Copenhagen in Kenya: Explaining the 2007 General Election Violence
“‘I think in future, other communities will think twice before they can attack us. Everybody now knows that nobody is safe when one community is under siege’” – Kikuyu Woman (Weru, 2011: 55)
One of the most interesting elections to be held this year will be the ones in Kenya in March 2013. This is not so on the basis of a particular potential for policy change or their significance for the global system, but due to what transpired the last time Kenyans went to the polls in 2007. After the very successful transition of power from Daniel Arap Moi to Mwai Kibaki in 2002, Kenya descended in turmoil for a period that lasted for more than a month after it held its general elections at the end of 2007. Ethnicity seemed to be at the forefront of the catalysts that led to the spread of violent protests and acts of crime that were committed in various locations. How can we understand the outpouring of violence at this particular moment, given that the previous elections had been widely successful?
This paper will employ the framework of securitization provided by the Copenhagen School to attempt to explain what exactly the root causes were which led to the violence following the elections. Thus, three issues will be highlighted which are taken to constitute an important insight into the outbreak of conflict. First, there will be a brief discussion of the elections as pitting young against old, that is a generational struggle. Second, the economic dimension of the conflict will be investigated, focusing on issues of land and unemployment. Lastly, and most importantly for this paper, it will be assessed how ethnically salient discourse and subject construction framed the conflict in a specific way, leading to the juxtaposition of different identities.
Following a brief review of the events after the elections, the theoretical framework will be applied to the case at hand. To provide perspective, a short reflection on Neoliberal Institutionalist ways to explain the crisis will be presented. Subsequently, the three issues laid out above will delineate an understanding consistent with the Copenhagen School. Thus, this paper sets out to explain this particular conflict from a Constructivist viewpoint.
In December of 2007, the hotly contested general elections in Kenya led to an outpouring of violence after Mwai Kibaki was declared the election winner by the electoral commission and quickly sworn in for a second term as President. The general presidential elections had taken place on December 27th, 2007. After a delay of three days, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced that Kibaki was the winner (Lafargue, Katumanga, 2009: 14). However, opposition candidate Raila Odinga was believed to have led by several hundred thousand votes after the second round of counting, before the results from North Eastern and Central provinces had come in (Ibid). Thus, the ECK stated that Kibaki had won with a total vote share of 46 percent, compared to Odinga’s 44 percent (Ibid).
Alleging vote rigging, the opposition Orange Democratic Movement led by presidential candidate Odinga disputed the results and claimed victory for itself (Modi, Shekhawat, 2009: 17). What followed were massive violent protests mainly in areas of Nairobi, Kisumu and Naivasha, which were met by reciprocal violence by groups supporting the government and President Kibaki as well as hard-line police crack downs. Immediately, violence broke out in the Kibera area of Nairobi, which was Raila Odinga’s constituency as Member of Parliament (International Crisis Group, 2008: 9). Violence had already gripped Kibera ahead of the previous elections, when twelve where killed and 3000 lost their homes in a conflict over rent disputes in November 2001 (Ahluwalia, 2007: 49). Subsequently, conflict broke out between ethnic gangs. By January, violent conflict had also reached Kisumu, Raila Odinga’s home area, where the Luo are the majority ethnic group (Oloo, 2011: 58). Thereafter, the Rift Valley, and in particular Naivasha, experienced conflict as well due to the arrival of refugees from the Nairobi area (Weru, 2011: 40-41).
According to some reports, the total casualties amounted to 1,000 dead and 300,000 displaced (Kumssa, 2011: 143). In addition to the immediate tragedy, the conflict led Kenya into political and economic crisis, while also tarnishing its image among the international community as a stable, democratic and economically powerful country (Ibid). It was finally resolved diplomatically through the help of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was able to secure an accord between Odinga and Kibaki which took effect on February 28th, 2008 (Lafargue, Katumanga, 2009: 27).