In Kenya, Unrest Extends Beyond Politics The Rift Valley, known for its picturesque wildlife, is now the scene of growing ethnic strife. What started as an electorial matter, has now ignited old tribal conflicts. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton attempts to get to the root of the problem.
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In Kenya, Unrest Extends Beyond Politics

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In Kenya, Unrest Extends Beyond Politics

In Kenya, Unrest Extends Beyond Politics

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

New fighting today in Kenya. Rival tribes have been burning homes and going on murderous rampages since last month's disputed presidential election. The death toll is now estimated at more than 700.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton flew by helicopter today over the area of most of the clashes. She got a first-hand look at the fighting, much of it led by gangs of youths.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: So I'm flying over the Rift Valley heading back to the capital of Nairobi about 100 kilometers away. What I'm looking at now we can see a dense cloud. You hardly see anybody on the street, but it looks as if there are youths who are engaged in running battles. I didn't quite believe it. It's hard to know the numbers, but it seem that youths especially are forming themselves in sort of a rolling gang and then going into different communities. And it will be pushing people, driving them out of their homes, burning their homes and burning their belongings.

SEABROOK: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is now back in Nairobi and joins us.

Welcome, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Hello and greetings from Nairobi.

SEABROOK: The Rift Valley that you flew over today in the helicopter is known to many people as a tourist destination, it's full of wildlife. What you saw today must have created quite a contrast.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, I mean, the rolling hills of the Rift Valley, the pink flamingos, zebra and even rhinoceros. And just - not even 30 miles away both sides of the lake, in Naivasha first and then in Nakuru, there is a scene that is absolutely devastating.

We actually touched down in Nakuru, where for the past 48 hours there has been fighting or at least killings. And it was there in this stadium which we saw from the air full, chock-a-block, absolutely full of especially women and children because they've been chased from their homes. People were asking for their husbands, saying we're going to kill them. People who have been displaced - those are, in fact, the lucky ones, those who have got away with their lives. Others have died. And we're talking about hundreds of deaths now in Kenya since the disputed election results.

SEABROOK: As you say, Ofeibea, this violence began after the presidential election. Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, has been trying to mediate between President Kibaki, who had himself sworn in for another term, and Raila Odinga, his rival who's challenged the election results. Kofi Annan also toured the Rift Valley yesterday, and he said, quote, "Let's not kid ourselves and think that this is electoral problems." What did he mean, Ofeibea?

QUIST-ARCTON: Exactly that. That the catalyst for what's going on in Kenya now was this disputed election that Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, said he won and President Mwai Kibaki said he won. But in a very short time all the old enmities between Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and Raila Odinga's Luo tribe allied to the Kalenjin and others have all bubbled to the surface. So now, what we're seeing is not just a political problem, but it's old vendettas over water rights, over position, over privilege that go back generations. So Kofi Annan, who's trying to mediate between the two political rivals, is saying, Kenya, address these issues now, otherwise they'll come back to haunt you.

SEABROOK: Let's listen to Kofi Annan from yesterday.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Former Secretary-General, United Nations): We cannot accept that periodically, every five years or so, this sort of incident takes place and no one is held to account. Impunity cannot be allowed to stand.

SEABROOK: So, Ofeibea, what is the Kenyan government doing to control this or to attempt to?

QUIST-ARCTON: In the Rift Valley, where I was, there was police backed up by the military. And for the first time in this current conflict, the military has entered into this, trying to calm things down. But most Kenyans will tell you the problem is our politicians, when it suits them, they use us and we fight against one another. Whereas, in normal times, we live in peace, Kikuyu by Luo by Kalenjin by Maasai by Turkana by the Luhya. But the politicians, when they feel that they need us to show that they are powerful, they use us. And I think that is one of the core problems here in Kenya. But it doesn't absolve, of course, the civilians themselves because it's civilians who are taking up arms to kill the people they see as their enemies and their rivals.

SEABROOK: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Nairobi.

Thanks very much, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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