Mutating conflict in Kenya

Kenya Flag
This month Australia's nationhood has been bolstered by Federal Parliament's apology to the Stolen Generations. As a result it appears that indigenous members of the population now feel more comfortable identifying themselves as Australians, than they did just a few weeks ago.

Kenya is moving in the opposite direction. Local Jesuit conflict analyst Fr Elias Omondi believes ethnic identity is eclipsing national identity, with people being forced into ethnic 'cages'.

He says: 'Time is running out and in the next one month I don't know whether I will be talking of a country named Kenya or a country that was once Kenya.'

Omondi is director of Jesuit Hakimani Centre, a social justice policy and advocacy institute based in Nairobi. He offers his analysis of the country's predicament in the current issue of the Centre's newsletter, under the heading 'Save this country from falling apart'.

Tensions broke out in December after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the 27 December election, and sworn in three days later, despite opposition leader Raila Odinga's claims of victory. The violent ethnic tension that ensued suggests Kenya's nationhood could be little more than an illusion.

Omondi speaks about the break-up of the country in terms that might be familiar to those who have experienced the break-up of a marriage or other significant relationship. A small disagreement opens, or reveals, a huge chasm.

Conflict mutates. The more the conflict degenerates the more factors come into play, and the original objective is distorted.

Omondi says: 'I have worked in close to six African countries in conflict and it is evident that most conflicts mutate into various levels and as time advances the primary reason of the conflict takes a completely different turn. If you ask a person from Somalia what the current conflict is about you will never get a comprehensive answer.'

The mediation process led by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General goes on. But now it will not be enough to get the two leaders to agree on who won the election. Kenya's future as a nation will require a full-scale reconciliation process.
Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He was also editor of CathNews, after working as information officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome.



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