Omens In Kenya

Not good. A reader writes:

While the strong reaction against the stolen election was not so surprising, the extremity of the violence has been shocking. Although Kibaki seems to be effectively utilizing the security forces to maintain a modicum of order in Nairobi, the situation upcountry is more questionable and the main trade route between Kenya and Uganda appears still to be blocked (prices of imported goods in Uganda are skyrocketing accordingly). This may indicate that Kibaki’s hold on power is more tenuous outside of Nairobi. One particularly troubling development is that many members of Kenya’s Asian popluation (which constitutes a sort of "merchant class" in Kenya and much of East Africa) have been fleeing to Uganda. The Asians tend to be pretty tapped into the local situation, and if they’re making a run for it, there may be worse yet to come.

I have to take issue, though, with some of the parallels being drawn with the Rwandan genocide.  I think there are some important distinctions which make such a scenario highly unlikely in Kenya:

— Rwanda is composed of two principal ethnic groups – Hutu and Tutsi, who together constitute the vast majority of the population.  These two groups have for a long time competed violently for political control, with a number of incidents of massacres and ethnic cleansing prior to the genocide in ’94.  The Hutus (who carried out the genocide) were demographically dominant in the country, and had the genocide "succeeded" more fully, they would have totally wiped out their main competitor and thus guaranteed a monopoly on political power.  Kenya, by contrast, is made up of around 40 ethnic groups, none of whom dominate the country demographically and none of whom exceed a quarter or so of the total population.  Thus it would be much harder to for any group to try and exterminate any other group.  And in any case, doing so would not guarantee political control, since by virtue of Kenya’s diversity, any political movement must have some kind of inter-ethnic coalition in order to succeed.

— The Rwandan genocide was not a spontaneous uprising (as seems to be the case in Kenya) but rather was a well-thought-out, heavily planned undertaking.  The Interahamwe (those who carried out the genocide) made extensive preparations well in advance – even discussing the process in national cabinet meetings.  It’s not easy to kill 800,000 people in 100 days, especially if your primary weapon is a panga (machete).  That the Interahamwe were able to do so indicates a tremendous level of prior planning and preparation.  I haven’t heard any evidence of similar preparations by any of the groups in Kenya.

— The genocide was the culmination of a civil war that had been ongoing between Hutu and Tutsi militias for years.  The international community had intervened to push a peace process, but the eventual agreement was not respected and plans by Hutu extremists to eliminate the Tutsis continued unabated.  There is no parallel to this in Kenya; the country has been at peace for years.

That said, small-scale ethnic cleansing could be a possibility – i.e. violently clearing out the Kikuyus and forcing them back to the region perceived to be "theirs" – this seems to be happening already in someareas.  But I don’t think that genocide is likely to occur (note that genocide, which seeks to destroy or wipe out a people, differs from ethnic cleansing, which seeks – often with extreme violence – to push out or relocate a group).