Moi stirs up Kenya's tribal strife

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The Independent Online
BLOODY clashes between the Pokot and Marakwet peoples in Kenya's breathtakingly beautiful Rift Valley are being officially portrayed as tribal skirmishes over cattle rustling.

But Kenyan opposition groups claim that, once again, tribal differences are being exploited, and ethnic conflicts engineered, by the government of Daniel arap Moi in a clandestine campaign to keep him in power.

Human rights groups have warned that President Moi, and his cronies in the ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu), risk plunging Kenya into civil war in their determination to hold on to power, amid increasing opposition to the corrupt regime from outside and, increasingly, inside the ruling party.

Since the beginning of the year, violence has broken out in several districts of the Rift Valley, Mr Moi's home area and traditional support base. From January to April the Kalenjins, Mr Moi's tribe, and the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe, repeatedly did battle. Guns and bows with poisoned arrows claimed more than 100 lives, mainly Kikuyu; the livers of some victims were apparently cut out to make potions to give warriors courage.

Thousands of relatively affluent Kikuyu farmers were displaced. They, and some Kalenjins victimised in subsequent revenge attacks, have been forced into towns, temporary accommodation and, if they are lucky, low- paying menial jobs.

Opposition groups talk of a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" designed to flush out opposition voters and keep the Rift Valley rock solid in its support for Mr Moi. The violence, they claim, was the Kikuyus' punishment for failing to support Mr Moi, who has ruled the former British colony since 1978, in elections at the end of last year.

Ernest Murimi, of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, in Nakuru, where the clashes between the Kikuyu and Kalenjins took place, claims that the Pokot-Marakwet clashes are also being orchestrated by government to discourage the opposition which is making gains in an area where Kanu's national splits are being replicated locally. The Pokot were faithful to Moi last December, while many Marakwets deserted him.

While the violence intimidates the opposition, it also serves the government by apparently supporting Mr Moi's warnings that multi-party democracy in Kenya is bound to lead to ethnic division.

Mr Murimi claims that Kalenjin youths who participated in the Nakuru clashes told him they were trained for combat by an MP close to Mr Moi. "Third force" theories were boosted this year when a man killed in clashes was later discovered to be a policeman in civilian clothes. Maina Kiai, executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, claims security force members have been used to stoke violence and to break up political meetings.

Opposition rallies in West Pokot to discuss the violence, have been disrupted twice this month. On 9 May, police broke up a meeting, beating up many members of the crowd and injuring 10 MPs.

Armed supporters of Kanu attacked and broke up a second rally held last weekend, being addressed by 30 rebel Kanu and opposition MPs. When one of the 30 armed raiders was later cornered and killed by the angry crowd, uniformed police looked on and did nothing.

Among the Kanu contingent at the rally was Kipruto arap Kirwa, a outspoken junior minister in Mr Moi's government. He was dismissed from office on Wednesday. No reasons were given. Mwai Kibaki, the official parliamentary opposition leader, who is challenging Mr Moi's win in the December elections in court, also addressed the rally.

The opposition believes the violence is Mr Moi's surreptitious response to the multiparty elections forced upon him by the international community in 1992.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Article 19 warned that Kenya might be on the brink of civil war because of the government's failure to tackle the violence. But disquiet has now spread to Mr Moi's own party. On Thursday, a day after Mr Kirwa's dismissal, 42 Kanu and opposition members suspended their participation in constitutional reform in protest at the break up of opposition rallies.

Mr Kirwa said the MPs were "perturbed that agents of the government had continued to flout the law ... with impunity and the government has not taken any action."

Kanu's rank and file are growing ever more restless. Last month, 82 Kanu members, including Mr Kirwa, took the extraordinary step of defying Moi to attend a conference on Kenya's collapsing economy, at which finance minister Simeon Nyachae admitted the government was broke and corruption still rampant.

Around Nakuru some of those displaced by fighting are being resettled on land bought by the Catholic Church.

Mr Kiai says that Moi is playing a dangerous game; for he may yet unleash forces that cannot be controlled. "The state is using non- state actors to do its dirty work and there is potential for much more violence," he says of the "uneasy peace" currently reigning between the Kalenjins and Kikuyus. "People are rearming. The language is one of war."