The ethnic violence that
has racked Kenya, once one of Africa's most stable and prosperous nations, has
killed at least 900 people and driven more than 300,000 people from their homes
since a disputed presidential election on Dec. 27, 2007.
and fighting first exploded in the streets on Dec. 30, after the government announced
that President Mwai Kibaki had been re-elected.
Kenya's top opposition
candidate, Raila Odinga, accused him of rigging the vote.
observers also expressed suspicion that Kibaki-loyal election officials stuffed
The violence quickly dissolved into an ethnic battle between
mobs and militias. The Kalenjin ethnic group, who support Odinga, began burning
houses and beating and murdering Kikuyus, Kibaki's ethnic group.
have dominated politics and the Kenyan economy for many years. Odinga's ethnic
group, Luos, and other supporting groups like Kalenjin had high hopes for him
to win the presidency and increase the representation of different ethnic groups.
Ancient land disputes
Disputes over land stem from the
days of British colonization more than a century ago, when white settlers took
over large tracts of land from Kalenjin and Masai people.
Violence spread quickly in Kenya, while riot police tried to keep the chaos under
When the country
gained independence in 1963, President Jomo Kenyatta turned over much of the land
to his own Kikuyu people, creating resentment that still resonates in the region.
Tensions continued, stoked by politicians for their own profit, even as
Kenya became one of Africa's largest economies.
Journalists reporting on
the current crisis said that while many were surprised at how quickly the violence
spread, its roots were there the whole time.
"You got the sense
that tribes were using this as an opportunity to settle old scores, to reclaim
land, try to push away rival tribes off of land that they might believe rightfully
belongs to them," wrote Los Angeles Times Nairobi Bureau Chief Edmund Sanders.
More than half the people driven from their homes have been Kikuyus displaced
in the fertile Rift Valley region of western Kenya.
Kikuyus responded by
forcibly driving out other ethnic groups from Kikuyu-dominated areas.
with machetes have gone home to home attacking people and burning houses-even
in areas where different ethnic groups lived peacefully across a road from one
another just months ago.
In addition, two opposition lawmakers were murdered
at the end of January, putting the whole country on edge.
Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary
for African affairs in the U.S. Department of State, told the New York Times that
some of the violence qualifies as ethnic cleansing, but did not call it genocide.
"We are now getting into a dangerous environment in which the killings are
now revenge attacks," said Frazer.
Kenyan soldiers remove a roadblock in front of the home of a slain opposition
leader, whose murder ignited more ethnic fighting.
Ethnic cleansing means using
force or intimidation to systematically remove people of other ethnic or religious
groups from an area, making it ethnically homogenous.
Genocide is defined
as the intentional destruction of a national, ethnical, religious, or racial group.
Both the Holocaust and current conflict in Darfur are categorized as genocide.
Attempts at reconciliation
Kofi Annan, the former head of the
United Nations, has been mediating between Kenya's rival parties. He said on Feb.
4 the sides had agreed to taking some specific steps, including refraining from
statements that could incite violence, disbanding militias, and holding more joint
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, right, and President Mwai Kibaki have attempted
to stem the violence resulting from Kibaki's contested reelection.
On a one-day visit last week, the current head of the United
Nations, Ban Ki-moon, told Kenya's leaders to think beyond their immediate gains.
"You have lost already too much in terms of national image, in terms of economic
interests," he said.
"What I'd like to ask you is to look beyond
these individual interests, look beyond the party lines."