Kenya Elections – What Caused The Current Ethnic Election Violence In Kenya?

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January 3rd, 2008 — Over 300 people have been killed after the Kenya elections of December 27th. The world is looking to it puzzled and with fear, as Kenya up to now had a reputation of being the most stable and prosperous country of East Africa – an example for the region. Tribal forces are the main cause of the conflicts. This article explains the backgrounds.

On December 27th, the Kenya elections took place. The main candidates were Mwai Kibaki (the sitting President) and his main opponent, Raila Odinga. Kibaki was elected in 2002 in what can be seen as the first open, honest elections in decades, in which Kibaki defeated dictator Daniel arap Moi, who had ruled the country for many decades by outlawing other political parties.

Kibaki was elected mainly on his promise to end the rampant corruption. Although he managed to get economic growth, and was applauded by introducing free basic education, he did nothing to fulfill his main election promise. He filled his government with government with members of his own tribe, the Kikuyu, who went on to steal government funds and cared little about real progress for Kenya’s poor 50% of the population, who live on less than $ 2 per day. Kibaki’s government instead spent 12 million dollars on new Mercedes cars for themselves, and was involved in huge fraud cases such as the Anglo-Leasing scandal.

Kikuyu Domination

Kenya has over 40 tribes (some count as many as 70 or 100). Kibaki is member of the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s biggest tribe who dominate the country’s political system and economy. The Kikuyu have had a special position in Kenya since the British colonial system. They were quick to adopt Western life styles and are usually savvy in business. The Kikuyu have marginalized all other tribes.
The Kikuyu have led the Mau Mau uprisings in the 1950s and 1960s against the British. After independence, their organizations went together in the KANU party, which has dominated Kenyan politics for decades. Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, became the first president and started the massive corruption by among others using the land reforms to make himself and his Kikuyu clan the biggest landowners of the country. His successor, dictator Arap Moi expanded the system of corruption and favoritism, and reinforced his power by skillfully setting up tribes against each other.

Election Fraud

While Kenya’s tribal tensions were much less than in other African countries, they have now come full to the surface. Raila Odinga is from the Luo tribe, one of the other big tribes that has especially suffered from Kikuyu domination. While Odinga (like other Kenya politicians) has played on tribal tensions before, he has managed to gather many other tribes in their resentment against the Kikuyu, and this has led to him probably winning the elections.

Odinga was leading in the polls. When the first Kenya election results arrived in the days after December 27th, he had the most votes. Then suddenly, out of the blue, days later the electoral commission announced a victory for Kibaki. European election watchers said there was evidence of election fraud and called for an impartial investigation. A clear indication of fraud is that Odinga’s party did get the most seats in the parliamentary elections, held on the same time. Kibaki, however, said he didn’t want foreign interference and quickly arranged for the installment


Angry Kenyans, non-Kikuyu, went to the streets and killed Kikuyu. They were joined by people without political interest, but who used the chaotic situation for looting.

Kibaki’s government has responded with force. Police have had orders to shoot protestors, and they use tear gas and water cannons even against totally peaceful demonstrations. Press agency AFP has counted 342 deaths. A shocking incident was the burning of a church, in a region dominated by Luo, in which 35 innocent Kikuyu – including children – had fled to seek refuge for the street violence.

However, those speaking of ethnic cleansing, or comparing the Kenyan riots to the Ruandan genocide, totally miss the mark. In Ruanda, a half to one million people have been killed in a few weeks and these mass killings were carefully planned months in advance. In Kenya, the violence is spontaneous and uncoordinated. Both Kibaki and Odinga are quick to accuse the other of genocide, hoping to get the international community on their side.

What Will Happen Next?

Both Kibaki and Odinga have shown unwillingness to reach a solution. Kibaki says he doesn’t want an impartial investigation. He says the riots must stop first, and then he is willing to arrange talks with the opposition. He thereby clearly stated that security comes first. This would probably equal an acceptance by the opposition of Kibaki’s second term.

Odinga, on the other hand, refused to call for an end of the violence. He says first Kibaki must resign, or an international investigation must be held into the fraud allegations, and then the violence will stop by itself. It’s publicly known that Odinga has had the ambition to become President for many decades, like his father has wanted unsuccessfully. He reeks his chance and will not give up easily. No one has changed political parties more often to reach his goal than Raila Odinga.

As long as the two adversaries keep their ground, violence is likely to continue.

Kenya has Africa’s biggest economy. However, the riots are the economy massive harm. Kenya’s main source of foreign currency is tourism, bringing in 800 million dollars a year. But travel agencies in the West have cancelled their trips, and governments everywhere call on their citizens not to travel to Kenya.

Arjen Koopman is an Amsterdam-based journalist, and editor of the independent travel and country portal to Kenya. For more information about tribes in Kenya, visit Election news is posted at – Copyright: You may freely reprint this article provided the whole text, the author name, all links and this notice remain intact.

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