Kenya’s Problems Aren’t Uniquely AfricanIt’s not just “tribal enmity plus poverty equals violence.”

Anne Applebaum – Slate

Copyright Slate
Posted Monday, Jan. 21, 2008, at 8:05 PM ET
Blurry film of a policeman beating a demonstrator; a photograph of angry slum-dwellers storming a food depot; headlines featuring the word violence. That, more or less, sums up the news from Kenya, or at least the news that has filtered into our general consciousness over the last several weeks. Unless you were paying very close attention, you were probably tempted, as I was at first, to dismiss these events as yet more evidence of Africa’s ungovernability. Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone—tribal enmity plus poverty equals violence. Kenya is another country evolving into a failed state. Doesn’t it prove, once again, that Africa is an exception to all the rules about global development, democratization, and “progress”?
Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, the closer one looks at Kenya, the less exceptional Africa seems. What was most striking to me about the recent violence in Kenya was not how much the country resembles Rwanda, but rather how much it resembles, say, Ukraine in 2004 or South Korea in the 1980s. Perhaps the real story here is not, as one headline had it, about “The Demons That Still Haunt Africa,” but rather about how Africa is no different from anywhere else.
I am exaggerating, somewhat, to make a point. Of course Kenya is special, like all countries are special, and of course there are some notably bloody Kenyan ethnic conflicts. Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe, which constitutes about one-fifth of the country, has dominated the country’s politics and economics since independence and is profoundly resented for it. Among other things, the disturbances of recent weeks have included a wave of attacks on the Kikuyu sections of a Nairobi slum and Kikuyu-Luo violence in the Rift Valley.
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