Ethnic clashes worry authorities as 2002 polls loom

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- Bloody clashes took place during the run-up to and immediately after Kenya's first multiparty general elections in three decades in 1992.
Over 500 people were killed and thousands of others displaced in what has come to be known in Kenya as tribal clashes.
The blood-letting happened between the ethnic communities bordering or living in the vast Rift Valley Province, but who were not Kalenjin, President Daniel arap Moi's ethnic group.
The clashes were therefore blamed on the government.
"Of course the government was fully involved, as communities believed to be predominantly pro-opposition bore the brunt," recalls Stephen Ndicho, an opposition MP whose Kikuyu community was most affected.
It happened again during the lead-up to and immediately after the 1997 general elections, when hundreds of Kikuyus and Kalenjins perished and thousands of others were displaced in clashes in the Rift Valley.
Says James Gichana, a political activist in the Rift Valley: "The Kikuyu were being punished by their Kalenjin counterparts for voting as a bloc against the ruling Kanu party.
" The two incidents of civil strife are at present being offered as precedents of what is at the moment happening along the border of two communities in the Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces.
About 300 km west of Nairobi, the Maasai of Rift Valley and the Kisii of Nyanza are butchering each other along the border of the Gucha and the Trans-Mara districts for what is believed to be political instigation.
The Kisii are solidly behind Simeon Nyachae, a one-time finance minister who has vowed to beat Moi in the 2002 general elections through an opposition party he has formed but is yet to name it publicly.
Like the Kalenjin, the Maasai are Nilotics, and belong to the Kamatusa super-tribe consisting of also the Turkana and the Samburu.
About 30 people from both sides have so far been killed in the Maasai-Kisii hostilities that started in January.
Both communities have lost hundreds of livestock in the conflict.
The internal security minister, Maj.
Marsden Madoka, has always pledged to beef-up security, but the hostilities have not abated.
"The government will not sit back and watch one community turn against another in a bloody attack," Maj.
Madoka warned last week.
James Magara, an MP from the Kisii community, told a public rally in his constituency: "The Kisii people are being persecuted because of their political stand.
" He called on Moi to visit the area to ease the tension.
The local press reported Monday that Magara had since gone into hiding fearing arrest over his remarks.
The president was scheduled to tour the trouble area this week, but ironically, it is the mounting tension, which was reported to have forced him to put off the trip.
Last week Magara and seven other opposition MPs expressed the fear that the fighting might be a precursor to the 1992 and 1997 tribal clashes.
They warned that unless the president moved in with alacrity, his government would be held responsible.
"It's amazing that the government is so confused and disorganised about the plight of Kisiis and Maasais," he said.
The church has also joined the fray.
At the weekend, Catholics in Kisii district called upon the government to launch an investigation into the root causes of the clashes with a view to end them once and for all.
The church accused the security forces deployed in the area of using excessive force in trying to quell the hostilities.
"Instead of helping to solve the problem they're making it worse," the Catholics said in a press statement Sunday.
At the advent of political pluralism in Kenya in 1990, Kenya's major tribes - the Kikuyu, the Luo and the Luhya -aligned themselves with the opposition.
It is mostly these three communities that have borne the brunt of the clashes.
Moi opposed the emergence of many parties, arguing that they would divide the country along tribal lines.
The president has been vindicated, as ethnicity has become an important factor in the local politics.
The opposition, however, is accusing Moi of instigating and orchestrating the ethnic clashes to confirm his prediction of an ethnically divided Kenya due to multiparty politics.

04 june 2001 17:46:00

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