Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kenya elections and violence, II

Discussion of events in Kenya on Ryan Sheeley's blog continue. Ryan discussed the idea that the restoration of order may need to flow from the local to the national. I posted a comment that raises some questions about this view:
I put a comment on Chris's blog yesterday that may challenge the faith put into "local solutions." First, if participation in violence is largely determined by the extent to which one is frustrated by discrimination, favoritism, or other barriers to realizing one's potential, then "local solutions" are only available to the extent that the relevant barriers operate at the local level. But is this the case here? Or are we talking about macro level barriers (e.g. mass discrimination organized across ethnic lines)?

Second, in my own examination of conflict histories in developing societies, I have found that "local solutions" tend to be conservative. That is, local institutions tend to police the barriers against which mass protest is rallying. Without being too teleological, one could say that their erosion is part of the modernization process. Thus, CDF mobilization in Sierra Leone, for example, was a conservative, counter-insurgent response to the RUF. The "local solution" was effective because this conservative movement was both allied with foreign interveners and sufficiently effective in mobilizing people to preserve the status quo. As a contrasting example, rebel mobilization in Burundi thoroughly transgressed "local institutions" precisely because these local institutions were erected to police, at the local level, the type of mass discrimination that rebels sought to overthrow. No "local solution" was imaginable in this case. Thus, whose interests would "local solutions" in Kenya satisfy?

UPDATE: See the comments linked below for a very informative response from Ryan.


Ryan Sheely said...

I saw your comment on Chris's blog yesterday, and had been thinking it about it a lot last night and today, but hadn't yet come up with a satisfactory answer. Since your comment on my blog builds on that comment, I'll try to address both of them here.

Frankly, I'm not completely convinced of the applicability of the "mass discrimination" lens in the case of Kenya- and (I hope) not just because of the country specialist's tendency to say "its so much more complicated than that!" I think the background of ethnic politics in Kenya doesn't necessarily fit with the "ingroup/outgroup" story that that underpins the interpretation that you were suggesting. For instance, my understanding of the violence in Eldoret and the rest of the Rift Valley (which has attracted the most substantial international attention) doesn't at all fit with the Luo-Kikuyu cleavage that most of the western news outlets are focusing on. My sense is that most of the perpetrators of violence in that region were Kalenjin- the broad ethnic grouping that former President Moi (Kibaki's predecessor) was from. My understanding is that partisan support among the Kalenjin community was divided in this last election- many supported ODM, but Moi himself threw his support behind Kibaki, attaching KANU (the former ruling party) to the Party of National Unity coalition, drawing the support of many other Kalenjin voters.

My sense is that the current Kalenjin-Kikuyu violence in this region is a continuation of patterns of violence that first emerged in the run-up to the 1992 elections (the first multiparty elections since the 1960s) in which Kalenjins (at the urging/organization of KANU politicians close to Moi) sought to displace Kikuyus for reasons related both to access to land and to changing the ethnic balance in constituencies prior to the election (both of these are discussed in a good chapter by Kimenyi and Ndung'u in the Collier and Sambanis volume on civil war case studies from Africa).

The point is that although the opposition ODM has made complaints Kikuyu dominance of government jobs and business one of its rallying cries throughout the election and the post-election violence, it is important to remember that ODM is a coalition of a wide number of ethnic groups from across Kenya, each of which has experienced different degrees and kinds of exclusion and which has rather different specific grievances with the status quo- the ODM coalition is a marriage of convenience rather than some united front against persistent, long-standing patterns of unequal access to resources. As a result, I don't think the violence that has been going on for the last week (and even longer in many parts of the Rift Valley) is as simple as frustration over access to jobs and resources and does have a lot to do with specific local level conflicts, rivalries, and inequalities-although control over the central government is certainly an important step towards addressing these barriers, as well as towards gaining access to certain kinds of economic resources associated with being in power. While I stand by my opinion that local solutions are necessary for addressing violence and providing public goods in the short and medium term, I agree that long-term stability and development depends on addressing these bigger kinds of economic and social grievances in ways that no post-independence Kenyan government has seriously done.

I do agree with your suggestion that "local solutions" can be conservative and can hinder necessary social and political change-but I think that does in part depend on how you understand "local". I meant local in the most literal sense of a small geographical space, as opposed to "local" as a euphemism for "traditional", "customary", or "ethnic". Civic networks in modern America, as described by Jane Jacobs or Bob Putnam are also "local", but aren't intrinsically conservative or progress-inhibiting. In fact I think that at least part of what I had in mind was the necessity of building civic networks that cross ethnic divides- especially in multi-ethnic neighborhoods and towns - the areas called "cosmopolitan" by Kenyans.

A related point (and one that also addresses Amelia's comment on my blog) is that I'm not personally convinced that nonviolent options for participation in protest have been exhausted and that working to provide local public goods is some kind of an endorsement of the status quo. That is, I think it is still possible for people to simultaneously work towards combatting violence and towards actively challenging the outcome of the election (and the larger political status quo). I don't think violence has (yet) taken on many characteristics of an insurgency and is still much more ad hoc- I think things are still very much up in the air and that what happens in both the national political arenas and on the ground in both the cities and the rural areas over the next two weeks will really shape the longer trajectory.

Cyrus said...

Really clarifying. Thanks, Ryan. It's clear that there are many overlapping interests and grievances at work: long-term exclusion combined with an enduring Kikuyu-Kalenjin rivalry combined with competitive fissures within groups.

More abstractly, I am intrigued by the references to Putnam and Jacobs (and, implicitly, Tocqueville). I see some similarities in your thinking and Arendt's interpretations of the revolutionary processes in On Revolution. But my initial reaction to these approaches is that local institutions can only be progressive and sustainable when embedded in macro-institutions that support progressive tendencies.

Ryan Sheely said...

I think you're right about the necessity linking local social order to progressive macro-institutions (if social change is what you're interested in). I'm wondering what kind of research strategy could get a handle on this empirically?

Thanks for the connection Arendt-I actually didn't explicitly have her in mind when I wrote this, but now I want to go back and reread the relevant parts of On Revolution.

Cyrus said...

The more I think about it, generalizations about "macro conditions necessary for micro progressiveness" may not make much sense.

The SL and Burundi cases differ in the manners in which "conservatism" and local institutions were associated. In SL, you had longstanding, local tribal authorities operating somewhat autonomously from state level authorities in each locale. In Burundi, you had local authorities that were extensions of long-established state-level authorities. In either case, though, calls for "local solutions" have often meant empowering established institutions that operate locally. By construction, this has implied empowering conservatism and thus aggravating the problems that led to organization of armed struggle in the first place. Stability resulting from these kinds of "local solutions" would have to mean forcefully reintroducing the status quo ex ante.

But you're right, Ryan, this is not the only way "local solutions" can be organized. There is no necessary reason that novel forms of local organizing can't contribute to a "progressive peace"---e.g. one that helps to cut deals that help break down barriers of discrimination locally. So the relevance of my concerns about "conservatism" would have to be judged in application to context of the locales that we are talking about in Kenya. But I still wonder if the barriers that animate discontent are really things that can be solved locally. That is, it depends on whether we are just talking about local turf disputes or about the desire for "system-wide" changes (e.g. in access to upper education, jobs doled out by the state, etc.).