Donors had given some $24 million to a new electronic voting system for 2017. On 11 August the IEBC announced that Kenyatta had won another five-year term with over 54% of the vote. Observer groups, including the Carter Centre, led by ex-State Secretary John Kerry, rushed to endorse the results, and declared they had no evidence of significant fraud. Departing soon after, Kerry praised the IEBC for “an extraordinary job”, and even felt able to admonish the opposition to “get over it and move on.”
On 18 August Odinga, leader of the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA), petitioned the Supreme Court to annul the vote. He claimed that nearly half of all votes cast had been tampered with: secret, unofficial polling stations had transmitted false votes to the IEBC; NASA’s official observers had been expelled from polling stations in Kenyatta’s strongholds. On 29 August, the registrar of the Supreme Court reported that some five million votes were unverified.
Soon after, the six-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in a four-two decision, ruled that the vote had been hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent. The electoral commission had committed “illegalities and irregularities”. The election was invalid, and they ordered a new vote within 60 days (Jason Burke, 2 September 2017).
Many noted that the courts in Kenya had long been subservient to the executive. Odinga accurately hailed an “exceptional example for all of Africa”: it would certainly be impossible to imagine a similar decision being made, for instance, in Botswana, where the judiciary regularly defers to presidential power (When the present writer was declared a prohibited immigrant in Kenya in 2005, he appealed on the grounds of freedom of speech enshrined in the constitution, but the High Court determined that the President had the power to do what he did, and nothing more was to be said.) There were many “fundamental decisions” that now had to be made, including “who will conduct the next election?’ It was clear, Odinga said, that “the entire electoral commission is rotten,” quoted by Burke 2 September 2017.
In Kenya, as in many other African countries, power is highly centralised in the presidency, facilitating the execution of violence. During the two-stage 2017 presidential elections, in August and the re-run on 26 October, severe assault was directed at women and girls. Rape by state security agents occurred. As before, the state deployed large numbers of well-equipped paramilitary units in opposition areas in anticipation of violence, and to mete it out themselves, as deterrent and punishment: they carried guns, batons, tear gas cannisters, and often wore helmets and body armour.
In a report of 14 December that year, ‘They Were Men in Uniform’, HRW identified the police as perpetrators. In investigations carried out between September and November 2017, HRW reported widespread violence directed at the vulnerable both for their gender and their ethnicity: to ‘punish the individual and their communities for the way they voted’ and their suspected allegiances. They documented cases of vaginal and anal rape, gang rape, mass rape, and rape with an object. ‘About half’ of their reported cases were gang rapes. Sexual violence was intended to have, a wide and ‘devastating impact’: many experienced injuries and other consequences leaving some unable to work, care for themselves and for families, or handle schooling. ‘Profound mental trauma’ was common. With their history of human rights abuses, contacting the police was not a viable option for most victims.
The Report provides graphic details of the assaults endured by the victims, and makes clear that the rapist police aimed at political repression. This was what Josephine Anyango experienced in Nairobi on 5 October 2017: “It was the Saturday after Uhuru was announced the winner. Guns were ringing all over. There was tear gas all over. They broke the gate to our plot. They were men dressed in uniform. They were just beating people…They were saying, ‘Come out now and throw stones.’ I heard women crying, saying, ‘Don’t rape me’. Three came to my house, beat me seriously, and raped me.”
Rose Otieno, 37, was in her house with her five children on the night of 11 August. She said that two men dressed in green and black uniforms, boots and helmets, broke into my house. “One asked me to say, ‘I don’t support Raila, I support Uhuru’. I refused. The one with the gun slapped me and told me to shut up. The other said, ‘Let’s teach her a lesson.’ He raped me in the presence of my children.”
Georgina Musa went to buy groceries on Saturday afternoon 12 August, when she “saw three policemen. They wore helmets, had guns and teargas. I started running…One ripped off my clothes. I told him, ‘I could be your mother.’ He slapped me, kicked me, and raped me as the others were watching. They took 200 shillings ($2) from me. One told me, ‘Go and tell Baba [Odinga]’”
Doris Syombua was at her bar on the night of 11 August, and she was trembling with fear. Three policemen in uniform broke the door and entered. “One raped me in the front [vaginally] and the other at the back [anally].”
In about one-third of the cases documented by HRW, women and girls were raped in the presence of other family members including young children.
