The ethnic-driven killings in Kenya -- ignited by disputed elections
in December 2007 -- are a sign of long-simmering tensions, and
any long-term political resolution must address those deep-seated
fissures, regional experts say.
troubles began when President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was declared
the winner over opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo, in Dec.
27 presidential elections that local and international monitors
The East African nation of 36 million, perceived as being a stable
democracy, quickly descended into violence. Over the following
months, about 1,000 people were killed and an estimated 300,000
forced to flee their homes -- mostly Kikuyu settlers in the western
Kikuyus are the largest tribe in Kenya, encompassing 22 percent
of the population, and Luos make up 13 percent, according to the
CIA World Factbook. Kenya's other ethnic groups include Luhya
-- 14 percent, Kalenjin -- 12 percent, Kamba -- 11 percent, Kisii
-- 6 percent, Meru -- 6 percent, other African groups -- 15 percent,
and non-African -- 1 percent.
After weeks of on-again-off-again negotiations and scattered
attacks, a mediation team led by former U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan managed to help Kibaki and Odinga reach an agreement
on a coalition government on Feb. 28. Under the deal, Kibaki would
remain president and Odinga would become executive prime minister
-- a post promised him when Kibaki was first elected in 2002.
Kenya's parliament ratified the new arrangement on March 18.
While the political reconciliation has allowed many to breathe
a sigh of relief, several analysts say violence will inevitably
erupt again around the next election -- if not before -- if underlying
divisions in the country are not addressed.
The recent ethnic violence stems from the reintroduction of multiparty
elections in 1992 and political actors vying for position and
relying on existing grievances to advance their own goals, according
to Dorina Bekoe, who specializes in African conflicts and reforms
at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The grievances include a perceived resource inequity and the
competition for land.
When Kenya was under British colonial rule in the early 1900s,
white settlers took over land in the lush highlands area. After
Kenya gained its independence in 1963, President Jomo Kenyatta
parceled out some of the land to his fellow Kikuyus -- land the
Kalenjin people claimed as their ancestral home.
Before the 1992 elections, Kalenjins tried to force the Kikuyu
off land they believed was theirs, and a subsequent government
report showed some members of parliament were behind the arming
of the Kalenjin, Bekoe said.
Then, during the 2002 elections, Kibaki, leader of the National
Rainbow Coalition, became president with the support of Odinga,
who actively campaigned for him and was believed to have been
promised the prime ministryship in a secret deal.
The ministerial job never came to fruition, and instead Kibaki
awarded government posts to other Kikuyu, which touched off clashes
with the Luo, who felt increasingly marginalized, and pulled other
groups into the fighting as well, Bekoe said.
In the 2007 presidential race, subtle messages and use of certain
words in campaigns fomented ethnic ill will. When it appeared
the race between Kibaki and Odinga would be close, Kenyans and
outside observers knew only a scrupulously run election considered
legitimate by all candidates would avoid violent outbreaks.
And now that a coalition government appears to be headed toward
approval, deeper issues such as resource distribution and access
to power must be reconciled, Bekoe said.
"The political agreement is necessary but not sufficient
to stop the recurrent cycles of violence unless more is done to
treat the grievances," she said.
Makau Mutua, dean of the law school at the State University of
New York in Buffalo and director of its Human Rights Center, agreed
that deeper reforms are needed than just the sharing of government
Mutua said Kenya should establish a truth commission -- one that
would identify the abuses of the past, who committed them and
why -- so that the country can move forward. But so far, all sides
have been reluctant to establish such a commission because they
all could get in trouble, he said.
Nonetheless, "the country must go through a cathartic experience,
and put measures in place to make sure those abominations do not
reoccur," or the country will be right back where it started,