After Unrest, Kenya Awash in Conspiracy Theories
African Rights report said yesterday the government was behind violence.
Everyone in Mombasa has a theory about why arson and murder have hit the coast of Kenya, leaving 69 people dead, displacing up to 100,000 people, and sending thousands of tourists scurrying back home.Skip to next paragraph
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Street-vendors, hotel workers, tour operators, restaurant managers - everyone professes to know why, in an election year, this stretch of white beaches and swaying palms is experiencing violence such as has never been seen here - not recently, not ever.
The tourist mecca has quieted down since the government agreed to the opposition's demands for electoral reforms before elections due by February. While the atmosphere is now guardedly hopeful, residents are still trying to make sense of the violence.
Trouble is, everyone has their own idea about why the police station in nearby Likoni was burned Aug. 13, why homes have been randomly gutted by fire, and why three Roman Catholic churches were set aflame in an area where Muslims and Christians have always lived together peacefully.
And none of the theories match. Some say it's the government. Others claim it's the opposition. Others still swear it's the work of an Islamic fundamentalist preacher only recently allowed back into the country. A few argue it's the Navy. In the end, only a handful believe it's really what it looks like: a fight over land in an area where long-time owners have become squatters on their own fields.
As far away as the capital, Nairobi, conspiracy theories come a dime a dozen.
The opposition alleges the government is pursuing a policy of "electoral cleansing" by engineering attacks against voters who have traditionally opposed the ruling Kenya African National Unity party of President Daniel arap Moi.
Yesterday, the London-based African Rights group released a report saying hard-line members of KANU had engineered the violence in Mombasa to clear out opposition strongholds before the elections.
Similar episodes of violence shook the Rift Valley in 1992, claiming some 2,000 victims before Kenya's first multiparty elections. The human rights organization Africa Watch came to the conclusion that the government had sponsored the tribal clashes in the valley to prove that political pluralism was incompatible with the country's history of ethnic rivalry.
For its part, KANU is placing the blame for the violence squarely on the opposition, pointing out that no government in its right mind would fritter away the estimated $450 million the tourist industry brings into the country annually for the sake of a couple of thousand votes. The opposition, KANU has argued, has every interest in showing Kenyans that the government is weak and incapable of protecting even its most vital interests.
In the lime-laden dust shrouding the old town in Mombasa, vendors selling beaded necklaces blame it all on the Digos, Muslims belonging to the largest tribe along the coast. The Digos supposedly resent "up-country" people, who moved to Mombasa to profit from the booming tourism industry and are attacking the more prosperous interlopers.
"The Digos, who have always lived here, have been either chased away or forced to become squatters on their own land. Now they want it back," Edmund Kwena, Mombasa bureau chief for The Nation, Kenya's leading daily, explains.