Jackline Mkamburi was at home with her three children and husband on the night of 11 August. Three men wearing police uniforms burst in. They raped her before her husband and children. They said, “This is our government and there is nothing you can do to us.”
Several women in Dandora in Nairobi told HRW that their rapists threatened, ‘We will come back in the night to rape and kill’.
The assaults were devastating. Most survivors experienced heavy pains and aches. On 11 August at about 11 a.m., Gladys Moraa went to help her neighbour’s young child who had been hit with a teargas cannister. Amid confusion, she tripped and fell. “A police officer kicked me on my upper back with his booted feet. I couldn’t move. He raped me and left. Another one came, kicked me on the stomach and back, and raped me. I thought I would die.” Grace Kungu was raped on 12 August on her way from work. “They took me to an unfinished building and all four raped me in front and behind. Since that day…I take pain killers all the time.”
Many of the women and girls interviewed by HRW spoke of ‘feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness, self-hatred, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, and suicidal thoughts.’ Janet Kiptoo, 16 years, and her 15-year-old cousin, Darlene Chemutai, were raped by two men at gunpoint. The men beat, harassed, and tortured them for almost two hours. She told HRW: “I don’t know if it will ever end. I have no peace…I should just die.”
‘Almost all survivors’ worry if their rapists had infected them with HIV, and that ‘their families will find out that they are rape victims. The women were particularly concerned ‘about the emotional state of children who had witnessed the sexual violence.’ Their traumas were compounded by the fact that ‘many of them suffer alone in silence’.
Pamela Wambua was raped by four GSU men at gunpoint on 11 August. She said: “I remember the rape all the time. It disturbs my mind…It’s like you are in a different world”.
The country’s history of impunity negates people’s confidence in the police. Grace Kungu did not report her assault to the police because “They are the same people who rape us.” Neema Abdul never went to the police. “The men who raped me wore green uniform. They stole my phone and 15,000 shillings” ($146). Purity Onyancha went to the police to report her daughter’s rape. “The police said if I don’t know the rapist, they won’t open a file… I realised we were not going to get help, so I told my daughter we leave.”
The denial and the immunity continued. HRW launched their report, ‘They Were Men in Uniform’, in Nairobi in mid-December 2017, and Senior Researcher, Agnes Odhiambo, detailed their findings. The Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinnet, stated that the organisation had fabricated their evidence, and rejected the report out of hand.
But the evidence came from disparate sources and was huge. Mathare was a district of densely packed shacks, home to some 250,000 poor people. The MSJC ‘counted 803 reports’ of police killings in the community between 2013-2015, and had ‘documented dozens of these’. A survey by the International Police Association, an American group, ranked the Kenyan police as the third worst in Africa, after those in Congo DRC and Nigeria, The Economist, 10 March 2018.
HRW’s study of police violence in the August stage of the 2017 elections estimated that some 67 people had probably been killed then nationally, 33 killed in Nairobi alone. Most shot or beaten to death, others killed by teargas and pepper-spray fired at close range. The government’s so-called ‘Contingency Plan’ had identified ‘hotspots’, where violence was most likely: these were ‘all opposition strongholds in ethnic majority Luo and Luhya areas.’ Police and paramilitaries were deployed ‘in large numbers…ahead of the polling.’ Such deployments, HRW said, fuelled political tensions, and ‘exacerbated the unrest that followed the announcement of the results’. The protests which resulted faced shootings and people being ‘beaten to death on the street and in house-to-house searches’. The ‘hotspots’ were actually the informal settlements or shanty towns, among them Mathare, Kibera, Dandora, where 2.5 million of Nairobi’s 3 million population, lived: heavily deprived communities, where typhoid and cholera were common, and unemployment was around 50%. HRW reported that police destroyed cameras and phones, beat photographers, and arrested journalists. ‘In many cases,’ victims and family members did not report violations and deaths ‘because they feared retribution from police’ (‘“Kill Those Criminals”: Kenya’s August 2017 Elections’, (n.d.) 2-4 and 12.
