Warnings about civil war in Kenya coming to pass

In less than a month, the East African nation of Kenya has gone from post-election ethnic violence, which claimed 300 lives, to large-scale ethnic cleansing today with a death toll of more than 800 — and rising.

The assassination this week of a freshman member of Parliament, who had taken it upon himself to try to end the political war that has been raging since President Mwai Kibaki was announced the winner of Dec. 27 elections by a narrow margin, shows just how far the situation has deteriorated.

Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga have taken to the streets to express their belief that the election was fixed; the demonstrations have invariably turned bloody because of government’s heavy-handed response.

And, as is common in many African countries, old tribal hatreds are bubbling to the surface.

Kibaki belongs to the Kikuyu tribe. Odongo is a Luo.

Thus, a city in Kenya called Kisumu no longer has any Kikuyus living there. They’ve either been killed by the Luo or have fled.

In the capital city of Nairobi, members of the tribes continue to clash, turning neighborhoods into killing fields.

According to the New York Times, militias from opposing ethnic groups are battling in several towns; Kenyan helicopters fired warning shots Tuesday to disperse them. The newspaper referred to reports of forced circumcisions and beheadings.

“ ... Kenyans are now literally ripping parts of their country apart, uprooting miles of railroad tracks, chopping down telephone poles, burning government offices and looting schools,” according to the Times.

Annan’s involvement

The escalating violence in Kenya can no longer be ignored by the world community. Efforts by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to bring President Kibaki and opposition leader Odongo together to discuss a possible solution has had limited success.

The United States has a special interest in seeing the killings stopped. President Bush is scheduled to be in Africa later this month and will visit five countries, including Tanzania, which is a neighbor of Kenya’s.

The purpose of the visits will be to assess the progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other killer diseases since 2003, when the president was last in Africa.

In his State of the Union address Monday night, Bush spoke about America’s continued financial commitment to the war on HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty and illiteracy, and was unequivocal in his criticism of the ethic cleansing taking place in Sudan.

Perhaps his presence in Africa will have a calming effect on the people of Kenya and will inspire political enemies to find common ground.

America’s interest in what is going on in that part of the world is more than humanitarian. The Horn of Africa has important strategic significance for the U.S. in its war on global terrorism, and Kenya has long been viewed as an important ally. It has been one of the leading democracies in a continent filled with dictatorships, and has had one of the strongest economies in that part of the world.

But time may be running out to prevent a total collapse of Kenya.

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