Inside the chaos in Kenya

Ralph Peters:

A MONTH ago, Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki brazenly stole a national election, abruptly reversing the nation's progress toward a mature democracy. Violence since Election Day has taken nearly 1,000 lives and left a quarter-million homeless.

Now a legislator allied with Raila Odinga - the man who actually won the election - has been assassinated. The police and military have been unable to contain the savagery in the streets.

First, Odinga's outraged backers ethnically cleansed members of Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyus. Then put-upon Kikuyus struck back, driving out Odinga's Luo and other minority tribes. Spontaneous rage coalesced into organized purges. Ex-UN chief Kofi Annan's attempts to reach a compromise continue to fail.

But it's not only corrupt local pols who are to blame. Kenya's sudden nightmare is also the fault of pompous Western theorists and impossibly arrogant diplomats. (Our embassy in Nairobi's botched response to the stolen election alienated both sides in turn.)

The horrific violence in Kenya has its roots in three things: the corruption we overlook, the forms of democracy we demand - and, above all, the tribes that left-wing academics insist are only wicked European inventions.

Our tolerance for corruption (our ambassador initially hailed Kibaki's "victory") may be the most pernicious remaining form of racism - our all-too-ready acceptance that developing countries just can't rise above it. And corruption is a cancer that infects every organ of a society.

At least we grasp, on some level, that corruption is wrong. It's the other two factors - ill-fitting forms of democracy and the persistence of tribes - that steer our good intentions into the express lane to Hell.

Kenya was long one of the continent's few stable states - yet people there kept on voting along tribal lines. As they do in Iraq. And Afghanistan. And Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria . . . just throw a dart at the map. Impose Western forms of democracy, and majority or plurality tribes win - then view their victories as license to loot. It doesn't even occur to them to share.


Our type of democracy works in homogeneous countries, such as Sweden or the Netherlands, where campaigns are strictly about issues - or in countries, like our own, that are so diverse no "alpha tribe" can lord it over everybody else.

But democracy as we know it doesn't work in countries where competition for resources persists along tribal or religious lines. (Kenya also has a Christian-Muslim fracture, though it's not at the forefront now.)


Actually both sides tried to stuff the ballot boxes. The frustration of the losers is increased when they cheat and still lose. Perhaps these African countries would be better served if they were dissolved into smaller homogeneous units. What is clear from the violence in Kenya is that ethnic cleansing is worse than democracy.


  1. You are one of the few Americans who actually have an understanding of what is going on in Africa.

    This is one of the most insightfull comments I have ever seen about the so-called "democracy" in Africa.

    The same "democratic system" is applied in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.


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