Kenya: Ethnic Cleansing & Euphemism

by Robin Forman

Ethnic fighting.

Don’t you just love it?

It makes it sound like there’s nothing anyone can do to prevent these savages from killing each other.

Well, thank you, media, for being so afraid to ruffle a single feather yet again.

You know what else they glaze over by using the word “ethnic?”


They call them “ethnic cleansing.” It just takes the edge off…like Advil for the headaches that are the ills of the world.

This phrasing, without hesitation or question, also takes the blame right off those in charge and places it on the people they supposedly lead.

Let’s turn to Kenya where ethnic fighting has now claimed the lives of at least 700 people since the controversial re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

On just one day last week, the fighting killed at least ten people in Kenya’s Rift Valley and forced thousands more from their homes.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga and his rival Kibaki met for the first time since the disputed elections last month triggered weeks of violence. Former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan acted as a mediator at the meeting and denounced the violence, saying what he saw was “gross and systematic human rights abuses of fellow citizens.”

The meeting saw little success and resulted in new accusations and anger from Odinga’s side when Kibaki declared himself the country’s “duly-elected” leader.

Police were deployed on the outskirts of Nakuru in the Rift Valley. Reuters reports that police battled to stop clashes between tribal gangs wielding machetes, spears and bows and arrows. The clashes have left at least 27 people dead in Nakuru in the past three days.

What makes these ethnic clashes difficult is Kenya's 36 million people are split into more than 40 different ethnic groups, each with its own strong identity, a variety of cultural traditions, and separate tongues.

Okay, so apparently ethnic fighting is common in Kenya, particularly around elections. The worst fighting occurred in 1992 when 1,500 people were killed in tribally tinged land clashes in the Rift Valley.

But do we really need to wait for that body count to say or do something? Because we’re about halfway there right now.

For more background on the unrest in Kenya, please see: "Kenya: Tribal Tensions & Shattered Democracy;" and "Kenya's Lethal Crackdown."

(Photo of a police barricade in Nairobi by DEMOSH of Nairobi, Kenya via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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