Monday, December 31, 2007

Nairobi Shantytowns Erupt

If Kenya's incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, did not rig the election, asks challenger Raila Odinga, "why does he seclude himself in State House at dusk to be sworn in without the media, diplomats, observers and other Heads of States." For those who don't know the details, Odinga was leading in the polls in the lead up to the election, and was ahead by 1 million in the count just one day before the official results were announced. Once the election commission announced th results, the incumbent president was sworn in for a second term in a secretive 15-minute action and the government immediately imposed controls on the press.

The danger for Kenya is that the contested results, which outside observers said were tainted by fraud, exacerbate existing tribal tension. Kibaki is a Kikuyu, the dominant Kenyan tribe. Odinga is from the nation's second-largest tribe, the Luo. Kibera, the shantytown where I lived when I was doing the reporting for Shadow Cities, is in Odinga's parliamentary district and reports are that violence has broken out between Kikuyus and Luos in the community. Other shantytowns around Nairobi report riots and anger. The two photos, from The New York Times, show the extent of devastation in Mathare, Nairobi's second-largest shantytown.

You can view a disturbing video from the British newspaper The Guardian here.

The Nation, the country's largest newspaper, has details of Odinga's plans to contest the results.

later in the day update: The New York Times offers a New Years Eve view of the situation on the streets.

As the Times points out, "Mr. Kibaki now faces trouble not just on the streets, but in the Kenyan Parliament as well. More than half of his cabinet was voted out of office in a wave of seeming dissatisfaction with his government, and his party won about 35 seats in Parliament, while the opposition took nearly 100 seats."

This brings up an interesting issue: if we are to believe the results certified by the Election Commission, we have to believe that an overwhelming number of people split their ballots. If 100 opposition politicians were elected to Parliament and half of Kibaki's cabinet lost their parliamentary posts, is it truly credible that so many people voted against Kibaki's party's nominees for Parliament but for the incumbent president?

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