Responding to the violence in Kenya

Hydro installation on the Ottawa River

Reading about the ongoing strife in Kenya is both worrisome and depressing. This is especially true if the lessons of Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion are taken to heart. He highlights how a single period of instability can often initiate a pattern of recurring conflict, as well as how problems in one state can plague an entire region. Both risks seem to be acute in the Kenyan case, as democratic institutions and investor confidence are undermined and the trade and security prospects of landlocked neighbouring states like Uganda and Rwanda are threatened. The last thing Africa needs is another unstable neighbourhood, in addition to those around Sudan, Zimbabwe, and the DRC.

All the more reason for the African Union and other bodies to use their influence to convince Mwai Kibaki to change course. Ideally, the election that he rigged should be repeated under fair conditions, as monitored and enforced by representatives of the international community. The AU has been shamefully complacent in the face of abusive and corrupt regional governments, but it has an opportunity here to limit the scope of escalating violence and hopefully prevent the descent of the region into a conflict trap. For the sake of Kenya, the region, and the continent, other influential powers and organizations should support that effort.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “Responding to the violence in Kenya”

  1. Does anyone believe that, considering that most African states had their borders determined by Colonial wars, maybe we should encourage African’s not to take their state borders so seriously?

    It comes to mind that the modern notion of “nation state” (as opposed to empire) has only one genesis, and that’s in Europe. I believe that you assign it a beginning with the treaty that begins modern international relations?

    Are there any significant “united africa” campaigns? I suppose Kerrie would be our resident expert on this.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Tristan. I am certainly not an “expert” on this situation, or resident for that matter, but I can offer a response.

    Firstly, it depends on your definition of nation-state, but there were pre-colonial societies in Africa that would meet most or all of the criteria for being nation states. While our academic understanding of the nation has certainly grown out of Europe and the T-o-Westphalia, I think it is worth recognizing that the idea of a country is not completely out of keeping with African cultures. Look at the Zulu nation, or the kingdom of Ruanda, for example.

    Many of the first independence leaders and thinkers, such as Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba, were pan-africanists. They believed in a united Africa free of national and ethnic divisions (although I don’t believe they recommended dissolving nations entirely).

    But there were some pretty significant obstacles. As the colonial borders were drawn arbitrarily, and many colonial policies treated ethnic groups differently/preferentially, the nations they were left with were frequently unstable. Even if leaders envisioned a future for Africa that was free of these kinds of divisions, they were still working with justifiably disgruntled groups of people who may or may not have felt justly represented by the political leaders. Nigeria is a prime example of this. Throw in the messiness of the post-colonial era and a pinch of geopolitics, and you’ve got quite a problem stew. Even so, there have been attempts, the African Union being one example. Personally, when I see any kind of unity movement, the first thing I ask is, “is this movement united FOR something, or united AGAINST something?”. What is true of the pan-africanist movement?

    Lumumba was assassinated, Nkrumah had an embarrassing “leader for life” gaffe, and while there are many people today who support pan-africanism, I think it has proved excessively difficult to bring about in politics.

    Finally, it is also worth pointing out that sometimes national borders are overridden-for example, some people crossing a border don’t give their passports because the guards working the border can just look at them and tell that they are part of X or Y ethnic/language group.

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