Kenyans head to the polls on March 4th 2013. This has been billed as a defining moment for a country whose momentous economic growth was disrupted with the 2007 post-election violence. During this period Kenya grounded to a halt. The new Constitution promises to give East Africa’s economic giant a new kiss of life. MRG’s Africa Regional Information Officer, Mohamed Matovu, takes a look at the presidential debates and the stakes for minorities.

Kenya’s presidential poll is well into the final stretch with voting slated for March 4th. And listening to the candidates during the live presidential debates, it was clear all candidates have a good sense of the enormous challenges facing their country.

They all stood on lecterns facing the nation, articulated these challenges and offered outlines of their solutions.

One would ask; if all candidates appreciate the challenges Kenya is facing, why have previous governments, after winning elections, not tackled these challenges head-on?

In politics, goes an old saying, there are no permanent enemies but permanent interests.

The debate also served as a reminder that in politics there are only permanent promises.

Fatuma, a member of the minority Nubian community who lives in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, aptly put it during the second televised debate when she said that the Nubian community had been promised and lied to by successive governments, who never made good on their promises.

All candidates again pledged before Fatuma to resettle the Nubian community once voted into office.

Would she believe any one of them?

Both presidential debates did put candidates in the spotlight regarding topical issues affecting the majority of Kenyans including; economic growth, corruption, human and social security, and land.

Speaker after speaker variously offered insights into their plans to return the economy to high growth, eradicate poverty, fight corruption and equitably resolve the land question.

During the run up to the second debate, it was clear that land, a very emotive issue, would not only dominate the debate but is set to be the biggest challenge for the next administration.

The two presidential election front-runners, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, were put to task to explain allegations of illegal land deals. Kenyatta’s family is easily one of Kenya’s largest landowners with an estimated 200,000 hectares.

Raila was tasked to explain his family acquisition of a molasses plant in Kisumu. They both defended the land deals as legal.

Kenyatta refused to go on record over how much land his family owns in Kenya.

"Nobody has ever pointed out and said I have been involved in improperly acquiring land. What we as a family own, was acquired through willing buyer willing seller basis," said Kenyatta.

‘You cannot expect a thief to accept that I am a thief,’ quipped Mohamed Abduba Dida, one of the challengers in the race.

Land in Kenya, as perhaps elsewhere in the region, continues to be the leading cause of ethnic conflicts, which sometimes turn bloody and result in death,s especially in the volatile coastal and Rift Valley regions.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has documented cases of several minority and indigenous communities in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa that continue to (il)legally lose land without their ‘free, prior and informed consent’ or adequate compensation, as enshrined in international best practice.

For instance, hunter-gather, fisherfolk and pastoralist communities in Kenya are still pressing the government to address historical land injustices, even if their clarion calls have not been met with much success.

Several years after the African Commission faulting the government of Kenya for illegally taking over land belonging to the Endorois community of Lake Bogoria and ordering for their reinstatement or adequate compensation, the government is yet to act on the decision.

An MRG report released as Kenya celebrated her 50th anniversary titled ‘Kenya at 50: Unrealized rights of minorities and indigenous peoples’ documented cases showing that forced evictions and other forms of harassment have continued to plague many minority and indigenous communities, in absolute disregard of the new Constitution.

What seems to be perennially missing, in the words of Peter Kenneth, one of the presidential aspirants is, ‘over 60% of the land in Kenya remains un-adjudicated because the real problem is a lack of goodwill to implement and enforce land reforms.’

Unlike previously, observes MRG’s recently launched report on elections titled ‘Taking diversity seriously: minorities and political participation in Kenya ’ the stakes are high for minorities in this election because the Constitution grants juridical recognition to marginalized communities and groups for the first time.

The report recommends that recognition will not improve the situation for minorities unless appropriate legislative and regulatory regimes are put in place.

And for this to happen, the onus is on the next president of Kenya. It remains to be seen whether the next president will allow his or her political hands to get soiled while cleaning the dirty land question.

Photo: Members of Ogiek hunter-gatherer community, who live in the Mau Forest and Mount Elgon areas of Kenya (MRG)


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Date: 26/02/2013




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012
Culture and Tradition
Indigenous Peoples
Natural resources
Land Rights

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