Legally and politically, nothing improved following the annulment. On the account of two senior American diplomats, in the approach to the second round of the presidential election at the end of October, and its aftermath, the Kenyatta government and its supporters ‘waged an onslaught against both the courts and the IEBC. Judges were threatened, with one surviving an assassination attempt. IEBC commissioners were menaced or offered bribes’. Kenyatta won the re-run, but the diplomats felt that Kenyatta and Odinga each commanded roughly half the electorate. Turnout was only 38%, partly because Odinga had withdrawn in protest against the absence of change in the IEBC which he had previously identified as essential. He concentrated on staging a swearing-in of himself as a so-called ‘People’s President’. The government reacted with ‘fury’, said the diplomats, to these theatricals: NASA officials were ‘harassed, threatened, detained, and deported’. Nairobi’s three main TV stations were taken off the air when they attempted to broadcast Odinga’s event. The Inspector General of Police repeatedly refused to comply with orders to release detainees and cease all unconstitutional actions. Kenyatta and Ruto, they said, were challenging the rule of law and embracing dictatorial rule. Mark Bellamy and Johnnie Carson (Guest Column, allAfrica.com 27 February 2018).
The roots of conflict lie decades deep in Kenyan society: stemming most actively from the ascendancy of a Kikuyu landed, ‘Loyalist’ elite in the last decades of settler colonialism, and the associated uprising of landless Kikuyu striving for ‘Land and Freedom’, the Mau Mau movement. But it had deeper origins much earlier, in the beginnings of Kenya colony. The conquest and control of Kenya was brutal, characterised by systematic killing and destruction, and the seizure of crops and stock. By the late 1920s, government and settlers in Kenya had forced the African population to play its assigned role as a cheap wage-labour force. By 1952 some 9,000 settlers had exclusive rights to 16,700 square miles of land, while several million Africans tried to exist on congested reserves, as contract labourers on white farms, and as un- and semi-skilled labourers in the towns.
The former were largely the constitutional-nationalists in the Kenya African Union (KAU), formed in 1945, while the latter were a disparate formation of Kikuyu ex-servicemen some of whom had close trade union connections: Fred Kubai and Makhan Singh of the East African Trade Union Congress held an 18-day general strike in Nairobi in May 1950. A polarisation grew between the moderate nationalist KAU, and the young militants, particularly over secretive political mobilisation. Kenyatta had returned home in 1946 after 13 years absence, and assumed the presidency of KAU: he believed that politics was for elders and that the young militants endangered society.
At midnight on 20-21 October 1952 a State of Emergency was declared by Governor Evelyn Baring. It was intended to decapitate Mau Mau, but Kenyatta, deeply opposed to militancy, was an immediate detainee. Not for the last time, colonialism got it badly wrong: Kenyatta was far from being “the leader to darkness and death”. Arrested too were Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai and Achieng Oneko. Of the five members of KAU’s national executive arrested then, three were trade union leaders, and further arrests followed of many lower-level organisers in Nairobi. The effects of these losses were to deprive the Mau Mau movement of skilled personnel with experience in modern political organisation, and to narrow the composition of the insurgents: to poor peasants, unskilled workers, and people with only basic primary education. (The historical material here builds on ‘Kenya’ ch.2 in Good, The Struggle of Democratisation Against Authoritarianism in Contemporary Africa, 2019.) By the end of 1952, 121 loyalist Kikuyu had been murdered (David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, 2005, 70). Fearful and outraged, well-armed settlers initiated a wide-scale, extra-judicial open season against Kikuyu.
But it was an unplanned uprising, and Britain had taken the militants by surprise. They had few weapons and no established lines of supply. They had a strong network of support among the Kikuyu, but no military structures, no initial strategy, and no established forest bases (Anderson, 68). Britain’s imperial military power was overwhelming. When the Emergency was declared, Britain had a cruiser stationed off Mombasa. As of June 1953, it had deployed a squadron of Lincoln heavy bombers, an armoured car division, eleven battalions of British, East African and Kenyan troops, totalling over 10,000 soldiers; a police force of 21,000, and the paramilitary Kikuyu Home Guard: the British and Kenyan governments were utilising ‘a force of well over 50,000 against the insurgents’ (Barnett and Njama, Mau Mau From Within, 1966, 312). Yet Dedan Kimathi, a leading Mau Mau commander, was not captured until October 1956.
An aggressive colonial strategy followed the arrival of a new Commander-in-Chief, General Sir George Erskine, in June 1953. Five tracks were cut into the Aberdares by Royal Engineers and forced Kikuyu labour, and battalion-strength bases were established within the forest fringe from which sweeps and cordon operations were launched. Military power was only part of the offensive. The oppression of the general population was deepened. The Kikuyu reserve became a Special Area where anyone failing to halt when challenged could be shot, and in the forests of Mt Kenya and Nyandarua, all unauthorised Africans were to be shot on sight. In addition, in ‘a 100-mile strip of land, from one to three miles in width, lying between the forests and the reserve, huts and granaries were burned, peasants evicted and crops slashed.
