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Radio Broadcasts Incite Kenya's Ethnic Violence


Media monitors in Kenya say inflammatory statements and songs broadcast on local language radio stations have contributed significantly to the surge in post-election ethnic violence that has killed nearly 900 people and displaced 255,000 others during the past month. As VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Nairobi, the broadcasts bear a striking similarity to 1994 broadcasts in Rwanda that helped whip ethnic Hutus into a killing frenzy that resulted in the genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.

The broadcasts that incited Rwandan ethnic Hutus to commit genocide used dehumanizing language against ethnic Tutsis.

According to the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which monitored hate speech before the December 27 national elections, local radio stations in Kenya also aired opinions that used dehumanizing language and obscure references to make negative, sometimes genocidal, comments about other ethnic groups.

On one Kalenjin-language station, some callers said there was a need to for people of the milk to cut grass, which the Kenyan rights group says was a call for ethnic Kalenjins, who are cattle herders, to remove ethnic Kikuyus from traditional Kalenjin homelands in the Rift Valley province. Other Kalenjin callers referred to ethnic Kikuyus living in the Rift Valley as settlers and as a mongoose that came to steal Kalenjin chicken.

Meanwhile, a Luo-language station, which supports ethnic Luo opposition leader Raila Odinga, aired a song that called Kenya's ethnic Kikuyu President Mwai Kibaki and his Kikuyu-dominated Cabinet a leadership of baboons.

On January 1, two days after Kenya's electoral commission declared Mr. Kibaki the winner of an election the opposition says was rigged, a mob of ethnic Kalenjins and Luos burned to death more than 30 ethnic Kikuyu women and children seeking shelter in a church. Since then, hundreds more have been killed and more than 100,000 ethnic Kikuyus have been forced to leave the Rift Valley.

Wednesday, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said the violence in Kenya has not reached the level of genocide, but she described the situation in the Rift Valley as ethnic cleansing.

Caesar Handa, the head of Strategic Research, a company hired by the United Nations to monitor Kenya's election coverage, says the ferocity of the violence is linked to the anti-Kikuyu broadcasts.

"When you say, 'We want to reclaim our property. We do not want settlers in our midst,' then what you are saying is that you are evicting these people from the place they have called home over the years, and that, of course, comes with a level of violence and leads to death," said Handa.

The Kikuyu tribe, the largest in Kenya, is the tribe of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, who resettled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kikuyus on fertile Rift Valley farms after independence from Britain in 1963.

Two of three post-independence presidents have been ethnic Kikuyus. Kalenjin, Luo and other tribes say they resent decades of Kikuyu dominance in government, business, and land ownership.

They complain about Kikuyu arrogance, noting that two Kikuyu-language stations Kenyan Commission on Human Rights says it is deeply concerned about reports that the song was sponsored by President Kibaki's political party.