Why Does Kenya Get So Little Attention? (Updated)

From the Washington Post:

NAIROBI, Kenya — A mob torched a church sheltering hundreds of people fleeing election violence Tuesday, killing up to 50 people _ including many children _ as four days of rioting and ethnic clashes marked one of the darkest times in Kenya’s history.

President Mwai Kibaki, sworn in Sunday after a vote opponents said was rigged, said political parties should meet immediately and publicly call for calm. The violence has killed at least 270 people in what had been east Africa’s most stable and prosperous democracy. The opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, said he would refuse to meet.

Is it because it’s in Africa? Because they’re not Muslims? Because we don’t import oil from Kenya? Because nobody can make political hay from it? Why?

Scott Kirwin at The Razor has a round-up on the situation and lots of pictures.

I recognize that we’re completely absorbed by important things like whether Hillary Clinton understands Pakistan’s election schedule, whether any of the presidential aspirants are 100% truthful 100% of the time (I’ll save you time effort: they aren’t), and what the latest notoriously inaccurate polls are saying about the Iowa caucuses. But you’d think there’d be a little more interest.

Well, back to the Rose Bowl Game (or, as it’s known in this household, the SC game).


Matthew Yglesias’s take on the situation in Kenya is that it demonstrates how misguided majority-rule democracy is in places without a pre-existing consensus that supports it:

I can’t say anything about the situation in Kenya beyond what I read in the papers but it does speak in some ways to the misguided embrace of “democracy” as the key indicator for political development. The idea of an effective democracy presupposes the idea of a broad consensus about the legitimate decision-making unit. Viewed in those terms, the noteworthy thing about Kenya isn’t so much that there was a closely contested election marred by credible allegations of fraud followed by something of a popular uprising against the regime, but the fact that there’s such substantial support for the incumbent anyway:

Contrariwise, I think that those, like MY, who rejoice in the growing role of supra-national institutions are premature. The choices aren’t between a benevolent world government under which we all live in comity and feuding nation-states. It’s between rigid authoritarian control (wherever administered) and chaos. Chaos is just the sort of environment that guys with a grievance find conducive as staging and training areas.

At this stage of our species’s corporate development we need nations and, consequently, we need to foster the idea of nationhood right along with those of liberal government and democracy. None of these things are innate, they’re all learned. Hundreds of thousands of my countrymen died in the American Civil War deciding just these questions. I think it’s worth at least a little effort on our parts to foster these notions elsewhere peacefully and spare people in other countries the ordeal that we suffered.

Especially when the outcome, as in Kenya, is significantly less likely to be a sense of unity and common nationhood and a renewed commitment to liberal government and democracy.

5 comments… add one
  • na mangueira Link

    Because the media assume we are too shallow and stupid to care, which might be the case for most of us… I don’t know. From what I hear Al Jazeera is doing a better job than any of the media of covering what’s happening in Kenya. Kudos to Kenyan Pundit and Thinker’s Room as well. Everyone knows CNN is worthless, but even BBC hasn’t really been on the ball with this one. For a country so concerned with cradles of terrorism you would think we Americans would care more about the stability of one of Africa’s most prosperous and, until recently, peaceful countries, but then again this administration has had very little to say about the situation apart from the embarrassing wish-washing bit. But believe me, if Kenya implodes a lot of East Africa will follow. This is potentially a huge international disaster. The current number of displaced people just after the past 4 days is already a nightmare. And there is nothing more dangerous than people who have nothing left to lose. There is already trouble with fighting and refugees on the Kenyan-Ugandan border, talk of Ugandan mercenaries, as well as gas shortages in both countries because of the total shutdown in Kenya. Some kind of attempt at resolution needs to go forward asap or things will worsen. And all the while, these two self-proclaimed “leaders”, sit there like big egomaniacal babies refusing to talk or even acknowledge directly what is happening, while the carnage continues.

  • Fletcher Christian Link

    Zimbabwe is an even worse hellhole, and South Africa soon will be. And nobody in the West cares enough to do anything about it, and there are at least two reasons. One is that there is no oil coming to the West from any of those countries. The other is that the PC brigade have won one particular battle – the battle to make everyone think that anyone with a broad nose and dark skin is a saint and can do no wrong, and that black Africans can build decent countries without help.

    The British went into India in the mid 18th century, I believe. It took them two hundred years to turn that country from a collection of mediaeval princedoms to the world’s largest democracy. The colonial powers went into Africa, which was at the time less civilised than India started out as, and gave themselves maybe 70 years to do the same job – which, obviously, didn’t get done. Recolonisation is the only answer that will work. However, that answer is politically impossible – which means that black Africa is going to suffer appalling government for a very long time.

    Aid to any African country is essentially an aid programme for Swiss banks.

  • We ignore Africa because Americans typically think in terms of action. We don’t think Kenya can do much to us. And we don’t believe there’s much we can do to help them. We’re happy to send them a food shipment, (not their problem at the moment) but aside from that what can the US actually do? If the answer is “not much” then you have the answer to why we don’t care.

  • I think the time to turn the heat down under the pot is before it boils over. When things are scorched all that’s left to do is clean up the mess.

    I think the lesson we should have learned is that we can’t leave the mess to clean up itself. It’s prudent stewardship or costly, painful cleanups.

  • Of course that’s the prudent thing to do. We don’t generally do “prudent.” We do “too late” or “almost too late.”

    I doubt 1% of Americans could locate Kenya on an unmarked map of the world. The people have a long list of priorities and Africa is many levels below health care, jobs etc…. If Americans believed Kenya was an active threat, you’d get interest. If Americans believed it was a situation we could do something about, you might get a bump of interest. But faced with a situation that doesn’t present a short-term threat, and about which we can do very little, Americans will apply their limited attention span elsewhere.

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