Old rivalry between the tribes of Kenya’s newly re-elected President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga has fed violence that has killed at least 130 since last week’s disputed poll.
Ethnic identity is key factor in the politics and geography of the east African country, where bloody riots swiftly erupted after Sunday’s announcement that Kibaki was back in office.
Kibaki, 76, comes from the most populous Kikuyu tribe, based around Mount Kenya in Central province, where the outgoing president took more than 90 percent of the votes.
Odinga, 62, who accuses the head of state of rigging the election, comes from the second largest tribe, the Luo, who live around Lake Victoria, where he took more than 90 percent of the ballots.
An opinion poll carried out by the International Republican Institute last September showed that 38.4 percent of Kenyans questioned put the tribe of the candidate they would vote for ahead of either his personality or policies.
The Kikuyu have dominated Kenya both politically and economically since independence from Britain in 1963, stirring up ancestral rivalry with the Luos and leading to jealousy and frustration among other communities.
The election itself was largely peaceful, but once Kibaki’s re-election was announced, Nairobi’s biggest slum, inhabited mainly by Luos, erupted and people began burning shops and houses owned by Kikuyus, witnesses told AFP.
In the Kikuyu majority shanty town of Mathare, also in the capital, Luos were targeted by rioters once Odinga rejected the outcome of the poll, which was has also been questioned by international monitors.
“Anti-Luo, anti-ODM (Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement) feeling is running high among Kikuyus at the moment,” a Nairobi resident — himself a Kikuyu but married to a Luo who was beaten by a gang of six men — told AFP even before the elections.
Ahead of the December 27 vote, the country’s human rights watchdog reported at least 70 deaths in six months around Kenya. There were also isolated incidents on polling day, but the country was calmer than during previous elections.
It was on Sunday evening in the central town of Nakuru that celebrations among the Kikuyus degenerated into clashes with opposition supporters, mainly Luos.
Tribalism, however, is not the sole cause of the violence. Extreme poverty in the shanty towns of Nairobi has turned them into powderkegs prone to explode at any time.
The conflict at the top between the two former allies remains above all a political one.
The veteran Kibaki was a minister under both his predecessors, Jomo Kenyatta, “the father of independence”, and Daniel Arap Moi.
In contrast to a man who has known power since the 1960s, Raila Odinga, who spent nine years in jail, has taken over an opposition torch from his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Oginga Odinga was a constant foe of Jomo Kenyatta and then of Moi, who imprisoned him in 1982, accusing him of being involved in a failed coup bid.