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17 January 2008 Edition

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The key to Kenya's future

KENYA used to be the poster nation for Africa. It has held elections regularly since independence in 1963, its economy has grown 6.4 per cent last year, and it was nearly the only stable state in the complex political and ethnic situation when compared with East African neighbours like Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea or Ethiopia.
But economic growth does not mean an end to poverty and elections are not the only barometer of democracy. It is precisely on these two points where the key to Kenya’s latest violence lays with the stance of the two main actors in the political electoral controversy, Kenya’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki, claiming the right to hold that key.
Odinga claims that the 27 December election was rigged in favour of Kibaki and the political conflict has taken hold on the streets of Kenya, where old tribal rivalries, triggered by political and economic factors, are quickly giving rise to a situation that can be described as ethnic cleansing amongst the country’s 38 million population.
After two weeks of rioting, more than 600 people have been killed and 250,000 displaced by post-election violence, according to the Kenya Red Cross. Kenyan police have used lethal force, including gunfire, to break up anti-government protests. The US-based Human Rights Watch has said that, while this has happened, opponents to the government have launched an attack against Kibaki’s ethnic group, the largest in Kenya, the Kikuyu.
Since independence there have been outbreaks of violence between Kenya’s 42 tribes, including in 1992 when 2,000 people were killed. However, the fact that the Kikuyu seems to be the only target of this violence is new and the events at the church in Kiambaa, where 30 Kikuyu refugees who were burned alive, bring back memories of the genocide in Rwanda.
Resentment against the Kikuyu has been fostered by their dominant presence in political and business positions. In 1963, when the British colonial farmers sold ‘their’ properties back to Kenyans, these went to wealthy Kikuyus, while the Luos, Kalenjins and others in the Rift Valley were kept in poverty. This situation maintained during the times of ‘The Father of the Nation’, Jomo Kenyatta, and it was further consolidated during Kibaki’s presidency. In a 2005 report, the Society for International Development found that Kibaki has packed his Cabinet, state institutions, enterprises, the judiciary and provincial administrations with Kikuyus – and all this despite his election back in 2000 being heralded as the end of corruption in the country.
And now, when Kenyans thought that with their votes on 27 December they may have rid themselves of Kibaki, they find that 230,000 votes out of 10 million cast may perpetuate the presence of Kibaki in power. As live television broadcast the count, paramilitary police stormed the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. Minutes later, the Electoral Commission declared Kibaki the winner.

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