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Analyst Says Ethnic Tensions, Not Politics, at Heart of Kenya's Post-Election Violence

Kenya’s main opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), is calling for new elections as a way of ending days of post-election violence. Hundreds of people have been killed.

Among those watching developments in Kenya is Barack Muluka, a columnist with the East African Standard Newspaper. He’s currently in Western Kenya, near the Ugandan border, unable to travel to Nairobi for fear of violence. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether to post-election violence came as a surprise.

“No, I’m not surprised at the current state of affairs. To start with I think the political opposition, and particularly the ODM, invested a lot emotionally in the elections. It became quite clear very early at the outset that the race was going to be between President Kabaki’s Party of National Unity and Raila Odinga’s ODM. And both sides invested a lot of emotion and hope. And therefore when the results were announced, my take on this is that whoever was going to win the other side was going to end up (with) the kind of emotional outpouring and perhaps display of violence that we are witnessing in the country today,” he says.

Asked whether the violence is based on ethnic or political differences, Muluka says, “I would not say it is (a) political difference because from a purely political, ideological standpoint I do not see any significant political points of departure. One sees a clear tribal / ethnic divide.” He says that the ODM often spoke of the “tribal nature of President Kibaki-led government. And one of the things they were talking about was redressing that ill that formed the political scenario in the country these past five years from a purely ethnic platform.”

But as has happened in other African countries with political violence, will the situation eventually calm down on its own? The columnist says, “The most desirable thing in which I see as the most probable way out would be where the antagonists get around a talking table eventually and cobble together some kind of government of national unity. The political divide is really fundamentally of ethnic tensions and ethnic perceptions about how they’re going to preserve themselves in the coming days.

“It is significant for instance to recall that in the high noon of the campaign the Raila Odinga-led ODM team went abroad making sounds and pronouncements to the effect that the minute we take over we shall do such and such things against such and such people. And it is clear that at a certain point, President Kibaki and his team must have felt quite endangered to the extent that they would not want to cede power willingly to the ODM regardless that they won or that they lost. Because if someone is standing on the political rostrum and is saying wait until we get into office, you’re going to see what we shall do to you, one might as well say in that case you’d better get the power from me by force. So, I see the stalemate is like to go on for a bit while.”

Muluka says in Western Kenya near the Ugandan border, there are shortages and petrol and food as a result of the political violence. He says that the people are suffering.