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Report Says Kenya Ethnic Tensions Still Simmer


A new report says Kenya's coalition government has failed to support peace efforts to heal ethnic divisions. Violence after last December's disputed elections led to the deaths of well over one thousand people and the displacement of thousands of others.

The Minority Rights Group International briefing paper outlines conditions in Kenya six months after a power-sharing agreement. It says tens of thousands of people remain displaced or are living in what it describes as "miserable conditions" in transit camps.

Ishbel Matheson is the group's head of policy and communication.

"Although the violence in Kenya has obviously subsided and the atmosphere is calmer, the underlying problems in Kenya are very far from being solved. And in particular, the efforts that the government has put into building bridges between their communities on the ground in the wake of the terrible ethnic violence really haven't been sufficient," she says.

Matheson says ethnic tensions continue to simmer despite the outward calm.

"We're concerned that unless there is a proper comprehensive peace-building program rolled out across the country, that the seeds for the kind of conflict that we saw at the beginning of the year are still there and may yet lead to further conflict," she says.

At the height of the violence, Minority Rights Group International, or MRG, says more than 400,000 people were displaced and 1500 people killed. Matheson says the "crucible of the violence" was in Kenya's Northern Rift Valley.

"This pitted a group called the Kalenjins against the Kikuyus. The Kalenjins there regard themselves as the traditional occupiers of the land there and they see the Kikuyus there as people who have come in and settled on their land. The Kikuyus traditionally are the group, which have dominated Kenya economically since independence. So, there was a lot of simmering resentment there," she says.

The Kikuyus supported President Mwai Kibaki, while the Kalenjins favored Raila Odinga, who's now prime minister.

Small ethnic groups were also the targets of violence, such as the forest-dwelling Ogiek people.

"According to their cultural tradition, they don't move into IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. They attempt as best they can to look after those who have been made homeless within their own community. And that basically meant that they slipped through the net and that they didn't get access to any official help," she says.

A power-sharing agreement brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan brought a political solution. But MRG says the agreement's provisions have yet to be fully carried out.

"One of them is a constitutional review. Kenya has been trying for nearly two decades to try and get a new constitution – a more inclusive, a more equal constitution. That's back on the table again and we very much welcome that process. There's also an effort to get a truth and justice and reconciliation commission going, looking at historical injustices related to land and related to economic crimes. Again, we very much welcome that," she says.

Matheson says in order for these efforts to be "truly inclusive," they have to reach out to all segments of Kenyan society. This includes minority and indigenous peoples. She says while Kenya officially recognizes 42 ethnic groups, the actual number is over 70.

The Minority Rights Group International report is entitled Kenya: Six Months On – A New beginning or Business as Usual.

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