Professor Kelly Speaks About the Turmoil in Kenya
Web Editor - Published: March 1, 2008
Widener Law school has sponsored a summer program in Nairobi, Kenya since 1988 with only one interruption when the program was suspended in the summer of 2003. With Kenya in turmoil in the wake of the recent election controversy, however, the program was again suspended for the summer of 2008. On February 25th, Professor Patrick Kelly, the founder of the Nairobi program, spoke to faculty and staff about the volatile political situation in Kenya.

Professor Kelly framed the current tribal struggles and allegations of election fraud in their historical context, describing the enmity that has arisen between the two largest tribes, the Kikuyu, who account for roughly 22% of Kenya’s population, and the Luo, who account for roughly 13%. When Kenya became independent and the British left in 1963, much of the land and wealth was passed to members of the Kikuyu tribe, planting the seeds of resentment. President Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the Kiambu Clan of the Kikuyu people, further entrenched Kikuyu dominance by giving land and power to his friends and relatives, nicknamed the “Kiambu Mafia”.

Further tension between the Luo and the Kikuyu arose as a result of the political treatment of Luo leaders. Oginga Odinga, the first vice-president under President Kenyatta, was arrested and imprisoned three years after he resigned the post because of his political opposition to Kenyatta’s government, and prominent Luo political leader such as Tom Mboya was assassinated in 1969. In 1978, when Jomo Kenyatta died, his vice-president at the time, Daniel arap Moi, a member of a minority tribe known as the Kalenjin, took office as the President. After a failed coup attempt in 1982, Moi consolidated power and served as President until 2002, when he stepped aside after he was constitutionally barred from running. In 2002, Mwai Kibaki, at one-time the vice-president under Moi, defeated Moi’s handpicked successor and the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru Kenyatta, in the presidential elections.

During the 2002 elections, Raila Odinga, the son of Oginga Odinga, formed a political alliance with Kibaki and even campaigned for him when he was confined to a wheelchair after an accident. Kibaki, however, reneged on a promise to share power with Raila Odinga, setting up the 2007 election in which Odinga ran against Kibaki. Widespread allegations of election fraud followed Kibaki’s controversial win. Odinga’s party managed to capture more seats in parliament than Kibaki’s, and European Union observers indicated that Ralia Odinga should have won the election. Widespread violence followed, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 people and forcing nearly 600,000 more from their homes.

In the wake of the violence, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has tried to act as a mediator to achieve a power-sharing agreement, but there has been no resolution. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called upon the two sides to cooperate, indicating that future political relationships between the United States and Kenya hinge on a peaceful solution. Professor Kelly indicated that he believes the Kenyan people will ultimately find a solution to the current problem, but added that the process will not be an easy one.