Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What the foreigners say...

I came across this article in the New York Times and found it interesting how the rest of the world sees the Kenyan issue as a Luo vs. Kikuyu contest, and not a Kenyans rejecting an election thief...

In late 2007, Kenya was in a position most of Africa would envy. Its economy had been humming along, with a growth rate around 7 percent and a billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry. The country was at peace -- nothing to sneeze at in a neighborhood that includes war-racked Somalia, Sudan and Congo.

The country also had a democratic civil society that appeared to be in the first stages of bloom, a far cry from a near-dictatorship under President Daniel Arap Moi a decade ago. Vigorously covered by a free press, 2,548 candidates were running for Parliament, with genuine issues separating the leading parties, like strong central government versus federalism. Electoral politics in Kenya were not saddled by the deep cynicism that dogs Nigeria, Africa’s most populous democracy, or the one-party rule of South Africa, the continent’s most developed country.

But that was before the presidential elections of Dec. 27, the charges of vote rigging that greeted the incumbent's surprise victory or the sudden flare of violence along tribal lines that followed.

The contest pitted the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, a man who has a reputation as a courtly gentleman and economics whiz but also as a tribal politician, against Raila Odinga, a rich, flamboyant businessman who rides around in a bright red $100,000 Hummer and ran as a champion of the poor. Mr. Kibaki centered his campaign on education, having already delivered on his promise of free primary school education for all Kenyans.

Mr. Odinga led in pre-election polls, having tapped a strong current of frustration beneath the country's success. He explicitly challenged the balance of power between the country's ethnic groups. Kenya's 37 million people are split among some 40 ethnic groups. Mr. Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, has charged that the Kikuyus, whose members include both Mr. Kibaki and the country's founder, Jomo Kenyatta, have long gotten more than its fair share of government benefits.

Early returns suggested that Mr. Odinga's party was heading for a sweep. Then what Western observers called blatant vote rigging handed Mr. Kibaki a narrow victory. Within minutes of the official announcement, the country descended into tribal bloodletting. By New Year's Day the death toll stood at more than 300, including dozens burned as they sought refuge in a church. — Jeffrey Gettleman, Jan. 2, 2008

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