Kenya Burning

I’m troubled by the post-election violence that is taking place in the East African nation of Kenya now. Following the presidential elections, which the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki apparently won by a razor thin margin, supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga have gone on a rampage, killing many people from the dominant Kikuyu tribe in what has been dubbed by the Kenyan press as Rwandan-style “ethnic cleansing”. Over 300 people have already died.

At least 36 people were killed when the church they were hiding in was set ablaze, allegedly by members of the Kalenjin tribe — incidentally the tribe that produces most of the world-champion Kenyan runners.

For most of us in this part of the world, it is easy to dismiss as just another troubled African state unable to maintain basic social stability. The sad thing is that Kenya was supposed to be one of the leading lights in that troubled continent. It is the largest economy in East Africa and one of the more influential countries in Africa. Although rife with corruption, the economy has been performing quite decently for the past few years, with growth rates above 5 per cent.

I visited the capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa two years ago when I was with MFA. Although far from being a developed country, there seemed to be a lot of hope in the air for the future of the country. The Singapore Ambassador and his wife, whom I accompanied, even remarked that the situation there had improved tremendously from just a few years back. I remember the Philippines Charge d’Affaires there talking about how good the business opportunities were for those adventurous enough to venture there.

In fact, we met a few Singaporeans there who run several businesses, including a rose plantation, that were making good profits. Kenya is one of the biggest exporters of roses to Europe.

I don’t know what effect all this violence will have on Kenya’s economy, especially the tourism industry. One can only hope that the economy will continue to hum, even as politicians slug it out. But I just find it so unfortunate that some politicians there are so power hungry that they would rather stoke tribal anger and violence to squeeze out their victory.