On January 1st, 2008 people were burned in a church at Kiambaa in Eldoret town by protesters of the December 27, 2007 election results in favor of the current Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki. Violence was reported countrywide and was particularly fierce in Nairobi. More than 100,000 people have fled their homes, fearing for their lives because of the violence following Mr. Raila Odinga’s loss and the “ethnicized” election dispute. Tensions continue and those targeted are Kenyans of the Kikuyu tribe who are perceived to benefit from President Kibaki’s Kikuyu-led government. More then 1.500 people have lost their lives by gun shot, machetes or burning. Property has been destroyed, homes burned and shops looted.
Before taking the lives of their victims, the killers ought to have considered the recent genocide in Rwanda and the ongoing war in D.R. Congo and Burundi and chosen nonviolence instead. Since independence, Kenya has been a relatively peaceful nation and ranks higher in terms of devolvement and economic growth than much of Africa. However, recent events are a clear sign that the democratic process in Kenya has a long way to go. The election dispute was just a tipping point of many injustices that Kenyan people have experienced over time, most notably the marginalization and poverty of the ethnic minority.
This is not the first politically motivated ethnic violence in Kenyan history. In 1991, political pluralism and discrimination against the non-indigenous people of the Rift Valley caused violence in the Rift Valley and spread across other Kenyan provinces.
Politics in Kenya have yet to overcome the ethnic challenge . For example, the political party Kenyan African National Union (KANU) is mainly Kikuyu and Luo, the two main Kenyan ethnic groups and the Kenyan African Democratic Union (KADU) is mainly Kalenjin, Luhya, Mijakande and other marginalized ethnic groups. KADU is known for its regionalist philosophy which can be interpreted as an ethnic-based ideology from the historical political experience in Kenya.
The current political tension in Kenya can be viewed and interpreted in the general African experience of democracy. Beyond the fact that those in power use their office to promote their ethnic group, seeking reelection in the many African democracies is a reminder of the unique portrait of African leadership. Many leaders believe that once one has gained power it is theirs eternally. Consequently, by resisting the idea of eternal leadership, many nations end up dealing with civil wars. Looking at the ways and the number of people who were killed, we should not underestimate the Kenyan’s ability to start a civil war if their situation is not handled effectively.
The current Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki has a long political profile. He was elected for a four-year term on December 27, 2002 and was the third Kenyan president to succeed Daniel Arap Moi. In 1968 he was elected as a member of the parliament and was a member of KANU party. Under President Jome Kenyatta, he served as minister of finance and economic planning between 1970 and 1978. Under President Moi he served as minister of finance (1978-1982), minister of home affaires (1982-1988) and minister of health (1988-1991). In 1991, he abandoned the KANU party and founded The Democratic Party (DP). It was as leader of the opposition coalition, the National Rainbow Coalition (NRC) that he won the presidential election in 2002 against Moi.
Mr. Raila Amolo Odinga is a Luo from from Kisumu district, Nyaza province. He is the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the first Kenyan vice president (1963-1966) under President Jomo Kenyatta. In 1982, accused of plotting a coup against President Daniel Arap Moi, Odinga spent eight years in prison. He was elected Member of Parliament for Lang’ata Constituency in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2002. He was a presidential contender in the 1997 election and finished third after Daniel Arap Moi and the current Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki. Odinga was also minister of energy from 2001-2002 and minister of roads, public works and housing from 2003-2005. On September 1, 2007 he was elected presidential candidate for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for the 2007 election which he is disputing after Kibaki was proclaimed winner on December 27, 2007.
Updated Feb 28, 2008