How Kenya came undone
Long-simmering ethnic tensions threaten to tear apart East Africa's most stable, prosperous country.
(Page 3 of 3)
This year, the violence has spread far beyond the Rift Valley into almost every urban center, tearing the social fabric of a cosmopolitan society that had made Kenya a regional economic force. Most foreign tourists have canceled vacations this winter, Kenya's peak season. The Central Organization of Trade Unions estimates that nearly 500,000 workers will lose their jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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"They have basically destroyed the local trade, and now that they can't buy food in the market, they are discovering to their shock and horror that they need each other," says Richard Cornwell, a senior analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.
Kenya's current movement into a society of ethnic enclaves is a form of apartheid, Mr. Cornwell says. "In 20 or 30 years' time, this will be a powder keg. It's like what we saw in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics; like Burundi and Rwanda. Unless this is handled, this will be a slow civil war that doesn't really break out, but it's insidious. It's always there."
A slow-burning civil war?
In the town of Nakuru, Keffa Magenyi Karuoya already feels the effects of that slow civil war. Since 1991, he has been displaced three times, including by this year's election violence. A Kikuyu himself, he has been working with a network of community activists from different tribes in the Rift Valley to advocate for peace, and to seek food aid and shelter for newly displaced victims.
"It is very frustrating," says Mr. Karuoya. The people coming from Eldoret now, they can't go back." Eldoret is the mainly Kalenjin town where a church full of Kikuyus was burned two weeks ago, killing at least 30 people. But Kikuyus are not the only victims, he adds. "Just down the road, there are 3,000 Luo families camping out. The long-term issue, where this is going, that is my main concern."
A phone call disrupts Karuoya's train of thought. An activist in a nearby town warns of armed groups moving in to surround three small camps of Kikuyus. One of the camps is in a monastery, surrounded by 1,500 people armed with bows, arrows, and spears. Local police are nowhere to be found.
"There's an impending massacre," Karuoya says after ending the call. He leaves the room to call up the district commissioner, the provincial police officer – anyone who can give orders to send troops and stop a massacre.
An activist in Kuresoi tells the Monitor by cellphone that the government must move fast to evacuate the Kikuyus. "The youth here seem decided to start invading the camps," she says, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I can't believe this is happening. I can't even sleep at night. I keep trying to harmonize the two communities." Her voice breaks. "I am trying to see the way forward."
By next morning, the death tolls from Kuresoi district start to come in. In one camp, where 600 individuals are sheltered in a monastery, six people have been killed by arrows and machetes. More than a dozen are injured.
Kikuyus are now carrying out reprisal killings. On Jan. 20, members of the Mungiki sect – a militia formed to protect Kikuyu interests – swept through the Nairobi slum of Mathare attacking non-Kikuyus.
Musalia Mudavadi, an opposition parliamentarian, blamed the police for failing to control the Mungikis. "Today, some of our leaders have been appealing for calm, but the government has not withdrawn the ban on the right to assemble, the right to talk, and they have not withdrawn the shoot-to-kill order."
• How can Kenya avoid ethnic war? Read Part 2 tomorrow.