Kenya’s President and Prime Minister clashed in public yesterday over whether to prosecute perpetrators of ethnic clashes that left 1,500 dead and 350,000 homeless.
Youths armed with crude weapons during political and ethnic clashes in Kenya. Picture by AFP.
During a speech marking the 45th anniversary of self government, President Mwai Kibaki said that individuals arrested for engaging or facilitating the clashes will have to face justice. “Those found guilty of rape, arson and murder will go to jail,” said President Kibaki, “only a mad person can allow such people to go free.”
On his part, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, said that the formation of a coalition government indicates that Kenyans should accommodate and forgive each other. “Let us forget what happened during the violence. The government will find a solution for the young men charged with crimes during the clashes,” says the Prime Minister. Last week, Prime Minister Odinga said the youth should be released. “How can you arrest someone for fighting for what they believe is right?” the Prime Minister had asked during a luncheon with the Law Society of Kenya.
The Kenya Police say they have about 5,000 individual cases related to the violence that rocked Kenya early this year. A disputed general election in December 2007 unleashed inter-ethnic rivalries and resentments that were fueled by high unemployment and endemic corruption within Kenya’s ruling class.
At the national level, the violence pitted ethnic groups supporting President Mwai Kibaki with those supporting Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Both of them were presidential contenders in the December polls.
President Kibaki of the PNU party was seeking a second term in office. He got most votes from his Kikuyu ethnic group and from the Meru, Embu, Kamba, Kisii and Bukusu.
Raila Odinga of the ODM party, got votes from his Luo tribe, the Kalenjin, Luhya and coastal groups. The Kalenjin and coastal communities resent the Kikuyu for dominating commercial activities in Kenya. The Kikuyu constitute close to 22% of Kenya’s population, making them the single largest ethnic group.
Prior to elections, ethnically provocative campaigns had raised tension in the country. The ODM said that Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe had an unfair advantage over access to government jobs and other resources. Tension boiled over during the elections with ODM youths mounting roadblocks to flush out Kikuyu from vehicles within Western Kenya. In the three months after the December 27 elections, least 1,000 Kikuyu, Kisii and Kamba settlers were killed in ODM strongholds in the western part of the country. Hundreds of thousands of others were evicted from their homes and forced into squalid camps. ODM supporters confiscated farms and buildings, renaming them in several cases.
The Kikuyu also launched their own reprisal killings within the Kikuyu ethnic strongholds around Mt Kenya, Naivasha and Nakuru. At least 100 Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya were killed, leading to fears of a Rwanda-like genocide in Kenya.
International peace efforts led by Koffi Annan resulted in a coalition government in April, with Kibaki remaining as president and Raila getting the premiership. Raila’s supporters view those arrested over the violence as heroes of democracy. “If it wasn’t for our youths, we would not be having this coalition government,” says William Ruto, an ODM minister, “we should be grateful to them for fighting against a rigged election.”
Kibaki’s supporters say the violence was ethnic cleansing in disguise and that its perpetrators should be charged with murder, arson, rape and assault. “If we release the youth charged with violence, I may as well open up Kenya’s jails and release every one who’s committed a crime,” says Justice Minister, Martha Karua.
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