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Research Report

Walking Kenya Back from the Brink: A Micro-Level Study of Horizontal Inequity and Civil Conflict Prevention

Michael Kniss
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2010
Pages: 39
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 2-3)

    Civil conflict had already surfaced in some areas of Kenya in the months leading up to the 2007 general elections, but when the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced on December 30 that President Mwai Kibaki had defeated challenger Raila Odinga for re-election, the country exploded. Violence raged throughout the country. According to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), 136 of the country’s 210 electoral constituencies suffered violence. This scenario was not new to Kenya, as conflict had followed each of the preceding presidential elections in 1992, 1997, and 2002. The scale of bloodshed over only a few...

  2. (pp. 3-4)

    Beyond the globally shared moral responsibility to prevent future genocide, the United States has clear national interests in controlling the outbreak and escalation of violence in Kenya. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) only months after the violence in Kenya subsided, defeated candidate Raila Odinga echoed the widely held observation that his country had long been “known as an oasis of peace and stability in a region plagued by a history of conflict.”⁶ The 2010 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations highlights Kenya’s “role as a stable partner and contributor to regional peace and security.”⁷ Kenya...

  3. (pp. 4-9)

    The foundation for Kenya’s 2007-08 election violence is evident in its ethnopolitical history and current landscape. Tribal affiliation is the primary social demarcation between groups in Kenya; and thus, ethnic identity has dictated the composition of political parties since independence.12 However, Kenya is an ethnically fractured country, with none of its five largest tribes comprising more than a quarter of its population.

    As Table 1 reveals, no single group enjoys a numerical majority. As such, the structure of ethnic alliances has determined political power from independence onward.13

    Joshua Forrest observes that the patterns of political competition that developed are suggestive...

  4. (pp. 9-12)

    At his CSIS talk only a few months after signing the accord, Prime Minister Odinga warned of the danger of leaving underlying grievances about “land budgets, regional development disparities, and huge inequalities… simmering.”39 Merely freezing a conflict in place, without addressing the causes, risks another trigger sparking a resurgence of violence.

    As evident in the ineffective government response to the conflict, as well as police complicity, Kenyan society has been conditioned to accept political violence as standard practice around elections. Leaders have not been held accountable for instigating unrest with hate speech, or for financing attacks. District officers and chiefs...

  5. (pp. 12-20)

    Although an extensive literature on economic inequality and conflict exists, the vast majority of the studies utilize a macro-level approach, reporting contradictory results and debating the general validity of inequality as a determinant of civil conflict.65 Macro-level examinations, however, miss the local dynamics that influence the emergence of violence. As a recent analysis by Lars-Erik Cederman et al. notes, “The grievance hypothesis [ecoomic inequity] has not been tested with adequate data; rather, it has been tested with highly aggregated proxies that do not provide a direct measure of political inequality along ethnic lines.” The study goes on to argue that...

  6. (pp. 20-22)

    The lack of precise household-level data prevents irrefutable conclusions, but the statistical analysis clearly suggests that horizontal inequity is the primary cause of civil violence in Kenya. Personal accounts of motivations and targeting further corroborate this finding.

    Perceived inequity in Nairobi’s slums spurred intense violence during the 2007-08 conflict. Reflecting on a visit to Nairobi during a February 2008 congressional hearing on the Kenyan crisis, Representative Donald Payne highlighted this effect in Nairobi’s Kibera neighborhood, one of the largest urban slums in Africa. “This inequity, this dollar a day when you have such affluence in other parts, I am sure...

  7. (pp. 22-24)

    U.S. and international mediation efforts were vital to ending the 2007-08 conflict in Kenya. In addition to the leadership of Kofi Annan, a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and public pressure from President Bush, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Fraser met with Kibaki and Odinga to urge mediation.104 Despite this attention, international involvement in Kenya has tended to be temporary, most often focusing on emergency humanitarian assistance. During the ethnic violence of the early 1990s, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommended a series of policy adjustments that focused on relief instead of long-term social...

  8. (pp. 24-28)

    Kenya is ultimately responsible for preventing a rekindling of widespread domestic civil conflict. However, the United States can contribute significantly to the effort by realigning its assistance and program priorities with its stated foreign policy objectives, and by reducing horizontal inequity within Kenya at the local level. Jennifer DeMaio’s review of third party intervention in African civil wars, Confronting Ethnic Conflict, presents a useful rubric for assessing policy options. Recognizing that “external actors are not likely to be able to address all the underlying causes of the conflict,” she focuses on “conflict management,” or whether “violence is prevented from breaking...

  9. (pp. 29-30)

    The key recommendations that should emerge as top priorities for U.S. foreign policy toward Kenya focus on preventing future outbreaks of violence, which is a necessary condition for continued regional stability and ongoing development efforts.

    Jennifer DeMaio observes that “reliable early warnings provide the time necessary to prepare for short-term containment [of violence]… and [to] implement longer-term proactive strategies [to prevent violence].”129 This analysis’s quantitative and qualitative findings that violence worsens with increasing levels of horizontal inequity should enhance U.S. early warning capabilities and improve efforts to predict areas at risk of civil conflict. The United States can use these...

  10. (pp. 30-31)

    After analyzing numerous third party interventions in African civil wars, Jennifer DeMaio concludes, “Peace cannot be externally imposed on groups in conflict: it must be fomented from the bottom-up.”134 This is an important lesson for U.S. foreign policy toward Kenya. Both quantitative and qualitative analysis of Kenya’s recent history of civil conflict reveals that deeply rooted, localized horizontal inequities along ethnic lines represent the primary determinants of the emergence of violence. This micro-level reality requires that the United States pursue the bottom-up policy approach DeMaio identifies. As such, focusing U.S. efforts on conflict management by aiding local mediation strategies, increasing...