January 2, 2008

Tribal Warfare In Kenya?

Kenya has erupted in violence after a suspicious election process kept president Mwai Kibaki in power, but that political unrest may have turned to tribal warfare. Thirty people died in a church in a fire, reminiscent of a well-known Nazi atrocity in France, and over 200 more have died in fighting since an election rejected by European and American observers as flawed. The Luo tribe, to which opposition leader Raila Odinga belongs, appears to be targeting the Kikuyus of Kibaki:

The tribe of the church victims in the western town of Eldoret is not immediately clear, but the Kikuyus of Mr Kibaki have been the main targets of the violence so far.

The Kikuyus are the largest tribe in Kenya, and Mr Odinga belongs to the second-largest Luo tribe.

"Supporters of Raila Odinga are involved in ethnic cleansing," a government spokesman said. Members of Mr Odinga's party have made similar charges against the president. ...

Kikuyus are fleeing from towns west of the capital, Nairobi, trying to take refuge in police stations or escaping into neighbouring Uganda.

Gangs wielding machetes again manned road-blocks on some roads, searching for Kikuyus.

The Kibaki government has an interest in having this cast as a tribal war. If he can sell this as an attempted genocide by the Luo, then he can sidestep Western criticism over the rigged election and put the blame on the Luo for the unrest. After Rwanda and Darfur, Europeans and Americans have a great deal of sensitivity towards accusations of ethnic cleansing, and the Telegraph report helps build a case for Kibaki.

It could be a blend of both, of course. The Kikuyus form the power base for Kibaki, as they comprise the largest tribal bloc in Kenya's population at 22%. The Luo come in third at 13%. Politics and tribal affiliation blend there as they do in many African (and Arab) nations, and tribal affiliation has more resonance than shifting political movements do. If Kibaki has attempted to hijack the Kenyan elections to grab power, it could be seen as a Kikuyu move to retain primacy over other tribes in Kenya.

Odinga holds the majority of Parliament, and can make life very difficult for Kibaki. Odinga refused an entreaty from Gordon Brown to enter into negotiations with Kibaki, demanding that Kibaki first step down from the presidency and allow international monitors to recount the ballots independently. Kibaki refuses, and has barred the Orange Democratic Movement from holding any assemblies or demonstrations. Odinga plans to hold one anyway and predicts that a million people will join him in the streets, a situation that will almost certainly end in violence.

That won't be tribal warfare but a real political opposition to a corrupt government. Kibaki cannot afford to have that happen, and he may cry "genocide" to gain Western support for his rickety grip on power.


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