Unrest in Kenya

Several days ago, Kenya held presidential elections, and it seemed, to begin with, that things were going really well. It appeared, as I mentioned in a post that day, that Mr. Odinga was going to win, and there wasn’t much unrest at all.

Then, suddenly, the tide turned, Mr. Kibaki – the incumbent – was ahead by a significant amount, and there was what appeared to be a rather rushed swearing-in. Less than two hours after a tentative final count was announced, Mr. Kibaki was sworn in, and the rioting started.

Several precincts had in excess of 115% turnout, some of the final count reports that I’ve seen copies of are so obviously altered that it’s an insult to anyone’s credulity. So it appears that Mr. Kibaki’s supporters are perhaps largely at fault here.

And this morning the head election official made a statement that he was rushed into declaring a winner and holding a swearing-in, and that he has no idea who actually won the vote. Oy.

But, to make things worse, Mr. Odinga is fanning the flame, saying that he’s anxious to have talks with Mr. Kibaki to stop the violence … just as soon as Mr. Kibaki steps down and admits that he lost. Which, of course, he’s not about to do.

And, the additional aspect of this that non-Africans may or may not understand: Mr. Kibaki is Kikuyu, the tribe (yes, I know, some of you tell me that I’m supposed to avoid that term. But it’s the one that the Kenyan media uses, so I am not going to play the political correctness game. I’m not very good at it.) which is in the majority in Kenya, and which has traditionally held power. Mr. Odinga is Luo, the second-most-populous tribe, and the one that has traditionally been in the shadows. Indeed, Mr. Odinga’s father was the first Vice President, and it’s largely understood that he was put there in order for Mr. Kenyatta – the first president – to prove to everyone that he was impartial. But Mr. Odinga only stayed in that position for a very short time, and was swiftly arrested when he started talking about an opposition party.

So there’s a great deal of Kikuyu/Luo animosity behind the growing unrest, and it appears that most of the deaths so far – close to 300 when the sun set tonight – are Luos killing Kikuyus. In one incident, more than 30 people were killed while trying to hide in a church, which was torched by some young men.

This is all very frightening, and feels like a precursor to what happened in 1994 a few miles north in Rwanda. Folks say that it’s not anywhere as serious, but these tensions have been building since independence, and were there in other forms before then.

The Telegraph has an interesting (if oversimplified) summary.

There’s also the simple fact that, given the chance offered by a little chaos, folks are going to loot stores. They did it in Los Angeles, and they’re doing it in Nairobi and Nakuru. Then the police show up and beat people to death, or shoot them. Many of the photos that I’ve seen show heavily armed police beating unarmed civilians trying to get away with looted merchandise.

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