Pictures of angry people clenching machetes and machine guns have again filled news broadcasts from Africa. This time, however, it is not continually war-shattered Somalia or notorious Rwanda, where almost one million people were slaughtered in 1994. These pictures have been shot in Kenya, the country regarded as one of the most stable in Africa. Until now.
According to various sources, as many as 300 people could have been killed since Sunday, when the presidential election results were made public. Contrary to most opinion polls and first outcomes from polling stations, the final victor was not the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, but the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki. Observers sent by the European Union and other international organizations called the elections rigged and demanded the election commission recount the votes. But Kibaki wouldn’t wait: he was sworn to the second term shortly after the results were published.
This was enough to unleash tribal clashes unknown in Kenya since winning independence in the 1960s. As during the presidential campaign, this time the fight is also between two factions: one that supports the incumbent head of state and one led by Odinga. The latter, who has held various governmental jobs, is a member of the Luo tribe, the second largest group in Kenya.
Mwai Kibaki, on the other hand, represents the interests of the Kikuyu tribe, which traditionally holds power in the country. Kibaki came to power in 2002, promising to fight wide-spread corruption and accelerate the economic growth. But five years of his rule have changed very little and still some Kenyans have to struggle for less than a dollar a day.
The president exercised almost autocratic power- shutting down unfavorable newspapers and raiding dissidents- until very recently, when Odinga managed to garner support not only from his tribe but also from a number of smaller groups which had existed on the margin of society.
On December 31, 2007, SOP writer in Kenya, Kathryn Were Omwandho, alarmed that people from Nairobi’s slum districts were being systematically executed by the Mungiki militias, purportedly with governmental approval. Although the Mungiki group is considered a criminal organization, and as such was outlawed by the government, the police hardly ever operate in poverty-stricken areas (traditionally controlled by the Mungiki).
The fact that the Mungiki consists of Kikuyu members may provide a clue. “[T]he Luo men are being killed as we speak and they are circumcising the dead bodies,” Kathryn reported on the last day of the passed year.
On Wednesday, January 2, 2008, the SOP received another message from Kathryn. “The Mungiki are still being deployed to various places by [the] minister of internal security, John Michuki.” Michuki is an old friend of Kibaki’s; the two met in high school and have been in close relations ever since. The media’s attention turned to him when, in March 2003, he ordered the police to destroy the printing equipment of Kenya’s oldest newspaper when it ran a series of articles denouncing President Kibaki’s handling of corruption.
The operation split the government, but the interior minister remained intact. “If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it,” Michuki told reporters.
According to the SOP reporter, the places ransacked by the Minguki were said to have been the western city of Eldoret, as well as surrounding the capital Kibera, Mathare and Kawangware. In another district, Kisumu, “the police are ordered to shoot to kill; they have killed women and children; the bodies are punctured with bullets and the government’s excuse is that they were looting. I highly doubt a pregnant woman would run around looting the town.”
The picture, however, is far from black and white. Kikuyu are perpetrators as well as victims. On January 1, when the world was clumsily waking up after the night of festivities, around 50 Kikuyu members from Eldoret were burned to death as the church in which they had sought shelter was set fire by an opposing tribe. Earlier, dozens of the city residents were accosted and mugged by armed thugs seeking revenge for the defeat of their candidate.
How many Kikuyu were among the 300 people who have lost their lives since Sunday remains unknown, as most of the killings have taken place in multi-tribal cities. The political chaos in Kenya caught the international community by surprise. Quoted by the Associated Press, the White House press secretary said, “It’s hard-pressed to comprehend here how this could have gone so wrong in terms of Kenya being on its way to some stability and then having this election turn into such a violent situation.”
When the presidential election took off on Thursday, December 27, 2007, European Union observers present in Kenya praised the election as democratic and fair; they had to change their minds, however, when it turned out that, in some districts, Kibaki had received more votes than registered voters.
Nevertheless, the governmental officials seem not to be aware of the problem. At a press conference held for foreign journalists, the government spokesman said, “Kenya is not burning and not at the throes of any division.”
Quite a different picture is painted by SOP reporter, Juliet Maruru. In her message from Nairobi she wrote, “All of us [the young people of Kenya] are terrified that an already bad situation might be aggravated if we air information that is purely emotional.”
Kenya, with its 34 million-strong population, was considered the most stable country in the region. For foreigners, it is mostly known from Karen Blixen’s book “Out of Africa,” later turned into an unforgettable blockbuster with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. As the death toll rises, Kenya may soon be portrayed as its infamous neighbors: Uganda, Sudan, and Somalia.
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Source: The Student Operated Press