After almost a year and a half of fighting, with vastly superior power and extreme political ruthlessness, the government had not defeated the guerrillas (Barnett and Njama, 225, 330). But by the last half of 1954, the forest fighters were increasingly isolated and divided. They were critically short of arms. Importantly, they were being alienated from the Kikuyu peasantry, enduring the full weight of colonial repression (Barnett and Njama, 375). By the end of 1955 only some 1,500 fighters remained in the Aberdares. Kimathi was captured in October 1956, after which he was tried, hanged and buried in an unmarked grave in quick succession.
Britain’s anti-colonial war took place on many inter-related fronts. Caroline Elkins believes that in total some 320,000 people were detained (Britain’s Gulag, 2005, xi). A massive Villagization of the Kikuyu was enforced. 800 enclosed villages were established throughout Kikuyu territory, controlled by a Home Guard of 15,000 in early 1953, cutting off the Mau Mau-fish from the water of a supportive free peasantry. A Loyalist was then a Kikuyu who served on the British side against Mau Mau, and received in return ‘the best of everything’, in grants of large and fertile land, trading licences, tax exemptions and, not least, ‘carte blanche to settle old scores with Mau Mau neighbours’ (Elkins, 72).
The creation of Britain’s Loyalists dove-tailed with the programme to promote a class of rich peasants and aspirant rural capitalists as long-term social bulwark against the landless peasantry in the central highlands. This programme took full shape in the Swynnerton Plan for African commercial agriculture in December 1953. It consolidated land and conferred legal ownership on recipients, and poorer Kikuyu ‘knew full well’ that this would ‘benefit their wealthier, loyalist neighbours and lead inevitably to their own further impoverishment.’ Colonialism was creating ‘permanent socioeconomic divisions within Kikuyu society…along the fault line between loyalist and Mau Mau’ (Elkins, 127). Divisions not absent today between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga and their respective supporters.
Still the defeat of Mau Mau did not come quickly or easily. Operation Anvil on 24 April 1954 detained Nairobi’s entire African population, and screened all Kikuyu, Embu and Meru. This was the start of Britain’s Gulag, a complex process built on brainwashing and torture, with a pipeline of screening and classification, parts of it manned by life-determining hooded loyalist invigilators (Elkins, ch.5). Yet even ‘behind the wire’, Mau Mau tried to maintain their political consciousness and their organisation, within a system where violence was ‘intrinsic’ (Anderson, 2005, 316). ‘Humiliation, concentrated, continuous and consistent’ was the principal operational element (words of Kaggia, Kubai, Joseph Murumbi and Oneko, Barnett and Njama, 9). In the course of the Emergency, 1,090 Kikuyu were sent to the gallows, double the number of insurgent executions in French Algeria then, and ‘many more than in all the other British colonial emergencies’, Malaya, Cyprus, et.al, at this time (Anderson, 7). Additionally, Britain claimed to have killed 11,000 Mau Mau in action: measures of their great capacity to endure and resist. By October 1956 they had lost 17,000, most killed in action, casualties ‘heavier than any regular army could have sustained’ (Julie Macarthur, Dedan Kimathi on Trial, 2017, 275). Altogether, Elkins suggests that ‘perhaps hundreds of thousands’ of Kikuyu were killed (xiv).
The price of the repression was huge, especially through the socio-political costs of the elevation of the loyalists, and the gulf created between them and the militants. Timing was still critical before Britain could confidently devolve power to the moderate/constitutional nationalists. The State of Emergency remained in force until January 1960. Only in June 1955 were political parties permitted, then only at district level. No parties at all were allowed in Central province. British colonial policy was to ‘prolong the State of Emergency in Kenya and to delay the release of some of us until long after the Emergency ended.’ The Restriction Order imposed on Kaggia was not revoked until 17 November 1961. A collaborative leadership was given priority to establish its social base, and it would ensure that ‘none of the ex-detainees had any chance of coming to the top’ (Kaggia, Roots of Freedom, 1975, 120-182).
