Kenya's View of the Human Predicament

The below article is about the community unrest that followed the Jan. 2008 Kenya elections. It contains all the fundamental dynamics creating civilization crushing social conflict. But you have to read each sentence, not nodding your head, "That is so terrible." and instead asking the question, "How do these events describe the general case of the global human predicament." --JA

Violence in Kenya Exposes
Tribes' Widening Wealth Gap
Amid Boom, One Group
Prospered Over Others;

How Eldoret Burned
January 30, 2008; Page A1 Wall Street Journal

ELDORET, Kenya -- The tribal violence ripping through Kenya has shocked international observers and many Kenyans. Ethnic tensions had eased in recent years, so why have they now erupted with such horrific force?

Part of the answer: an economic boom.

Sharp economic growth benefited one tribe at the expense of others, helping reignite long-simmering animosity. Kenya now has among the world's least-equal distributions of wealth. Opposition politicians have been accused of playing up the disparity, which set off a powder keg after last month's disputed election results.

WSJ's Sarah Childress reports from Kenya on how economic issues have contributed to a resurgence in ethnic violence.
Kenya's wealth gap -- and its tricky tribal politics -- are mirrored across sub-Saharan Africa. The regional economy has more than doubled over the past 10 years, thanks to soaring prices for oil, minerals and other commodities, according to the International Monetary Fund.

But the new wealth hasn't trickled down. Although the percentage of people in poverty has declined slightly in the region from 1990 to 2004, a simultaneous population increase means the absolute number of poor remains unchanged -- about 300 million, according to the 2007 Global Monitoring Report by the World Bank. A full 41% of sub-Saharan Africa still survives on less than $1 a day, according to the 2007 Millennium Development Goals Report by the United Nations.

Left behind, the region's poor are falling back on tribal loyalties, and lashing out at the privileged classes.

"In a way it's a classic theory of revolution," said Steve Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "People mobilize when things are getting better, not when they're getting worse," he says.

In Kenya, more than 850 people have died so far after a disputed presidential election last month triggered sporadic, often violent protests in Eldoret and beyond. The violence quickly devolved into bloody ethnic clashes pitting the Kalenjin and Luo tribes, who support opposition candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo, against the Kikuyu, President Mwai Kibaki's tribe.

This past weekend saw two once-peaceful towns explode in violence, with rival tribes squaring off on the streets of picturesque Naivasha and Nakuru. The military reacted by imposing curfews in some areas and deploying troops to intervene for the first time. Tensions were further aggravated yesterday after an opposition Parliament member was shot dead outside his Nairobi home.

Spreading Violence

The latest flare-ups suggest that the violence is beginning to spread, not abate, as it seemed last week. Messrs. Kibaki and Odinga met yesterday with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to begin mediations. Mr. Annan said he expects the teams to agree on a short-term fix in four weeks, and a more lasting resolution in a year.

The conflict has brought tourism, a $750 million industry in Kenya, to a standstill, along with the agricultural sector, valued by the government at $2 billion. A Jan. 19 report from the Kenya Association of Manufacturers using data supplied by its 600 member companies, estimates the country's economy could lose more than $3 billion in the first half of 2008, and about 400,000 jobs.

U.S. officials worry a prolonged political standoff could cost Washington a crucial ally in its antiterrorism campaign on the continent. The conflict has also undermined Kenya's reputation as a model democracy in a turbulent region.

In many ways, Kenya's recent economic prosperity has exceeded that of its neighbors. Gross domestic product doubled to $26.4 billion over the past five years, propelled by tea, coffee and other agricultural exports, as well as a booming tourism trade. Trendy coffee shops and glittering, multitiered malls have popped up in the capital Nairobi's leafy suburbs. The introduction of free, primary-school education in 2002 means that about 90% of the population now have access to at least that level of schooling.

Yet Kenya ranks among the world's 10 most unequal countries for wealth, more unequal than Nigeria and slightly less than South Africa, according to a 2004 study by the Nairobi-based Society for International Development using figures from the U.N. Development Programme and the Kenyan government. The report says the richest 10% of Kenya's population owns nearly half the country's wealth, while the bottom 10% owns less than 1%, a gap that has been increasing since 1994.

