Skip to main content

Kenya Report: Politicians Fueled Ethnic Violence

In 1991, President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya confidently predicted that the return of his country to a multiparty system would result in an outbreak of tribal violence that would destroy the nation. His prediction was alarmingly fulfilled as violent clashes between different ethnic groups erupted across the country from 1991 to 1998. However, far from being the spontaneous result of a return to political pluralism, there is clear evidence that the government helped to provoke this ethnic violence for political purposes and did not take adequate steps to prevent it from spiraling out of control.

A presidential commission of inquiry was established in 1998 to investigate the so-called "tribal clashes" (inter-ethnic violence), the causes of the violence, the actions of police and other law enforcement agencies in addressing these incidents, and the preparedness and efficacy of law enforcement agencies in preventing and controlling such violence. The commission was to recommend further investigation or prosecution of perpetrators as well as ways to better prevent and control future inter-ethnic attacks.

The 1999 report of the commission was finally made public in October 2002. It confirmed that prominent ruling party politicians have fueled multiple incidents of so-called ethnic clashes in Kenya since 1991. The "Akiwumi report" (named after the commission's chair, Justice Akiwumi) was ordered released by a Kenyan court over the objections of the government. The attorney general sought to undercut the report by calling it "biased" and insisting that it be released together with government commentary disputing its findings.

The Akiwumi report's release had been long sought by human rights groups in Kenya and victims of the violence. There was a resurgence of interest in the report this year, which HRW helped spark with the publication in May of "Playing with Fire," a report on weapons proliferation and political violence in Kenya (see June monthly update). At a Nairobi press conference issuing the HRW report, and in numerous interviews in the Kenyan and international media, HRW made a strong call for the Akiwumi report to be released. Renewed attention to the report from the Kenyan media, parliamentarians, and civil society groups followed, helping build pressure for its eventual release.

The HRW report, which was mentioned in a recent New York Times article on the forthcoming elections, documented the role of ruling party politicians in armed ethnic violence on Kenya's coast prior to the last general elections, in 1997. Previous Human Rights Watch research, including a 1993 report titled "Divide and Rule," described the role of the ruling party politicians in fomenting earlier incidents of politically motivated ethnic violence.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country