A Disputed Election Leads to Violence

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Adisputed presidential election 11 days ago in Kenya has ripped that east African country apart. More than 300 people have died in the fighting, and tens of thousands have fled their homes.

Here is what's going on:

Soon after the Dec. 27 vote, Kenya's election commission announced that President Mwai Kibaki (pronounced muh-WHY key-BAH-key) had been narrowly reelected. Immediately there were charges that the votes had not been counted honestly. Kibaki's rival, Raila Odinga (rah-EE-lah o-DIN-gah), called him a thief who stole the election and demanded that Kibaki step down. The head of the election panel later said he was pressured into making a quick announcement, and that he is not sure who won the election.

Anger over the announced results unleashed deep ethnic tensions in Kenya.

An ethnic group is a collection of people who identify with each other, usually based on a common language, religion or culture. Kenya is a nation of tribes -- more than 40 of them. Kibaki is a Kikuyu (KEE-koo-yoo), Kenya's largest ethnic group and thus a political and economic force. Odinga is a Luo (LOO-o), also a major tribe.

M any Luos feel they have been treated unfairly by the ruling Kikuyus. On the other side, many Kikuyus feel that it was their tribe that won independence for Kenya in the 1960s and that this entitles them to wealth and power.

Normally, tribal differences are worked out peacefully, but not this time. Violence has broken out in towns across Kenya, with Luos killing Kikuyus in western parts of the country, and Kikuyus attacking Luos in the country's midsection.

In one of the more shocking incidents, more than 30 Kikuyus -- many of them children -- were killed last week after taking shelter from a mob in a church in the town of Eldoret.

The violence threatens to ruin Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most promising democracies. The impact also is being felt in nearby countries whose fuel and other important goods come through Kenya.

Kenya's top law official, Attorney General Amos Wako, is seeking an independent review of the election results. World leaders have called for an end to the bloodletting, and Kenya's leading newspapers have been encouraging people to "save our beloved country," the Associated Press reported.

Hassan Omar Hassan of the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission says that both sides need to help end the violence: "I just hope that [Odinga] and [Kibaki] will restore calm, and that they will acknowledge that the solution rests in both of them. They are putting people who are innocent into danger."

-- Brenna Maloney


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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