POST-ELECTION VIOLENCE

We can still learn from US democracy

It would appear that ordinary Americans are not very keen to slaughter their fellow Americans.

In Summary
  • When it came to the crunch, ordinary Americans were not willing to turn their guns on each other.
  • While here in Kenya, in 2008, hundreds of innocents were murdered, often by their neighbours

Like many others in Kenya, I have spent the last four years constantly marvelling at the spectacle of one man bringing American democracy down from what we had been told was ‘a shining city on a hill’ to something which bore uncanny resemblance to classic African ‘Big Man’ rule.

It was as if President Donald Trump had spent the best part of his life studying African dictators and figuring out how best to imitate them, if he ever got to be president of the US.

In more ways than I can list here, Trump showed that any excesses that have long defined the African ‘Big Man’ were not solely to be found in Africa. And he then saved something special for the end: In the face of all evidence to the contrary, he claimed he had won the election, and flatly refused to concede to President-elect Joe Biden. I cannot think of an African authoritarian president who went this far. But maybe that is because an African dictator would have ensured that voting was disrupted at the very moment that it seemed likely that he would lose.

 

Given how Trump was talking just a few weeks ago, there was an expectation of nothing less than a post-election apocalypse. The impression was created that if he lost narrowly (and indeed he did lose narrowly) this was all the excuse that the hard core of his supporters needed to come out armed to the teeth, and stage some kind of insurrection against the American state.

On this subject of election-related violence, I still remember how back in 2013, a foreign journalist told me that there were mainstream American news organisations who were sending out “veteran war correspondents” to cover the Kenyan election to be held in that year.

A conviction had set in, that military-grade flak jackets and bullet-proof helmets were essential accessories for covering a Kenyan presidential election.

After our national all-time low of the 2008 post-election violence, foreign correspondents were not willing to take any chances.

They had no doubt that they were coming to Kenya to wade through rivers of blood flowing through the narrow streets in the slums, and the brutal eviction from their homes of hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers in rural Kenya.

 
In a country where so many own high-calibre rifles; where guns are so easily obtainable; where indeed gun sales increased in the period just before the elections; there has not been any substantive “clash between rival militias” as we had been led to expect.

But our 2013 elections were relatively peaceful. And it has been genuinely amusing to see this same standard of ‘media preparedness’ applied to the recent American presidential election. Earlier this year, although the Black Lives Matter protests held all over America were mostly peaceful, there was enough violence in various places to create an impression that the upcoming American presidential election could ignite cataclysmic violence, no matter who won.

So foreign correspondents, especially from key European media, who went to the US to cover the presidential election, in many cases went over expecting to be teargassed, shot at with rubber bullets, and assaulted with truncheons – more or less the kind of expectation that accompanied our own presidential election here in 2013. Well, of course such expectations have been disappointed.

 

In a country where so many own high-calibre rifles; where guns are so easily obtainable; where indeed gun sales increased in the period just before the elections; there has not been any substantive “clash between rival militias” as we had been led to expect.

There are pro-Trump demonstrations, but mostly peaceful. It would appear that ordinary Americans are not very keen to slaughter their fellow Americans, even when they have the visceral conviction that their candidate has been robbed of victory.

In Kenya meanwhile, there is now a fresh attempt at bringing justice to the victims of the 2007-8 post-election violence. We will soon be reliving the horrors of those dark days, so I will not go into the details here.

Suffice it to say that we apparently do have something to learn from American democracy after all.

When we finally stop laughing at the many ways in which Trump made a mockery of American democracy, we will have to concede that when it came to the crunch, ordinary Americans were not willing to turn their guns on each other.

While here in Kenya, in 2008, hundreds of innocents were murdered, often by their own neighbours.