The disparity is acutely felt in areas that are dominated by Kalenjin, Luo, Luhya and other non-Kikuyu tribes. During the colonial period, the Kikuyu were favored by the British in part because they adapted more readily than other tribes -- who were largely nomadic or physically distant from British influence -- to the capitalist economy imposed by colonial rule. After independence in 1963, they were bolstered by President Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, rising over the next decades to dominate politics and business across Kenya. Only 22% of the population, they are the biggest group in a country with more than 40 different tribes.

Kikuyus continued to dominate under Mr. Kibaki, reaping greater benefits as the economy grew. Critics of Mr. Kibaki say he hasn't done enough to make sure the new wealth trickled down to other tribes.

In Central Province north of Nairobi, the Kikuyus' ancestral land, 65% of the population lives above the poverty line, well above the national average of 47%. After Nairobi, Central Province has more homes with running water and electricity, and higher rates of primary and secondary-school enrollment than any other province in the country.

In contrast, in the adjacent Rift Valley, the ancestral home of the Kalenjin, more than 56% of the population lives below the poverty line. The infant mortality rate is higher than in Central Province.

Tribal rivalries here run deep. Under colonial rule, the Kalenjin were kicked off their land by the British. After independence, Kikuyu farmers moved in, preventing the Kalenjin from returning.

During elections in 1992, bitterness over the Kikuyu land grab boiled over. Kalenjin warriors attacked Kikuyu settlers. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Kikuyus were displaced in clashes across the Rift Valley and western provinces.

Some of the fighting took place in and around the town of Eldoret, now a hotbed of election-related violence.

Tensions Temporarily Subside

A bustling market town 160 miles northwest of Nairobi, Eldoret had been transformed by the country's new prosperity. Once a truck stop on the road to Uganda, it grew into a thriving commercial hub. Markets burst with tomatoes, corn and wheat, and factories churned half the nation's milk.

Some residents say ethnic tensions had also begun to subside. Different groups lived and worked side-by-side and even intermarried. Longstanding stereotypes -- for instance, that Kalenjin are stubborn farmers and the Kikuyu arrogant entrepreneurs -- began to fall away, says Alfred Osieko, 47 years old, an electrical consultant and ethnic Luhya, a tribe which has also felt marginalized by the Kikuyus.

"I never saw 'Kikuyu,'" says Mr. Osieko. "I took them as individuals."

Others say little had changed. Many Kalenjins, unable to raise enough money to buy their lands, continued to work as tenants or small-scale farmers. Meanwhile, Kikuyus owned and farmed land their families had purchased at independence. In Eldoret, Kikuyus were more often the landlords and they ran the most successful shops in town.

"The Kikuyus are business-minded people," says Sammy Choge, a Kalenjin hotelier, who bought the New Show Park Inn in Eldoret about a year and a half ago, from a Kikuyu. Kalenjins are no good at business, Mr. Choge explains, but he prefers hotel management to farming, the family trade.

Mr. Choge invested about $45,000 in new beds and televisions for the hotel rooms, and served the Kenyan favorite, nyama choma, a smoky grilled meat, in his outdoor restaurant. But next door, the Race Course Inn, run by an established Kikuyu family, the Munges, continued to be more popular, says Mr. Choge.

When the 2007 presidential campaign season started, Mr. Odinga, a Luo, played up his ethnic background, and his tribe's underdog status in Kenya. He joked that Americans would elect a Luo president sooner than Kenyans would, a reference to Barack Obama, whose father was a Luo.

Mr. Odinga won support from the Kalenjin, Luhya and Luo ethnic groups by promising to right the economic imbalance of the past five years. "For every shilling the poor earns, the rich get 66," he was quoted as saying in the local press, at a rally days before the election.

He raised the issue of re-evaluating the country's land-distribution policy, and he promised to make sure that money for schools, roads and development reached all the provinces.

On election day, voters in Eldoret waited peacefully for hours to cast their ballots, as Kenyans did nationwide. The results, expected that night, were delayed, and opposition candidates raised allegations of fraud.

