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Kenyan Politics Marred by Tribalism, Says Human Rights Official

The chairman of Kenya’s Human Rights Commission says the problem of tribalism and corruption in the country’s body politic needs to be resolved. Maina Kiai said he agrees with the sentiments reportedly expressed by the chairman of the electoral commission that the politics in Kenya is marred by tribalism, violence and graft and that this year's election will be the true test of how far the country has come since single-party rule.

It was reported last week that political tensions in Kenya have risen sharply this month. On Friday, youths hurling rocks and firing arrows badly beat three of opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga's top supporters when they arrived uninvited at a rural fundraiser organized by supporters of President Mwai Kibaki.

From the capital, Nairobi Maina Kiai tells reporter Peter Clottey that tribalism and corruption in Kenya’s politics is no news.

“These issues are not new, and indeed these sentiments are accurate. We have a serious problem of negative ethnicity in our society where political parties are organized on ethnic grounds and this has been our lost for the last 10,15 years. In addition, we have endemic corruption that is from top to bottom and it makes a mockery of a lot of things that we have. We have a system of patronage where people want to get elected for patronage reasons, and they get support on that basis,” Kiai explained.

He said Kenyans’ hopes have been dashed by the Kibaki administration’s lack of performance in the fight against corruption.

“We have been trying to change it; in fact we hoped that these past five years of this government would have made inroads into destroying this. But unfortunately, that would not be the case,” he pointed out.

Kiai said President Kibaki abandoned his election promise to fight corruption.

“I think we must admit that the war against corruption by the government ended a couple of years ago. I think they are making the right noises, but in terms of political action, you see a welcoming back of corruption; we have seen Daniel Arap Moi (former president) who has been accused in the Krol Report of being part if a conspiracy to take out of the country up to one billion pounds or two billion dollars and now completely supporting the Mwai Kibaki government. You have seen no action taken on him; you have seen a number of reports that talk about endemic corruption simply being kept on the shelf. So in a sense, I think you see this government haven said goodbye to the war on corruption,” Kiai pointed out.

He said he does not believe any one of the current presidential aspirants has the antidote to cure the endemic nature of tribal sentiments across the country.

“Well you know the advantage that we have in Kenya is that we have many ethnic groups, and there is no really one dominant community. So what you are seeing then is these candidates coalescing around their ethnic groups, plus trying to get allies to them. And this, as I said, is not new. If you look back at 2002, essentially, NARK under Mwai Kibaki, despite the promises of zero tolerance for corruption was basically ethnic base coming together against the Moi nominee. And I think you are seeing again the confirmation, and people going back and forth trying to figure out where they are on basically the same lines,” he said.

Kiai was, however, hopeful the problem of tribalism in Kenya can be resolved.

“Absolutely, and it needs to be. And I think one of the first things we have to do is we begin moving from the constituency-based electoral politics to proposal representation, where people have lists that are national. I think we need to see political leaders reaching out across the ethnic communities to bring people on board into high places of influence and responsibility. We’ve got to see planning in terms of economic development to be much fairer so people would not have to get their own as president to have development,” Kiai noted.