Saturday, 9 February 2008

The Kenyan Crisis - A Boardroom Dispute Gone Wrong?

So much has been said and written about the situation in Kenya that there is no need to repeat much of it again here. However, one differing perspective I get from talking to people in Kampala is their belief that the tribal element to the crisis is in reality a class issue being manipulated by the political leaders.

Kibaki and Odinga (pictured right) are both hugely wealthy men from elite, political class families. Kibaki was Vice-President under Moi for many years, while Odinga's father was a prominent figure in the independence movement, eventually serving as the country's first Vice-President under Kenyatta. Indeed the two men were allies in the 'Rainbow' coalition that won the 2002 elections, unseating Moi's party. It was after this election that they fell out, when Kibaki went back on his promise to appoint Odinga as Prime Minister.

The reason this background information is important is to understand the intense personal rivalry that exists between the two men, to the extent that they have been prepared to whip up tribal sentiments among groups of largely young, poor, urban men. A key reason why this was so easy for them to initiate (apart from the vote rigging) is that the tribal split also represents the 'rich-poor' divide in the country. Because Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe have traditionally controlled more of the land and businesses it made it easier for Odinga to position himself as the champion of the poor, who are disproportionately non-Kikuyu. Clearly it is a more emotive story for international journalists to stress the tribal elements but the class issue should not be underestimated - while the Kenyan middle classes continue living a fairly normal existence it is those with the least that are killing each other.

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