Divisive leaflets reignite ethnic tensions in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Eastern regions
By Rajab Ramah of SABAHI, in Nairobi June 06, 2014
Rising political and ethnic tensions in parts of Kenya in the past two weeks have community leaders worried that the situation could deteriorate, leading to violence similar to that which crippled the country after the 2007 general elections.
Fate of Kenyan peace and unity commission hangs in the balance Kenyan monitoring committee warns bloggers to curb hate speech Leaflets circulated May 29th in the areas of Meteitei and Nandi Hills in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, native land of the Kalenjin ethnic group, called on all Kikuyu in those areas to leave.
Similarly, in Eastern region on May 26th, authorities arrested three men in connection with distributing leaflets calling on non-Embu people to vacate Mbeere town, which is also home to a minority of Kikuyus, Somalis and Indians. Nandi County police commander Shem Mganda told Sabahi they were still investigating the source of the divisive leaflets.
While the recent events may be isolated incidents, the trend is worrying, said Emmanuel Kisiangani, conflict prevention and risk analysis senior researcher at the Institute for Securities Studies in Nairobi. “Such acts, coupled with the increasing political tensions and hate manifested mostly on social media, is cause of worry to any peace loving Kenyan,” he told Sabahi.
Tensions between Kikuyus and Kalenjins resurface The post-election violence of 2008 that left an estimated 1,200 people dead and 300,000 displaced was caused by deep-seated ethnic hatred that manifested itself in similar ways, according to Kisiangani. The violence six years ago targeted the Kikuyu community because other ethnic groups felt they had been favoured by the administration of President Mwai Kibaki to the disadvantage of the rest, he said. “Ethnic violence was rife in the Rift Valley region, pitting Kikuyus against the native Kalenjins,” Kisiangani said.
“This, we thought, had been solved in 2013 when the two ethnic groups through their political leaders [formed a coalition] and were able to give Kenya the president and a deputy, but it seems we were wrong.” “We fear that we might be headed to another round of ethnic violence if reconciliation efforts are not put in place soon,” he added. Tensions between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, from which President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto hail respectively, have been resurfacing because some Kalenjins feel short-changed and that they have not benefited from the coalition, according to Richard Bosire, a political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
“There was great optimism that after these two communities formed the government under the Jubilee umbrella their deep-seated differences could be solved by equity in sharing of national resources including jobs, but that has not happened,” he told Sabahi. “In a nationwide context, there is widespread belief that one community is predominantly benefiting from the national cake,” Bosire said. “These feelings of unfairness — where those in power are seemingly excluding those from areas perceived to have not supported the ruling regime in the national elections — are stoking hatred and tensions that can explode anytime.”
Social media, radio’s role in fomenting tension Director of Public Communications at the Ministry of Information and Communications Mary Ombara, who also chairs the National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring, said the concerns about ethnic tensions were valid, but she attributed the current situation to politically motivated hate speech perpetuated on social media and local FM radio stations. “There are increasingly vicious verbal and written attacks on political personalities perpetuated by bloggers and other social media users with a huge following,” she told Sabahi. “These messages are always derogatory, dividing the country along ethnic lines.”
“Already we have over seven individuals on our radar and we intend to forward their cases to the prosecution authority for action,” she said. Ombara said that as of June 4th they had compiled incriminating evidence against an additional nine bloggers and six radio stations suspected of propagating political and ethnic hate. Nonetheless, Ombara said, the steering committee is having difficulty dealing with online hate speech as government agencies are still working to develop the guidelines for prosecuting offenders and shutting down their platforms. Jubilee, opposition parties trade accusations For his part, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale downplayed fears of rising ethnic and political tension, arguing that it is a ploy being used by the opposition to discredit the government.
“As far as we in Jubilee are concerned, this government is out to create equity in resource allocation as dictated in the constitution, but we are aware that our colleagues in the opposition are now holding rallies to incite the public against the government and that is the reason you might say there are tensions,” he told Sabahi. But Suna East lawmaker Junet Mohammed of the Orange Democratic Movement denied claims that the opposition was inciting the public and faulted the Jubilee government for failing to inspire unity.
“We have seen a systematic exclusion of other communities in the running of the affairs of this country, and we in the opposition feel this is not the way to go because what happens is that it plants seeds of discord that are dividing us by promoting intolerance,” he told Sabahi. “Our interests are to make sure that the national government acts in a manner that unites the entire nation,” he said.
“It must make every Kenyan feel part of this nation, [which is] the reason we have embarked on nationwide rallies to pressure the government to act accordingly.” Dialogue, tolerance key to tempering ethnic tensions Rather than shifting blame on each other, the government should initiate dialogue with communities that are feeling aggrieved or left out, Kisiangani said.
“As a short-term measure, the government should start by going to the Rift Valley and start listening to them,” he said. “In the long term, they should start cultivating a culture of appointing individuals to government positions on grounds of merit rather than tribe … thereby exorcising the ghost of ethnicity.” Kikuyu Peace Initiative Chairman Albert Githuka also urged politicians to resolve contentious issues through dialogue. “We accept there are issues worth our attention as a nation, but I doubt if these issues can be handled satisfactory in public rallies by politicians exchanging utterances,” he told Sabahi.
Bosire, the political science lecturer, called on the government to demonstrate tolerance as a way of toning down the rising political tensions. “There is this notion that once you have won an election no one should question or make demands of you,” he said. “This is being seen and exercised by the Jubilee [government], where state does not welcome criticism whether constructive or otherwise. What that does is breed political intolerance that can lead to violence.”