Friday, January 25, 2008
Dr. Joseph Mwaura:Harvard scholar addresses Kenya violence!
The ‘pride of Africa’ faces troubling future
By Colleen Walsh
Harvard News Office
Protesters could “call for a 1 million [man] march, but then end up having a 5 million man massacre.”
That was the grim prediction of one Harvard scholar who said the current unrest in Kenya could erupt into genocide if left unchecked.
As another wave of riots swept the country in the wake of December’s disputed presidential election — which opposition leader Raila Odinga and many foreign observers say was rigged — Harvard legal scholar Joseph Mwaura examined some of the reasons behind the current crisis and considered possible ways forward for the African nation.
Mwaura, a visiting fellow in the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, offered his perspective at an informal discussion organized by the program on Wednesday (Jan. 9) at the Law School’s Pound Hall.
A Kenyan, Mwaura was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya in 1998, taught law at the Kenya School of Professional Studies, and is a lecturer in law at Queens University, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Three key factors, he said, have contributed to the instability in Kenya: the lack of credibility and independence of government institutions; ethnic unrest and violence; and the failure of the country’s leaders to address historical injustices.
One didn’t have to look far to find corrupt institutions, Mwaura said. The nation hoped its elections commissioner, Samuel Kivuitu, an expert jurist who was widely respected, would lead Kenya through a fair process. But his willingness to announce the results of the recent election — which returned president Mwai Kibaki to power — without adequately investigating the charges and countercharges of vote rigging, suggests, said Mwaura, that the commissioner was subject to manipulation.
“The results were really flawed, the numbers were not adding up,” said Mwaura, who also said that Kibaki’s appointment of three members to the High Court prior to the election signaled the administration’s corruption as well.
“The opposition doesn’t trust the judiciary … to acquire justice at all.”
Mwaura said the violence in the country in recent weeks could be broken down into protesters angry they were deprived of their right to free and fair elections, those involved in ethnic violence, and those who feel that their rightful land had been stolen from them.
While the first group wants to protest legitimately, he noted, officials have to walk a difficult line, maintaining democratic principles such as the right to assemble while securing the peace.
“I think the government could have quite a lot of justification in making sure that these people don’t get together. … How are you going to determine who are the people who are going to come with machetes hidden under their jackets?” he said.
The ethnic violence in the country, Mwaura added, was fueled in part by the hate-filled rhetoric from both sides throughout the campaign and the notion that opposing tribes represent the enemy. In addition, he argued, many believe that the Kikuyu tribe, the tribe of Kibaki, wields far too much power.
Finally, Mwaura asserted, some of the violence is perpetrated by those angry over the injustice of land distribution. The trouble dates back hundreds of years to the colonization of Kenya, he said, when traditional communal land ownership was replaced by a Western title system. The change put land in the hands of private citizens and the government.
“But people still had the notion that this land belonged to them, because that was the tradition, so that notion is still simmering today,” he said.
Major reforms and initiatives are the only way to avoid a potential genocide, Mwaura predicted.
He suggested the government meet with community leaders and offer concrete compensation for the land they feel was lost. To ease ethnic tensions, a fair distribution of resources allocated by a government that doesn’t favor the tribe of the president in power is essential, he argued. The judiciary needs to call for new elections; peace-building initiatives from both political leaders need to be developed; and constitutional reforms and changes to election laws that would lead to fairer, representational elections need to be instituted.
In addition, a massive civic education campaign is required, he said, to teach people to vote for candidates who represent values and justice and not simply a particular ethnicity. And major steps need to be taken to address the increasing number of people living in poverty.
“[Kenya] has been described as one of the greatest countries in Africa,” he told the small crowd gathered at Pound Hall. “The pride of Africa, the beacon of hope in Africa, the envy of Africa,” he said, recalling some of the phrases used to paint the picture of a country full of promise.
“We hope the leaders are not going to allow this [genocide] to happen.”
One member of the audience said she worries about other pressing problems on the ground in the African nation.
“What we are going to see in the next few days and weeks are people who are dying of starvation,” said Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi, a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School, whose family lives in Kenya.
“I appreciate this conversation because it allows us to look at all the larger things, but what about today, what about tomorrow as opposed to three months, five months, seven years. … If people cannot leave their homes to go and buy food safely, how would they leave their homes to go and vote? That is my biggest concern,” Siwo-Okundi said.
The government, she said, needs to make sure its people are safe and fed as it works toward peace and reconciliation.
“We know what is right. It’s a matter of having the courage to do it.”
Joseph Mwaura is a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School and a lawyer for the High Court of Kenya.
Notes from KDPM:
Wonder if Kenyan leaders are listening to people like Joseph Mwaura. KDPM suggets that he replaces some of Kibaki's advisors like Joe Wanjui,Prof. Nick Wanjohi, John Michuki, Njenga Karume and George Muhoho.
Ruud Elmendorp of Wikiboom has an excellent chronology of the events that led to all these. You can see them at: http://rocketboom.wikia.com/wiki/Kenya