Amid Kenya's dreadful carnage, the murder yesterday morning of the ODM MP Mugabe Were may help us to understand the true character of the political violence we are witnessing. It was the death of one politician, the first to be killed in this crisis, but the act of his murder revealed how violence has permeated to the very heart of Kenya's failing democracy.
Kenya's struggles are not rooted in any deep-seated ethnic hatred, although no one would deny that, as this crisis has mounted, growing fear and, latterly, a lust for vengeance has driven a wedge between communities. But there is no doubt at all that the violence has been purposefully fostered by those whose political interests it serves.
No event has revealed this more starkly than Mr Were's callous murder. This was an old-fashioned political assassination. He was gunned down by two armed men as he drove his car up to his Nairobi home.
Mr Were was victorious in the December elections in the hotly contested Nairobi seat of Embakasi. As well as being the largest constituency in the country, with 250,000 registered voters, Embakasi is renowned for a rough and violent politics in which the gangsters and thugs known as Mungiki have long played a prominent role.
Mungiki are criminal gangsters who take an ethno-centric view of Kenyan society. They have lingered in the shadows of Kenya politics for more than a decade, becoming increasingly important, and increasingly dangerous, as Kikuyu political solidarities have been undermined by the strengthening of democracy.
Mungiki make their money from the extortion and protection rackets they run against the city's businesses. Shops and transport are their principal targets. They prefer to prey upon their own Kikuyu people, seeking to chase away those of other ethnicities so as to bring in their own "compliant" Kikuyu traders who are prepared to pay for the "protection" that is offered.
And in Kenya's politics, it has become the norm for politicians to hire thugs to do their dirty work, especially at election time. On its grandest scale, this was seen in the elections of 1992 and 1997, when government ministers employed vast armies of hired thugs to attack the homes of voters in opposition strongholds. On a smaller, and more mundane scale, every serious political contender arranges to be "protected" by a group of so-called "youth-wingers". …