Kenya: “This Is Not Rwanda,” Times Man Finds

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FIDH report, March 2007: “Massive Internal Displacements Due to Politically Instigated Ethnic Clashes.” Is that what we are seeing now?

… most Kenyans, including Mr. Bujra, the retired professor, do not think their country will end up like Rwanda, where nearly one million people were killed. Clearly, Kenya is a long way from that. “In Rwanda, the conflict was between a small minority and a large majority,” he said, referring to the history of Tutsis dominating the Hutu majority. “Here, it is different, because many tribes have a stake.” —New York Times, “Mob Sets Kenya Church on Fire, Killing Dozens,” January 2, 2007

Reasoning by historical analogy has played a significant role in the formulation and implementation of US foreign policy since the end of World War II, especially on matters involving consideration or actual use of force. States, like individuals, make decisions based at least in part on past experience, or, more specifically, what they believe past experience teaches. But reasoning by historical analogy can be dangerous, especially if such reasoning is untempered by recognition that no two historical events are identical and that the future is more than a linear extension of the past. The instructiveness of historical events tends to diminish the greater their distance in time and space from the day and place they occurred. –Jeffrey Record, “Perils of Reasoning by Historical Analogy: Munich, Vietnam and American Use of Force Since 1945.” Occasional Paper No. 4, Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College, 1998.

The twin examples of Rwanda and Zimbabwe provide diplomats with ample incentive to do what they can to stop the spread of violence and resolve doubts over the presidential election. BBC today

A follow-up to

Buried deep in the New York Times dispatch from Nairobi today is at least a minimal effort to do that.

Meanwhile, writing for Der Spiegel (Germany), Thilo Thielke in Nairobi files:

At the same time, a group Web log called You Missed This — its authors, identifying themselves as Kenyans (including one self-described “Kikuyu woman”) are all anonymous — also challenges the theory of “tribal meltdown” as an explanation for post-election chaos in Kenya:

Most of the world press is reporting that the war in Kenya is between President Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and Raila Odinga’s Luo tribe. That is what the world believes. This is exactly what the man men currently sitting comfortably inside State house would like the world to believe.

That is also my impression, sitting here in Brazil scanning Google News, of the predominant narrative about events in Kenya right now.

The Australian‘s headline today, for example: Inflamed Kenya Faces Tribal War.

“Crisis X Echoes (Previous) Crisis Y” is a pretty common genre of facile, readymade, often “moral panic”-driven news analysis. The argumentum ad Nazium is perhaps its most extreme form.

Example: Gloria Maria on Fántastico (Globo, Brazil) earlier this year, on the war on drugs in Rio de Janeiro:

Examples can be multiplied. On facile and fallacious historical analogies of the argumentum ad Nazium variety, see also

But it has occurred to me as well that government “genocide” claims might be part of a moral panic campaign to justify an authoritarian intervention by the de facto authorities that would consolidate their hold on the presidency. Writes “Chris”:

This is just NOT TRUE. Some of he most violent protests in the country have come from Rift Valley and the tribe [t]here are not Luos. They are Kalenjins. Most of the violence in Nairobi has been in slums where there is a mixture of different tribes from different parts of the country. The same can be said about Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal town. In other words what we have in Kenya is a popular uprising against a rigged election where some people have taken advantage to settle scores related to ethnicity. Like the Kalenjins who have been opposed to Kikuyu settlement in their land that happened in the 60s supervised by Kenya’s first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

But I am still looking for accountable sources doing credible reporting to shed light on this crucial question.

The Times‘ man in Nairobi, for example, had yesterday reported some isolated examples that run counter to this master narrative.

Jeffrey Gettleman’s filing today offers the following analysis, bearing on the “Rwanda scenario” that is being cited by government officials making claims of “genocide” and systematic, premeditated “ethnic cleansing.”

Tribes, obviously, do matter in Kenya. But for the most part, the country has escaped the widespread ethnic bloodletting that has haunted so many of its neighbors, like Rwanda, Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia. In Kenya, the Kikuyu elite has shared the spoils of the system with select members of other tribes, which has helped defuse resentment.

The Rwanda Disanalogy:

That has led to decades of stability and is a reason why most Kenyans, including Mr. Bujra, the retired professor, do not think their country will end up like Rwanda, where nearly one million people were killed. Clearly, Kenya is a long way from that. “In Rwanda, the conflict was between a small minority and a large majority,” he said, referring to the history of Tutsis dominating the Hutu majority. “Here, it is different, because many tribes have a stake.”

Lacking any credible opinion polling or other evidence to demonstrate that this is, in fact, a view widely held “by most Kenyans,” this assertion is an example of a one-sparrow spring generalization.

