What went wrong in Kenya?

As an African student at Grambling State University, I am deeply concerned that nothing is being said about the current horrific events happening in Kenya. Kenya, which for a long time had been Africa’s safe haven, was torn into national turmoil after the presidential elections in December. An estimated 1,000 people have been killed and approximately 300,000 were displaced in this violence. Some reports even claim that what is happening in Kenya is genocide.

Opposition leader Raili Odinga has accused Kenya’s current president, Mwai Kibaki, of rigging the elections. As a result, deadly protests have broken out in different parts of the country. The police have been accused of using live ammunition against innocent civilians. In addition, there has been the ideology of poisonous politics where leaders use ethnic differences to buttress claims to power. Hence, we have different ethnic groups trying to wipe out one another around the country.

So, what exactly drove these peaceful Kenyan people into chaos?

The people of Kenya are frustrated with their government for failing to serve the nation as a whole. The electoral commission has been accused of acting unjustly. Kenyans felt cheated when election monitors reported vote-counting irregularities and the incumbent was sworn in for a second term.

The economic inequality also could have contributed to the conflict. Although Kenya happens to be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, the nation’s profits have not been shared equally among all. It has been noted that Kenyans of President Kibaki’s ethnic group, the Kikuyu, happen to own most of the country’s property. Whether this is true or not, it does raise an issue for discussion. In the most impoverished and diverse areas, protests, riots, attacks and looting broke out, mainly along tribal lines.

Kenya doesn’t have Hutu extremists, as in the case of Rwanda, spreading propaganda of nationalism and hate to incite and justify killing. Unfortunately, the media have chosen to blame all this chaos on tribal conflict despite the fact that Kenya has about 40 tribes, and these people have lived together for decades with no resentment for one another.

When the 1994 Rwandan genocide occurred, the international community came up with a policy famously known as “Never Again.” But what does this mean? The definition of “Never Again” is clear, and it calls for other nations to take action against violence around the world. Currently, the world has chosen to turn a deaf ear while innocent people are being killed and moved from their homes in Kenya. Isn’t it ironic that each time there is a tragic event in one nation, the rest of the world always has something to focus its attention to. Ladies and gentlemen, how many more people can we afford to lose at the hand of international seclusion?

The situation has eased, with both sides settling for a coalition government. But tension remains high on both ends. Raili Odinga and his party want the president’s powers reduced, but it’s unlikely Kibaki will agree to their demands. Bottom line is that people have died in Kenya, and the violence needs to stop. It’s selfish for political leaders to hang on to differences in propaganda at the expense of people’s lives.