Journalist David Osler at his blog Dave's Part, presented a post that I think can be a good basis for a discussion about Kenya's latest events. According to Marxist Alan Woods,"Just look at Kenya - it was supposed to be a success story, carried out market reforms, privatisations, etc., it was considered a shining example of democracy. Now we see the opposite: barbarism, elements of social disintegration - as a result of all of that. It is easy to play up the elements of barbarism - we can see them even in advanced countries of Europe: crime, drugs, murder, collapse of morale in society. How can we expect anything else of a system in decline? As Lenin said: capitalism is horror without end.
The death toll in the disturbances in Kenya over the last month is now approaching 900, and appears to be escalating. Is there anything the rest of the world could – or should – do in an effort to put a stop to the violence? Is there anything the left can independently say?
Obviously, the answer to that question depends entirely on how one assesses the situation. Jendayi Frazer - US assistant secretary of state for African affairs – yesterday described what is going on as ‘clearly ethnic cleansing’, but was careful to add that she ‘does not consider it genocide’.
That evaluation seems to me – sitting here in London, with no special knowledge of the country beyond a visit on journalistic assignment a few years back - essentially incontestable.
Although there is a worrying tribal dimension to the killings, the scale of brutality does not seem commensurate with the portentous designation ‘genocide’, in the generally accepted sense of the word. This isn’t a re-run of the killing fields, at least not as things stand.
But saying that leaves open the issue of exactly where the threshold should be placed. Would 10,000 murders suffice? If not, 100,000? More still? Can we work on the basis of some hitherto unspecified percentage of a given ethnic group? Does 50% plus one count as genocide, but not 50% minus one?
It is impossible to answer that question, although one is reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of hard-core pornography: 'I know it when I see it.’
Naturally, Ms Fraser chose her words extremely carefully; after all, 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which theoretically imposes on the UN an obligation to prevent genocide. I say theoretically, because in six decades, it is arguable that the UN has not acted to stop a single instance of this most horrendous of crimes.
Some regional rulers are urging drastic action. Paul Kagame, president of neighbouring Rwanda, has openly called for a pre-emptive military takeover:
"It might not be fashionable and right for the armies to get involved in such a political situation. But in situations where institutions have lost control, I wouldn't mind such a solution," he said in an interview in Kigali with Reuters on the eve of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
That’s not an idea any democrat could find remotely desirable, of course. In any case, it is simply not a runner, as the Financial Times points out:
Kenya is one of only a handful of sub-Saharan African countries never to have experienced a military coup.
The make-up of the army reflects some of the same divisions within Kenyan society exposed by the post election crisis. Many of the ground troops are from poorer ethnic groups sympathetic to Raila Odinga, the opposition leader who believes he was robbed of election victory. More of the officer class have been appointed from Mr Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe.
Kenyans familiar with the army say senior commanders have been reluctant to allow the deployment of troops for fear they could splinter along ethnic lines.
Kagame speaks, of course, as the head of a country where long extant tribal tensions spun out of control, setting off the chain of events that led to the massacre of 800,000 people in the madness of 1994. That stands as a warning of what could yet happen in Kenya.
Yet the solutions that socialists normally advocate seem just as inoperative as his demand for the army to step in. I don’t doubt that some far left websites will issue rousing calls for the Kenyan working class to seize state power; but in a country where organised labour is as divided on tribal lines as any other institution, even such abstract propaganda is liable to be misread in tribal terms.
All the international left can do is watch matters play out, in the hope that two sets of corrupt and business-oriented bourgeois politicians defuse the brutality before a bloody endgame is reached. It is hardly an encouraging prospect. RENEGADE EYE