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Corporate interests and Kenya's crisis

Kenya has been Africa’s fastest-growing economy, a key ally in the Bush-Blair-Brown “war on terror” and was considered a stable place for investment and tourism. Until now the country has been considered a stable hub for transnationals like Barclays, British American Tobacco, Diageo and Unilever. Now there are indications of a breakdown of the economic model of development and the pseudo-democracy that Kenya represented.

Expert Michael Holman has noted how today’s crisis is rooted in the desperate poverty of Kenya’s rapidly-growing population: “The population has doubled in 25 years to 31m. Unemployment is growing and the number without land is growing. For these people there is nothing to lose by taking to the streets, driven by frustration and fury that transcend their tribe.” He blames the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for backing one of Africa’s most corrupt regimes. “Seldom,” he writes, “have western policy-makers been so complicit in a crisis that is turning into Kenya’s catastrophe.”

Kenya’s urban poor masses are disrupting the wheeler dealing between their leaders and Western politicians. So desperate are Bush and Brown to hold on to the Mwai Kibaki regime that they have declined to condemn the self-evident electoral fraud in the presidential elections. Even European Union observers noted that ballot boxes were stuffed with extra Kibaki votes by the time they reached Nairobi. The fact that Kibaki’s party won only 35 out of 210 seats parliamentary seats was a clear indication that popular opinion had swung in favour of the Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement.

Riots first broke out in protest against the premature swearing-in of Kibaki as president after elections on December 27. Now, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless by ethnically-charged turmoil in Nairobi, the Rift Valley and elsewhere. Kibaki’s own ethnic group, the Kikuyu, have become targets for Odinga supporters. But in the capital’s vast slum city, Kibera, the defiance turned against the state itself as residents turned out in their thousands to confront the police, despite being fired at with water cannon and live bullets. Hundreds have been killed in clashes with Kibaki’s notorious security forces.

Kibaki is only the third ruler since Kenya became independent from Britain in 1964. In December 2002, he succeeded Daniel arap Moi, who ruled as a virtual dictator for 24 years, looting the country’s wealth and running a terror regime based on secret police, prisons and torture. An unholy alliance was formed between the former president and Kibaki, who appointed Moi as “peace envoy” to Sudan last July, to which the UN and the UK turned a blind eye.

Despite Moi’s open corruption and his savage repression of the Kikuyu tribe, it was business as usual between Moi and global corporate interests for a quarter of a century. And, in 2003 when Moi conceded power to Kibaki, there was no chance that the US, the UK and the United Nations were going to upset what they saw as an “island of stability” and a good place to invest. In reality, this stability was an illusion based on an agreement between Moi and his successor to carry on with the corrupt exploitation of their country at the expense of the masses. No wonder it couldn’t last.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary
3 January 2008

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