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Hope for Kenya

by Archives February 5, 2008

The prospects for peace brightened in Kenya on Feb. 1, as rival parties signed a four point agenda. The parties said that they would complete talks on measures to resolve the ongoing political crisis within 15 days. “We have agreed (on) an agenda covering both short-term issues and also long-term issues,” former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told a press conference after mediating the talks.
The breakthrough couldn’t have come at a better time as political violence sparked by the contentious Dec. 27 re-election of President Mwai Kibaki, had taken an ethnic turn.
The current crisis finds its root in the administration of President Daniel Moi, of the Kalenjin tribe. During Kenya’s 1992 election, when Moi faced the prospect of losing to an opposition party that was heavily Kikuyu, he responded by inciting anti-Kikuyu land clashes in the rift valley. By the 2002 election, which brought in President Kibaki, this kind of political violence had become routine.
Within minutes of this year’s Dec. 30 announcement that Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu, had been re-elected, bands of young Kalenjin men swept through the Rift Valley, killing Kikuyus, and torching homes. In a now notorious incident, a church was set on fire with its congregation trapped inside, burning as many as 35 people alive. Most of the dead were women and children.
On Jan. 26, in the city of Nakuru, gangs of men roved the streets with six-foot iron bars, poisoned swords, clubs, knives and crude circumcision tools. Later in the week, ethnic Luos, in the Kikuyu majority slum of Witeithie, were warned to vacate their homes by Jan 31.
On Jan. 31, in Eldoret, David Kimutai Too, a member of the Kalenjin tribe, became the second Orange Democratic Party leader to be killed in two days when he was gunned down by a police officer. Kenyan government officials were quick to call the killing a “crime of passion,” possibly connected to a love triangle, and not an assassination. Opposition Party Secretary-General Anyang Nyongo criticized the official story; claiming it was “part of an evil scheme” to kill opposition lawmakers. In the city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, gangs of men roamed the streets, burning tires, throwing rocks and blockading roads.
On Feb. 1, six people were hacked to death and two were killed with poisoned arrows in Western Kenya, when they were attacked by a mob of 3,000 people armed with bows, spears, clubs and machetes. This is the latest in a cycle of violence which has claimed some 800 lives, and displaced over 300,000, since the elections on Dec. 27.
United States Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, America’s top diplomat for Africa, described the killings as “clear ethnic cleansing.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned that “if political leaders fail to act responsibly, the situation could escalate beyond control.”
International observers were shocked at the eruption of violence in Kenya, a financial and communications hub, which was widely perceived as one of the most stable nations in Africa. Unlike Rwanda, which has only two major ethnic groups (Hutus and Tutsis), Kenya has over 42 independent tribes; only one of which comprises more than 20 per cent of the population. Studies have shown that Kenyans don’t traditionally identify themselves along ethnic lines and have very little sense of ethnic injustice.

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