Mwai Kibaki — the newly re-elected Kenyan President — has been at the forefront of the country’s politics since independence in 1963. But the bloody violence which followed his re-election is not just about politics. Mwai Kibaki is a Kikuyu, Kenya’s predominant ethnic group.
The man who has accused him of stealing the election is a Luo, Kenya’s second ethnic group. Raila Odinga epitomises the hardline opposition, like his father before him. Almost 40 per cent of Kenyans say a candidate’s ethnic origin is central to their decision-making process. In that context, perhaps the death and destruction of recent days could be seen as an extension of ancestral rivalries.
The Kikuyus’ recent dominance of politics and the economy has helped the stoke frustrations of the Luos.
Kenya is made up of more than 40 different ethnic groups. The Luos, established mainly along the shores of Lake Victoria, are roughly on a par with the Luyias, each with 13 per cent of the population.
The majority Kikuyas, at 22 per cent, live predominantly in the central province. But ethnic factors alone do not explain everything. Add extreme poverty to a mix of Luos, Kikuyus and others in Nairobi’s shantytowns, and the result is a powderkeg waiting for the slightest spark.
The country has seen spectacular economic growth and significant social progress – growth has doubled in three years, and tourism revenues have recovered since al-Qaeda attacks.
And thanks to the introduction of free primary schooling in 2003, 1.5 million children now have access to education. The other side of the coin: 50 per cent of Kenyans still live in extreme poverty. And 42 per cent of the country’s wealth is concentrated among 10 per cent of the population.
President Kibaki has been accused of failing to keep his promises on blatant inequality and corruption. He fought, and won, the 2002 campaign on an anti-corruption ticket. But the regime has been the subject of vigorous international criticism in recent years for the slow pace of reform.