Posted by: sean | February 23, 2008

Kisumu, indeed

Kristof has a disturbing op-ed in the Times about violence in Kenya. It’s hard to know if things are getting better or worse there, and a brief talk with a European journalist friend who just got back from Nairobi doesn’t clear matters up much. When I was in Ethiopia, I didn’t hear much anything about Kenya, although that’s really neither here nor there, since the family I was staying with didn’t seem very preoccupied with foreign affairs, with the exception of Eritrea (the mother was originally from Asmara).

In any case, Kristof recounts some pretty gruesome stuff (which honestly sounds a little sensationalist), including the decapitation of infants and forced circumcision with a machete:

Until he was circumcised with a machete in front of a jeering mob and then dragged off to be beheaded, Robert Ochieng had been a symbol of modern, post-tribal harmony in Kenya.

A member of the Luo ethnic group, 16-year-old Robert had played and studied with members of another ethnic group, the Kikuyu. They were friends. And then Kenya erupted in rioting after a rigged election, and suddenly Luos were chasing and killing Kikuyus, and a mob of Kikuyus was running down Robert.

He claimed that he was Kikuyu as well, but the suspicious mob stripped him naked and noted that he was not circumcised, meaning that he could not be Kikuyu. That’s when his attackers held him down — smashing his arm when he tried to protect himself — and performed the grotesque surgery in the street to loud cheers from a huge throng.

The crowd shouted war cries and was preparing to decapitate Robert with a machete when the police arrived and rescued him.

The main thrust of his column though isn’t just to describe the violence there but rather to bring attention to the idea that US acquiescence “in election irregularities in countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria, inadvertently signal[ed] that Mr. Kibaki could get away with stealing re-election.”

He likens Kibaki to an African Musharraf, and while his tone in the column sounds a little too Manichaean for my taste, it is true that the US has a bad habit of supporting undemocratic leaders when it suits its immediate needs without much foresight when it comes to the consequences of that undemocratic rule.

By the by, ICG has a new report out about the situation that’s worth reading.


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