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Last Updated: Monday, 14 January 2008, 18:03 GMT
Kenya at the crossroads
By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

Refugees waiting for aid
With their lives in ruins, refugees have to wait for aid
Newly-elected lawmakers are due to take their seats in the Kenyan parliament.

Raila Odinga's opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has the majority of seats - but it is far from clear whether it will take them or dash for the seats on the government benches.

That uncertainty is the result of the wave of fury that has swept Kenya since the presidential election on 27 December.

It's about resources, it's about land, it's about tribe, it's about so many issues that successive governments have not addressed
Gladwell Otieno
Africa Centre for Open Governance
Everyone knew that the presidential election would be close, but few predicted that the events that followed would herald what many are calling a "generational revolution" in one of Africa's most stable states.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the perception by many Kenyans and the international community that the election was rigged.

Yet could the election fiasco merely have been a trigger to ignite simmering tensions, bubbling under the surface for decades?

The level of displacement and killings in the past few weeks has been unprecedented. More than 500 people have lost their lives and 250,000 have been forced to flee their homes.

Kenya is in a mess, yet half the country still backs the 76-year-old President Mwai Kibaki.

Many privately hope the tensions will simply fizzle out but the country has been plunged into a deep crisis.

Gladwell Otieno, formerly of Transparency International, who now runs her own governance think tank, summarises the outpouring of anger.

"It's about resources, it's about land, it's about tribe, it's about so many issues that successive governments have not addressed," she says.


There is a very deep frustration among young Kenyans that the political elite is still dominated by veterans of the independence struggle.

President Kibaki was vice-president under former President Daniel arap Moi. Mr Odinga served as energy minister under Mr Moi.


At 62 Raila, as he is widely referred to, is not the picture of youth he might like to portray. But nevertheless he has become an icon of change and a beacon of hope for young Kenyans.

In Kenya's largest province - Rift Valley, home to an electorate of more than 3 million - voters rejected the three sons of former President Moi and other prominent figures from that kleptocratic era, including Kalenjin strongman Nicholas Biwott.

It was a clear message to the old men to "go home".

In the aftermath of these elections, some youths joined centrally-controlled militias to try to stake their claim to the land, and to exert their generation's power.

In the morbid marketplace that is Kenyan politics, young men are rumoured to be getting $14 (7) for each person they kill, and half that amount for every house torched.

We are having a serious generational revolt
Mutahi Ngunyi
political scientist

It is sickening to see the charred remains of the church in Eldoret that was set alight in a cold-blooded attack reduced to a simple transaction. But there is growing anecdotal evidence that in part the violence was pre-meditated.

Generational frustrations have transcended ethnic affiliations.

Members of President Kibaki's own Kikuyu community have also expressed frustration that political space is being hogged by an ageing elite.

"Right now we are having a serious generational revolt being carried out by professionals in civil society and young men," argues Mutahi Ngunyi, a political scientist and former political strategist for Mr Kibaki back in 2002.

In a country riven by ethnic divisions, young Kikuyus may have felt alienated by Mr Odinga, who comes from the Luo community. But they are furious that their name is being usurped by a president whose legitimacy is in serious doubt.

Families divided

They feel equally disappointed that the government has failed to deliver on its promises to tackle corruption and distribute wealth. They see the re-appointment of many of President Kibaki's allies to key cabinet posts as a betrayal.

Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga
Older political leaders should step down, say some younger Kenyans
Underpinning the crisis that Kenya now faces are economic factors. The country has enjoyed up to 7% economic growth in recent years, but the benefits have only been felt by a few.

The perception by many is that the fruits of economic growth have been squirreled away by a small corrupt elite within the president's community.

In extreme cases people have pinned the blame on the entire Kikuyu business community.

But others from Kenya's patchwork of ethnic groups have also found themselves singled out for retribution because of their entrepreneurship or choice of location for their home.

In a country where intermarriage is common, families are being torn apart.

Talk of economic-inspired violence in Kenya and it is impossible to ignore the issue of land.

'Cultural identity'

Land stands as a symbol for so many cleavages across Kenya. "It's our national hang-up," sighs Gladwell Otieno.

Successive Kenyan governments have failed to address land issues. "It's what the Mau Mau went to war about," she explains in a reference to the Kikuyu-led rebellion against British colonial rule.

Deserted market scene
This used to be a market - now only riot police are there

Elites credited with securing independence have taken over the role of colonial farmers, seizing huge parcels of land.

Drive through the Kenyan countryside and it is like a topographical "Who's Who".

But as one Kenyan friend told me: "Land isn't just real estate, it is cultural identity."

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in Rift Valley.

In the villages around Eldoret, houses have been torched because the people working the land do not have blood ties to the land.

So what is the future for this country so proud of its green bean exports, its tourism, and its gorgeous beach resorts?

Kenyan businesses are estimated to be losing $30m (15m) a day due to the unrest.

Kenyans are good businessmen, and President Kibaki is a respected economist, so it is hard to imagine a headlong plunge into economic paralysis.

But both sides in the political dispute remain as entrenched as ever in their views, and there is little sign of any ground being given.

Empty Mombasa beach
Empty beaches tell their own tale of how the crisis has hit Kenya

Diplomats have called for the restoration of the right to hold public rallies without fear of police violence, and for a resumption of live television coverage of political events.

It is far from clear whether the government will concede.

Political fatigue among ordinary Kenyans who simply want to carry on with their lives may mean that the anger dissipates and the semblance of normality resumes.

But if the two sides in this political standoff fail to give any ground and rallies planned for later in the week do go ahead, some fear a period of austerity lies ahead.

That could plunge Kenya back to the dark days of Mr Moi.

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