The ethnic violence that has killed more than 300 people since
last Thursday's disputed presidential election has come as a shock
for many here in East Africa's most stable and prosperous country.
It carries echoes of Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which more than
800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in 100 days and it is prompting a
flurry of diplomatic activity.
While President Mwai Kibaki and his populist rival Raila Odinga
were accusing one another of stoking the ethnic strife, Kenya
suffered its worst outbreak of violence yet on Tuesday. An estimated
30 Kenyans of the Kikuyu ethnic group - many of them children - were
burned alive after taking shelter from a mob in a church in the
western town of Eldoret.
"If you look at what happened in Eldoret, it's genocidal," says
Abdullah Ahmed Nasir, a political observer and former chair of the
Law Society of Kenya. "It has echoes of Rwanda, and this could be
the start of a wave of revenge. If people are killing Kikuyus
because they are Kikuyus, then definitely it will spread elsewhere
to other [ethnic] communities."
"The only way to stop this is for [Kibaki] and [Odinga] to agree
on a way forward," Mr. Nasir adds. "If they can agree to an interim
government, and then hold elections again in one year's time, then
all this could stop."
But getting these two men to agree will take international
pressure, Nasir adds. "If Kibaki is pushed to talk, and if the
international community can put pressure on Raila, they can agree to
meet, and move toward a solution."
In an apparent olive branch to Odinga, Kibaki invited all members
of the new opposition-dominated parliament to a meeting Wednesday at
State House in Nairobi. But no opposition MPs attended as Odinga
demanded outside mediation.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday that Ghanaian
President and African Union Chairman John Kufuor would go and would
meet Kibaki and Odinga on Thursday.
Kibaki's tenuous hold on power took a shock Tuesday, as Kenya's
chief election official, Samuel Kivuitu, admitted that he was "under
pressure" to pronounce Kibaki the winner on Sunday, and that he did
"not know whether Kibaki won the election."
"We are the culprits as a commission," Mr. Kivuitu told reporters
Tuesday, after meeting with the 22 other members of the Electoral
Commission of Kenya. "We have to leave it to an independent group to
investigate what actually went wrong."
On Tuesday, chief European Union election observer Alexander
Lambsdorff also delivered a blow to Kibaki's legitimacy as
president, by announcing that he and his observer group noticed
significant irregularities in the way in which the election results
were tabulated by Kenya's election workers, and thus, had "doubts
about the results."
Echoes of Rwanda
The overtones of Rwanda's 1994 genocide are ominous, but Kenya's
ethnic strife differs from that of Rwanda in crucial ways.
The Rwandan genocide had been planned well in advance. …