2007 December 30 Sunday
Election Brings Tribal Violence To Kenya

In Kenya Mwai Kibaki of the Kikuyu tribe won reelection amid claims of unfairness. So supporters of Raila Odinga of the Luo tribe are rampaging and killing in anger.

NAIROBI, Kenya — It took all of about 15 minutes for the slums to explode on Sunday after Kenya’s president was declared the winner of a deeply flawed election.

Thousands of young men came streaming out of Kibera, a shantytown of one million people, waving sticks, smashing shacks, burning tires and hurling stones. Soldiers poured into the streets to meet them. In other areas across the country, gangs went house to house, dragging people of certain tribes out of their homes and clubbing them to death.

"It's war," said Hudson Chate, a mechanic in Nairobi. "Tribal war."


Mr. Odinga is Luo, an ethnic group that has long felt marginalized by the country’s Kikuyu elite that has dominated business and politics since independence in 1963.

Candidates make it clear to voters that they will deliver the goods to their own tribe if they win power.

Tribal allegiances have always been a factor in elections in Kenya, where there are more than 40 tribes. On the campaign trail, candidates usually use a mix of direct and indirect appeals to tribe. They use phrases like, "It is our time to eat," knowing voters understand that whoever controls the presidency has power to allocate money for projects and simple things like patrol cars for police countrywide.

Ethnically divided societies become zero sum games. So the United States should keep out members of ethnic groups that will see the aim of politics as delivering benefits to their group by taxing other groups.

The Luo are taking to the streets.

A close legal adviser to Odinga said the opposition leader would not challenge the results in court, which could take years, but would "take our case to the court of public opinion," the streets.

As the sun set, thousands of ardent Odinga supporters raged through the muddy, foot-worn paths of Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, wielding nail-studded sticks, heavy rocks, hammers, machetes and flasks of alcohol, setting ablaze a market run mainly by Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu, and continuing on.

"The president is Raila!" the rioters shouted, banging the machetes on tin roofs before tearing them down. "No Raila! No peace! They have rigged the election!"

Amy Chua, author of World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, sees a world where in many countries the biggest political rifts are between ethnic groups (tribal groups are ethnic groups) and she believes democracy deepens these rifts.

There exists today a phenomenon - pervasive outside the west yet rarely acknowledged, indeed often viewed as taboo - that turns free market democracy into an engine of ethnic conflagration. I am speaking of the phenomenon of market-dominant minorities: ethnic minorities who, for varying reasons, tend under market conditions to dominate economically, often to a startling extent, the indigenous majorities.


For globalisation's enthusiasts, the cure for group hatred and ethnic violence around the world is more markets and more democracy. Together, markets and democracy will gradually transform states into a war-shunning, prosperous community, and individuals into liberal, civic-minded citizens and consumers. Ethnic hatred and religious zealotry will fade away.

I believe, rather, that in the numerous societies around the world that have a market-dominant minority, markets and democracy are not mutually reinforcing.

Democracy does not deliver greater happiness when elections are seen as a battleground in a zero sum game waged between tribes. We see this in Iraq as well. The Sunnis see elections as a tool by which Shias gain control of the government and use that government for Shia benefit at the expense of Sunnis. Well, the Sunnis actually are right about that. Though if the Sunnis were in power they'd do the same but with the identities of the winners and losers reversed.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 December 30 11:29 PM  Ethnic Conflict

Ned said at December 31, 2007 6:25 AM:

In the 20th century, it was proved conclusively that two philosophies, marxism/socialism/communism and naziism/fascism, were complete failures. Except for a few diehards, nobody seriously believes that these systems serve as useful paradigms anymore. In the 21st century, it may be that the belief in the transforming effects of democracy and free markets meet the same fate. Not that democracy and free market capitalism don't work - unlike socialism and fascism, under the proper conditions, they work extremely well. Indeed, most of the leading countries of the world are democratic and free market capitalist. It's just that these countries seem to be in the minority. In tribalist/sectarian societies, which seem to predominate in most of the world, power, whether obtained by democratic methods or at the point of a gun, is viewed as a means to enrich one's own tribe and hammer one's opponents. Democratic traditions, such as minority rights, free speech and the peaceful transition of power, are unknown. Those who genuinely believe in the power of democracy to overcome centuries of tribalist traditions seem pathetically naive. Not that they are stupid - they're not - just very idealistic and unrealistic. Woodrow Wilson was a formidable intellect and a former university president, but, because he failed to really understand human nature, he thought that his good intentions could "Make the World Safe for Democracy." Unfortunately, the defeated powers of World War I, Germany and Russia, thirsted after revenge and expansionism rather than peace and democracy. Too bad. And Lenin and many of his communist buddies were very smart, but they foolishly believed that their glorious marxist ideas (with a little help from the Cheka) could transform the Russian peasant bumpkins into New Soviet Man. Didn't quite work out that way. A similar rude awakening is in store for those who believe democracy and free markets are going to rescue Kenya, Pakistan and other third world dungheaps. Not bloody likely to happen.

Hendrik Mills said at February 10, 2008 2:11 PM:

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
I'm interested in this "take" on the recent idealistic desire of American leaders to export democracy. That such an export could actually exacerbate and inflame ethnic violence is an idea I'm ready to take seriously. It does seem as though many societies do not function well under democracy. It was stated by some of the American Founding Fathers--I believe one was President Jefferson--that integrity in the character of a people was essential for democracy to function well. Most if not all of the theoreticians in that day, though perhaps not including Thomas Paine, would have attributed that integrity of character, honesty and hard-work, to religious faith, specifically Christian faith. Actually, now that the trustworthiness of society members is declining even in prosperous America, I question whether democracy is really functional here, either, in the mid- to long-term. Certainly, Marxism is not the answer, as abundantly proven by the Russian, North Korean, Chinese, and Albanian examples. All the voluntary mass emigration in my lifetime (half a century) seems to have been from countries dominated by anti-Christian regimes to those areas that have historically been Christian, if not so much any more. Isn't there a good economic and social consequence to the idea of holding certain things sacred, such as God, human life and liberty? --Hendrik Mills

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