Gettleman offers this overall assessment:

The violence has been a mix of hooliganism, political protest and ethnic bloodletting. Most of the victims have been Kikuyus, the tribe of the president and Kenya’s traditional ruling class. Kikuyus have dominated business and politics since independence in 1963. They run shops, restaurants, banks and factories across Kenya, from the Indian Ocean coast to the scenic savannah to the muggy shores of Lake Victoria in the west.

How does he know that “most” of the victims have been Kikuyu? Has he compiled body counts from the morgues? This fuzzy generalization needs to cite hard evidence as well.

He does not mention police violence, either, or address claims by the Odinga faction — the Orange challenger has made this (potentially inflammatory) claim very clearly and directly to DER SPIEGEL and AP now — that the police are instigating and perpetrating violence, and are principally responsible for it.

This statement by the Times man also seems problematic to me:

Voting followed tribal lines, with a vast majority of Luos going for Mr. Odinga and up to 98 percent of Kikuyus in some areas voting for Mr. Kibaki.

Kikuyu make up 13% of the population. Luos, 11%. Roughly. I am relying on the CIA Factbook, which who knows how up to date it is.

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Tribal-linguistic composition of Kenya (BBC). Some reports that the Western province is the focus of most of the violence (the church incident was in that general region, I think), and that aid workers are having difficulty reach the area.

The Times has only accounted for “voting along tribal” lines in 24% of the Kenyan electorate, but uses that partial sample to characterize the entire result as divided “along tribal lines.”

This after having told us that unlike Rwanda, ethnically diverse Kenya is not polarized between two tribes:

“Here, it is different, because many tribes have a stake.”

Does not compute.

He seems to both confirm and rule out “tribal conflict” as a major explanator factor. If there are tribal and ethnic alliances lined up behind the two tribes mentioned, this should be explained. Or perhaps the view attributed to “most Kenyans” is mistaken — but it is a view the reporter seems to endorse when he writes, without quotation marks,

 Clearly, Kenya is a long way from that.

Perhaps we are meant to understand he is paraphrasing his source’s opinion.

The FIDH, in partnership with the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, says it has documented a long history of such parapolitical practices, which explains why ethnic conflagrations tend to correlate so closely with election cycles. See

Chris, meanwhile, defends the fairness and balance of his blogging project:

It gets more complex because most Kenyans seem to be venting out their anger on Kikuyus. This blog has right from the beginning championed the cause of the voiceless masses in Kenya and this is why foreigners reading it are saying that it is pro-ODM. The truth is that we are pro-the masses of Kenya. Although we have ODM insiders writing here, we also have PNU and writers who support different causes writing. Therefore it will be difficult to get a more balanced blog on Kenya, if you understand that posts here are made by other writers as well as the main blogger qho has written this piece you are reading.

This blogger’s report, that Kikuyus are getting the brunt of the violence, is no more — or less — well-founded than the Times reporter’s. There is a forensic medical observer project around, which trains doctors on how to go to morgues and account for corpses, that might be consulted on this point, if they are being allowed to work (reports are that access to morgues are being blocked by police in some cases, but I cannot corroborate. Maybe the Times, which makes its living doing this sort of thing, can?)

He calls for reconciliation:

The time has now come for patriotic Kenyans to do something very important. We must all reach out to our Kikuyu brothers and isolate the Kibaki regime. It is NOT the Kikuyu who stole the election. In fact the election was stolen by Kibaki with the help of many individuals representing a lot of different tribes including Luos and Kalenjins. It is important that we all unite against the dictatorship of a man called Mwai Kibaki. This what this whole Kenyan crisis is about.

A reader identifying himself as Ombati takes Chris to task for the sensationalism of his blogging, saying he was a part of the problem, not part of the solution:

TOO LATE, TOO LATE, TOO LATE. Chris or Phil, or whoever wrote that article, it is too late. You have irresponsibly allowed anti-kikuyu propaganda to grow and take root here at Kumekucha. You have espoused views bordering on a call to arms by other non-kikuyu tribes. You have IGNORED pleas for calm and non-violence by right thinking Kumekuchans. You have allowed “guest writers” (MN, SO, HO etc) to post non-sense here. You are GUILTY as well. We appreciate your call for peace and reserve, how we wish u could have done it earlier.!!!

I stumbled onto this colloquy because I was curious to see if I could corroborate reports, from the FIDH, that the Army has now been deployed to keep order.

“Chris or Phil or whoever” say this is true, but cite no sources.

The Times man does not mention it either.

Not corroborated, then, either by the blogosphere or the MSM.

It kind of seems like the most significant factoid out there at the moment, waiting to be nailed down. Once you got the Army taking to the streets to defend law and order, historically speaking, it can be hard to get the genie back in the bottle.

Another uncorroborated report at this point: Ugandan military massed at border because of a Kikuyu refugee influx. Please try to confirm or deny. Show your work.


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