Kenyatta was brought home by slow stages. From Lokitaung, in the far north, he was moved to Lodwar, then to Maralal. On 14 August 1961 he arrived home in Gatundu in Kiambu. The cadre of colleagues assembled around Kenyatta at the top of the (now) Kenyan African National Union (KANU), formed 27 March 1960, were solidly moderate and anti-militant. Former rebels like Kaggia, Kubai and Waruhiu Itote (ex-General China) were briefly accorded junior ministries in Kenyatta’s first government. But the gulf between them and him was total. After earlier declaring that his would not be ‘a gangster government’, in September 1962 he affirmed: “Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again” (Kenyatta, Suffering Without Bitterness, 1968, 147,189). General elections next year swept Kenyatta into high office. Britain’s aim of handing power to constitutional nationalists had finally been achieved.
Kenya remained tied to Britain by many economic, military and strategic arrangements. Whites did not flee from Kenya as the colons did then from Algeria: about 400,000 settlers left Algeria between March and June 1962, and eventually out of a colon population of one million, about 900,000 departed. The numbers of settlers in Kenya initially dropped from some 61,000 in 1960, but remained at 42,000 in 1965. Britain retained influence.
But the militants did not easily forget the price paid by ordinary people. Kaggia soon resigned as parliamentary secretary in education, saying he “found it very difficult to forget the freedom fighters who gave all they had, including their land, for the independence we are enjoying.” Kaggia, Odinga, and Pinto were all critical of Kenyatta’s own acquisition of large farms. Kenyatta both endorsed the normality of naked self-interest and publicly ridiculed Kaggia’s militant principles and solidarity with the poor: speaking with him before a large meeting in Murang’a in April 1965: “We were together with Paul Ngei in jail. If you go to Ngei’s home, he has planted a lot of coffee and other crops—what have you done for yourself? If you go to Kubai’s home, he has a big house and a nice shamba—Kaggia what have you done for yourself?” (quoted in Good, 1968, ‘Kenyatta and the De-Organisation of KANU’, 132-133). Pinto was killed in Nairobi on 24 February just two months earlier. In the middle of the year, Odinga finally broke with Kenyatta and the ruling party, resigned as Vice President, and helped form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).
It remains difficult for Raila Odinga, NASA and their supporters to follow John Kerry’s uninformed advice of 2017 to ‘move on’. The past is not really passed. Thousands of survivors of the forest fighting and the detention camps were then pressing claims for compensation from Britain for what they had endured: 5,000 of them were awarded 20 million British pounds in 2013, and 40,000 others were claiming 200 million more (Cahal Milmo, Independent Online, 23 November, 2014).
There was no letup in the killing of the poor in Nairobi at the end of 2019 and early 2020. Since Christmas Day police shot dead at least eight people in Mathare, Kasarani and Majengo, as they ‘continued to kill crime suspects and protesters in cold blood’. As HRW showed, there was ‘a longstanding pattern of excessive force and unlawful killings in Nairobi’s low-income neighbourhoods.’ Legitimate protest at lamentable living conditions and against authority’s brutality was suppressed. Among the eight victims were Peter Irungu, 19, and Brian Mung’aru, 20, both shot dead while kneeling and pleading with police. Then on 26 December police attacked a protest over the young men’s killing, using live ammunition, tear gas and beatings. In a protest on 15 January in Kasarani over bad road conditions, police fired on protesters and residents, and shot dead Stephen Machurusi, 19, while kneeling and pleading for his life. He was trying to get to work, uninvolved in the demonstration, but according to a witness, one officer “just shot him at close range in the chest”. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) announced on 24 January that they had recorded abuses and killings by police numbering 3,200 in 2019. This was being done in the name of ‘maintaining law and order in Nairobi’s informal settlements’ (HRW, ‘No Letup in Killings by Nairobi Police’, 20 February 2020).
Prominent among their number, not just for his longevity, was the recently deceased Daniel arap Moi. He made his mark quickly. He pushed through a one-party state in 1982, and when a coup attempt followed by air-force personnel, he arrested the entire 2,000-strong force: some ‘were never seen again’. Ruthlessness prevailed. Thousands of activists were consigned to underground torture chambers in Nyayo House in central Nairobi, and a popular foreign minister, Robert Ouko, ‘was killed in one of Moi’s residencies in 1990.’ He acquired large tracts of farmland in the Rift Valley. The West tolerated his repression as ‘a bulwark against communism’. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he restored multipartyism, and won elections in 1992 and 1997. His legacy will persist beyond 4 February: corruption, tribalism and, as noted, the unrelenting repression of the poor. ‘Most of today’s top politicians served under him’, including Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013 (The Economist, 8 February 2020 and Reuters, Guardian Online, 4 February 2020).