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Poverty not tribalism behind Kenya's crisis

Political leaders in the West expressing pious shock at the terrible events in Kenya are achieving new pinnacles of hypocrisy since for decades they have ignored the country’s growing crisis. They continued to support Mwai Kibaki’s rapacious and corrupt regime in return for Kenya’s full participation in the global market economy. The subjection of this formerly peaceful country of 40 ethnic groups to the requirements of capitalist globalisation, rather than “tribalism”, has driven on the current ethnic violence and social breakdown.

Kenyans swept Kibaki to power in 2002, their first opportunity to get rid of the kleptocracy of Daniel Arap Moi who had blatantly stolen billions of dollars in aid and investment. Kibaki promised an end to corruption but only three years later John Githongo, the man appointed by Kibaki to clean up corruption, fled to Britain. He brought with him papers and taped conversations with ministers, exposing deals that showed Kibaki and his cronies were skimming millions through fake contracts with non-existent companies.

The New Labour government knew exactly what was happening in Kenya but chose to ignore Githongo’s evidence – as did the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US government. Kibaki was creating a comfortable home for global finance in Nairobi, a centre for tea and coffee trade and a transport hub for East Africa.

And so the UK increased aid to Kenya, from £30m in 2003-04 to £50m in 2005-06. But neither aid nor trade have prevented the massive growth of poverty and unemployment. In the past two years Kenya has achieved annual growth of 6%, whilst at the same time the gap between the wealthy elite and the poor has grown dramatically.

Kenya’s population has risen from 9 to 30 million since independence from Britain in 1963 and the average age in Kenya is 18. Unemployment amongst young people in both rural and urban areas has reached unbearable levels. There are thousands of young men who have literally nothing to lose. “It did take many, many people by surprise that things could get that bad that quickly,” admits Razia Khan, Africa analyst at Standard Chartered bank in London – demonstrating the extent to which capitalist globalisation is oblivious to its own impact.

About 80% of Kenyan land is arid and semi-arid, but huge swathes of productive land have been turned over to cash crops for the global supermarket chains, leaving rural people in landless poverty. The growth in tourism, bringing in £500 million a year, has brought little change but rather simply put more pressure on scarce resources. Terrible flooding in 2002 and 2006 destroyed many peoples’ livelihoods and they have never recovered.

The politicians from both sides whipped up tribal divisions during the election in order to win votes and now act surprised at the horror they unleashed. There is an alternative – and that is for Kenyans to unite in opposition to corporate-driven globalisation, and with fellow East Africans across tribes and borders, to regenerate the ideals of Pan-Africanism. It is only the unity of the African masses in opposition to globalisation and the corporations’ proxy regimes that can end poverty and create the conditions for dignity as well as economic and political self-determination.

Penny Cole
1 February 2008

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