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Politics, tribalism volatile mix in Kenya

Politics, tribalism volatile mix in Kenya

Political and ethnic loyalties have long been linked in Kenya. The violence that has erupted since President Mwai Kibaki claimed re-election shows how volatile the mix can be.
The lead-up to last week's vote was typical, with 39 percent of people interviewed by one polling agency saying they believed voters would base their choice on tribe, and candidates on the campaign trail using a mix of direct and indirect ethnic appeals. Phrases like, "It is our time to eat," were understood by voters who know that whoever controls the presidency has power to allocate money, jobs and other benefits to his own.
Kibaki's Kikuyu comprise the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and are frequently accused by other tribes of monopolizing business and political power. Chief among the critics have been members of another major tribe, the Luo. Kibaki's rival was a Luo, Raila Odinga.
Kenya has more than 40 tribes, among them the stately, cattle-herding Masai and the Kalenjin of the Rift Valley. In an attempt to force candidates to reach beyond their own tribes, Kenyan lawmakers amended the constitution in 1992 _ the year multiparty politics were reintroduced after a long period of one-party rule _ so that to declare a victor, the winning presidential candidate has to get the most votes as well as garner at least 25 percent of votes in five of Kenya's eight provinces.
Different provinces tend to be dominated by different tribes, so the amendment was aimed at ensuring a president has some support in most of the country. Since some tribes are larger than others, a first-past-the-post system would usually mean members of larger tribes would win and not have to seek support of other tribes.
But in 1992, the new opposition parties campaigned primarily in their perceived tribal strongholds. It was easier for parties that were, after all, only a year old. And government officials stopping them campaigning elsewhere.
That year, tribal clashes fanned by politics killed hundreds and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. To date many have been unable to return.
Similar violence ushered in the 1997 vote, though on a smaller scale, with scores dying.
Violence before this year's vote, held Thursday, had been milder than in previous campaigns, but that all changed when officials announced Kibaki the winner on Sunday. Opposition supporters accusing Kibaki of fraud have clashed with police, and tribal fighting also has broken out.
The violence has killed at least 125 people since Saturday across the country, police and witnesses said. The head of the Kenyan Red Cross, Abbas Gullet, said in many provinces Kikuyu homes had been attacked and families forced to seek refuge in police stations. Enraged demonstrators had even demanded to know the ethnicity of Red Cross workers offering first aid to the wounded, he said.
"With the elections behind us, it is now time for healing and reconciliation among all Kenyans," Kibaki said in a New Year's message to Kenyans. "I ask all of us, and particularly all leaders to embrace a renewed spirit of national unity, respect for the democratic choice and maintain peace, law and order."
Odinga appealed to supporters "to desist from trying to ethnicize this issue ... singling out people from one community will not help this country."
In Kibera, a giant Nairobi slum, panicked residents called journalists to report ethnic gangs were roaming the narrow, sewage-filled alleyways, seeking to avenge members of their tribe killed in overnight violence and setting homes on fire.
"Why are we burning these shops?" asked 26-year-old Abdi Ochieng as he watched his Luo neighbors cart away looted sheets of corrugated iron from smoldering Kikuyu businesses. "Kibaki does not own them. Neither does Odinga."


Updated : 2021-04-20 06:23 GMT+08:00