Courting genocide: Populism, ethno-nationalism and the informalisation of violence in Kenya's 2008 post-election crisis
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Kenya was already on the precipice long before the disputed 27 December 2007 election, which sparked the cataclysmic post-election violence that brought one of Africa's most promising democracies to the brink of state failure. This contribution traces the 2008 crisis back to the deeply ingrained legacy of instrumentalisation of ethnicity and informalisation of violence in the intra-elite struggle for state power in multiparty Kenya. The country's fragmented power elite in the post-Moi era not only failed to agree on how to address poverty, inequality, corruption and the need for constitutional and institutional reforms, but also failed to eradicate the legacy of extra-state violence. The elite laid the seedbed for the post-election crisis in the run up to the 2007 election when it turned to populism and resurgent ethno-nationalism in a deadly battle to win Kenya's most closely contested election. The contribution examines the mutation and diffusion of violence involving militias, criminal gangs and state security agencies following the withering away of the state in many parts of the country during the crisis. Despite the ‘elite truce’ that followed the signing of a power-sharing deal in 2008 and the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence, the imperatives of intra-elite power tussles within the unity government have frustrated efforts to end impunity relating to informal violence. The contribution questions the popular mythology of ‘decentralisation’ as a strategy of ending corruption, inequality and concentration of power and resources blamed for the ubiquity of violence. It argues for fundamental reforms, depersonalisation of presidential powers, strengthening of public institutions and the creation of an effective legal system to counter populism, ethno-nationalism and the culture of impunity for extra-state violence.