Socialist Worker

Kenya's rulers are allies of the West

Issue No. 2083

President Kibaki visiting George Bush in Washington during 2003 (Pic: Susan Sterner/White House)

President Kibaki visiting George Bush in Washington during 2003 (Pic: Susan Sterner/White House)

The US sees Kenya as a strategic ally in the “war on terror” particularly as it borders countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. The government has allowed military bases for both the US and Britain, as well as anchorage in Mombasa for naval vessels.

The country’s fabled “stability” has allowed it to be used as a base for NGOs and Western based firms operating around Africa.

Though economic growth in recent years has averaged around 6 percent this has not been equally distributed.

There has been an enormous expansion in the consumption of the rich. New shopping malls and coffee shops are constantly opening.

The growth is not based on raw materials such as oil, as in Nigeria, but on tourism, and exports of fruit, flowers and tea.

Michael Holman wrote in the Financial Times, “The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. To see the crisis only in terms of tribal allegiances and ethnic clashes is to miss a vital element in the Kenyan picture.

“The population has doubled in 25 years to 31 million. Unemployment is growing, and the number without land is growing. For these people there is nothing to lose by taking to the streets, driven by frustration and fury that transcend their tribe.”


There is huge competition for scarce fertile land, especially in areas like the Rift Valley where much of the worst ethnic violence has occurred.

The main divide in Kenya is not between ethnic groups, but between rich and poor. The people who are suffering are the urban and rural poor.

Corruption is a real and ongoing issue in Kenya as with many African countries – but the West’s hypocrisy is breathtaking.

In the same way that a country like Kenya can be described as “democratic” because it has been allied to the West through its long period of dictatorship, corruption only becomes an issue when it threatens the interests of Western companies.

Furthermore the policies that are pushed by organisations like the World Bank on countries such as Kenya associate lack of corruption and “good governance” with neoliberal policies and deregulation.

As with privatisations in Britain and developments in the health service and education, these policies inevitably lead to less democratic control and accountability.

It is precisely the kind of grassroots control that socialists talk about that is more likely to challenge corruption.

Also corruption can’t be seen as a single indivisible entity. In the same way that in Britain there is much more advertising threatening people who do casual work while on the dole than people dodging their tax payments, there is more than one kind of corruption.

For instance most slums and shanty towns are built illegally. Many anti-corruption programmes start by bulldozing these rather than confronting the culture of corruption among the elite.

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