A Town in Flames

The mood in Eldoret darkened. Two days later, on Saturday, the town exploded. John Ngure, 60, a slight, somber Kikuyu farmer, watched in horror as a mob of Luos and Kalenjins, armed with bows and arrows and chanting "ODM! ODM!" the acronym of the opposition party, marched toward his seven-acre farm. He fled with his many children and grandchildren into the bush as the mob torched his home.

"Everything was there, and everything was burned into ashes," he said quietly a week later in Eldoret's show ground, a grassy meadow on the outskirts of town once used for agricultural fairs, where many of the displaced were taken in police trucks. Mr. Ngure says he lived among the Kalenjins all his life in peace. "We are friendly with them," he says, a note of pain in his voice. "They are our friends."

The next day, after Mr. Kibaki was declared the winner and sworn in as president, Kikuyu homes around Eldoret went up in flames. In town, as many as 200 Kalenjin and Luo boys marched through the streets of Kisumu Ndogo -- or, Little Kisumu -- a predominantly Luo neighborhood in Eldoret named for the tribe's ancestral town 50 miles away.

They torched the Kikuyu-owned Hotel Gituya, a Kikuyu butcher shop and clothing stores run by Kikuyus. They razed a timber yard and several rental homes owned by Kikuyus. The Beauty World Salon, the Far West Café and another butcher, all non-Kikuyu businesses, were left untouched.

Mishek Njogu, 30, was cowering among the shelves of shampoo, salt packets and rubber bands in his red roadside kiosk here as a mob whooped down the dusty street hunting Kikuyus with bows and arrows.

"I haven't seen such a situation since I was born," said Mr. Njogu, still stunned, one recent afternoon as he passed a tiny packet of spices to a customer. A Kikuyu, he has spent all his life here and claims Luos and Luhyas among his relatives. Mr. Njogu says his shop was spared because he rents it from a Kalenjin, but the mob promised to return and "finish him." Mr. Njogu plans to sell what goods he can and flee to Central Province.

In the most dramatic act of violence stemming from the elections, at least 30 people were bolted inside a church where they had sought refuge in a village outside town, and burned to death.

According to hospital estimates, just under a quarter of the country's election-related dead -- 180, most of them Kikuyu -- have been killed in Eldoret and the surrounding district. Some 100,000 have been driven from their homes by their own neighbors and now live in cramped camps on the outskirts of town.

A report released last week by Human Rights Watch, an independent group based in New York, said opposition leaders and local elders encouraged and organized attacks in and around Eldoret. Mr. Odinga's party, the Orange Democratic Movement, has denied any involvement and says it takes the allegations seriously. It also pointed to accusations that the police used excessive force, sometimes fatally, to subdue opposition protests.

Gated and protected by police, the town's show ground now houses nearly 13,000 people in row upon row of white tarp tents. Women who once ran businesses or farms now cook rationed maize in pots over wood fires. Men sit dazed and idle in the tented shade.

Getting Back to Business

Eldoret's other tribes have begun to get back to business. Kalenjins, Luos and Luhyas reopened shops and went into their fields, even as bodies lay uncollected in the sweltering heat. Within days, the downtown center was filled with trucks and cars, bicycle taxis, and people carrying bags of maize and vegetables to sell.

Tribalism now colors the workplace and family ties. On a recent afternoon a local Kikuyu television reporter said she stopped going to work because her light complexion makes her a target. She watched her TV channel bitterly from a neighbor's house. "The Kalenjins are running it now," she said.

Eldoret's district commissioner estimates the town lost almost $300,000 in revenue in the first two weeks of violence, a major blow in an area where many residents are subsistence farmers. But some non-Kikuyus here aren't that upset.

"Eldoret has the potential to grow even without them," said Joseph Amuga, 44, an events planner and ethnic Luhya. His bookings for the month have all been canceled, but he says he isn't worried: The economy "may not move faster now, but now there will be self respect."

On the streets of Eldoret, gangs of Kalenjin youths have once again set up makeshift roadblocks to harass Kikuyu drivers. The army dutifully removes the stones and maintains an uneasy calm. Many of the remaining Kikuyus are making plans to flee the town. They will have to travel by armed government convoys to safety.


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