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In Kenya, the deep pull of land drove grievances – and ethnic violence

For the ethnic Kalenjins of Kenya's Rift Valley, the red, iron-rich soil is something worth fighting for, and many still resent the 'invasion' of other ethnic groups who bought coffee and tea plantations left after British colonial rule.

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Outbreaks of violence, such as the slaughter in the aftermath of the 2007 elections, are fundamentally political, but they feed off such grievances and find their most enthusiastic support among unemployed Kalenjin youths who see the gains of an outsider – even a desperately poor Kikuyu farmer – as a form of personal and collective loss.

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Caroline Ruto, an ethnic Kalenjin and independent civic activist for youths in the Rift Valley – who has no family relationship with William Ruto – says that the older politicians like William Ruto, President Mwai Kibaki, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga all practice the same violent ethnic brand of politics, using people’s ethnic sentiment to help the leaders attain power and wealth.

“[Mr. Odinga] told us that [Mr. Kibaki] had really taken us back to the tribal days of [Kenya’s first president, Jomo] Kenyatta,” says Ms. Ruto. “But [Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement] became even worse than that.”

Simply removing a few politicians who have done wrong won’t solve the problem, without a larger effort to create a more educated electorate. “You take Ruto to The Hague,” she says, “and another Ruto will come up.”

The only solution, she says, is for voters to educate themselves and vote out the older generation of politicians, she says.

“Hope is with the youth,” she says. “They have a life to live, and the older generation has given up [on helping people]. The youth can read about issues. They can mobilize people and get out the vote.”



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