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January 2, 2008
Violence in Kenya Spinning out of Control
Post election violence in Kenya continues to escalate as tribal warfare has now broken out in the slums of major cities and a church where dozens of people were hiding to escape the violence was torched:
According to witnesses and Red Cross officials, up to 50 people died inside the church in a small village in western Kenya after a furious crowd doused it with gasoline and set it on fire. That election featured what the European Union is calling "ballot rigging" by the winner, incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, denying the opposition a clear victory at the polls.
In Nairobi, the capital, tribal militias squared off against each other in several slums, with gunshots ringing out and clouds of black smoke wafting over the shanties. The death toll across the country is steadily rising.
Witnesses indicate that more than 250 people have been killed in the past two days in bloodshed connected to a disputed election Kenya held last week.
Meanwhile, oppositon leader Raila Odinga has called for a million people to march tomorrow, raising concerns of a real bloodbath.
There are several reasons behind the violence:
The violence has been a mix of hooliganism, political protest and ethnic bloodletting. Most of the victims have been Kikuyus, the tribe of the president and Kenya’s traditional ruling class. Opposing the Kikuyu's are a coalition of tribes including the Luos, to which Mr. Odinga belongs. It is this coalition that sought to supplant Kibaki but were thwarted by the President's electoral shennanigans.
Kikuyus have dominated business and politics since independence in 1963. They run shops, restaurants, banks and factories across Kenya, from the Indian Ocean coast to the scenic savannah to the muggy shores of Lake Victoria in the west. They make up only 22 percent of the population and are part of Kenya’s mosaic of roughly 40 ethnic groups, which have intermarried and coexisted for decades.
But the election controversy has created a new dynamic in which many of Kenya’s other tribes, furious about the ballot rigging that may have kept Mr. Kibaki in power, have vented their frustrations against them.
The once prosperous and peaceful country is rapidly turning into just another failed state in Africa. One can only hope that the situation can be resolved before a Rwanda like tragedy occurs.