Impunity accompanies the looting of the state, and according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), lies ‘at the heart’ of Kenya’s governance. Impunity for politicians suspected of state plunder, was a ‘national tradition’ in the country, which both ‘raised the stakes’ for incumbents and, as transgressors went unpunished, ‘contributed to its continued use’: politicians who have been publicly named for their role in political violence remained in parliament and were appointed to cabinet, notably said HRW, in the cabinet of President Mwai Kibaki. Some of those named for fomenting violence through the 1990s and in 2002, continued in parliament in 2007-2008 (‘Ballots to Bullets’, March 2008). Daniel arap Moi, president 1978-2002, died on 4 February, aged 95, was ‘one of Africa’s most ruthless autocrats’, wrote Adekeye Adebajo (Business Live, 9 February 2020). Before he finished as much as $4 billion went to his family and allies (The Economist 8 February 2020) Both President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy William Ruto, were indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, for organising and supporting the huge violence that occurred during elections in 2007-2008. The case collapsed as witnesses absconded or died.
Violence takes many forms. The manipulation of the poor and unemployed was a common initiator. As Daniel Howden instanced in 2013: ‘political barons marshalled armies drawn from the young and unemployed’ and set them against their rivals with guns and machetes. In Central province then, politicians incited militias to attack supporters of rivals and populations unlikely to vote for them. It also took the flagrant form of planned, organised direct brutality by police. Killings totalled some 1,300 people in 2013, with reputable groups reporting that police had directly targeted people uninvolved in demonstrations, firing live rounds and gas canisters into the flimsy shacks of the poor.
The accumulation of great wealth in conditions of wide and deep poverty was a form of violence in itself. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assessed Kenya’s Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) around 2016 at .377 (below highly inequitable South Africa on .428 and Botswana on .431, not to say very equitable Iceland on .846). It also found that 36% of Kenya’s population experienced ‘multidimensional poverty’, and 46% of those people suffered ‘intense deprivation’, according to its Human Development Report 2016. Kenya’s gross national income (GNI) per capita was $2,881 at purchasing power parity. President Uhuru Kenyatta stood at or near the country’s pinnacle. He had acquired what was termed the ‘fabulous wealth’ of his father, founding President Jomo Kenyatta, and regularly features on the lists of the wealthiest Africans. His family was said to own half a million acres of land, and has interests in banking, property, an airline and a television network, according to The Economist in 2013.