Friday, January 04, 2008

Kenyan General Election: Sectarian Letter is Behind Times

Amidst a lot of coverage of the Iowa primaries and analysis of the republican side of things that you won't find here Iain has published a very sectarian and suspect account of the troubles in Kenya. That's not a criticism of Iain for reproducing it. But two points of caution:

* There are perhaps 10 numerically significant tribes in Kenya and probably 40 in all. This simplifies that to just the two, those of the Cheaters and the Cheetahs.
* The lag in this being written and distributed means that old anecdotes may appear to be current.

Odinga's Luo are in fact the third largest tribe and fairly evenly matched in size with those in second to fifth. The fourth, Kalenjin is home to most internationally famous Kenyans of the last 30 years - 90% of the distance runners battling with Paula Radcliffe and Brendan Foster belong to this 10% segment. These four tribes comprise 50% of the population versus just 22% in Kikuyu.

Over-simplified sectarianism is - as usual - the prism through which the world media tends to analyse the troubles. Reminiscent of a much overplayed Sunni-Shia split for Iraq. The real dichotomies are old vs young, rich vs poor, corrupt vs clean, and politically right vs left. There is a bit of religious sectarianism overlaid on the communities too.

Mwai K happens to be in the hegemony and the first of every single one of these pairs, Raina O is nominally in the second (relatively) of all but the rich-poor one. My athlete and friend Tarus is a member of the Kalenjin.

Very much in opposition to Mwai and the hegemony himself, terrified at what is going on, anxious for friends and family - including athlete friends who don't normally travel to Europe for a couple of months at least, and reporting that Mwai's vigilantes have guns and ammunition whereas the poor have knives and sticks, and matches of course.

So there may be a bit of the old "civilised" gun murders vs chilling butchery, mostly reflecting the wealth or otherwise of the criminals and hotheads who are carrying out the killings rather than any essential good versus evil.

But let us try to resist the media rush to make this primarily sectarian. At that rate the President is in a minority of just 22%. And let us also accept that such accounts are already several days out of date and have now been superceded by relative calm. Hopefully these troubles have not reached the tipping point where they will persist.

No comments: