Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Kenya Crisis: bloggers, regional implications

Kenya is the Thailand of East Africa, and Nairobi its Bangkok. It's generally regarded as stable secure place; a base for businesses and organizations serving the region. Is this sanctuary about to explode?

The implications of further unrest in Kenya could be staggering. Reuters reports: "Political violence in Kenya is choking off supplies of fuel and petroleum products to neighbouring Uganda and is likely to hit a swathe of central Africa from Rwanda and Burundi to eastern Congo and southern Sudan." Daniel Lipparelli blogging from Kenya, elaborated on the fuel issue on his blog Wednesday:
Last night I talked to a Ugandan friend living in Uganda. She told me that there is a transportation crisis in Uganda right now because there is no gas for the cars as it all comes from Kenya. I heard on the news that there is also no gas in Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan. The Kenya police are saying that if 10 or more trucks organize themselves for a convoy from the ports in Mombassa, they police will give them armed escorts.
Lipparelli says the Internet is unpredictable, and mobile phone credits in short supply in his town. On the horrific violence of the past 48 hours, he wrote:
Even though things are peaceful in our little corner of Kitale, just 40 miles away in the town of Eldoret things are still tense. Last night in Eldret a group of 200 angry young men went to a church where people were seeking refuge from the killing. The mob started beating people and then set the church on fire. Some people were able to escape, 40 plus died in the fire, 25 were children. Because of the lack of news in Kenya, we didn’t hear about this until family from the U.S. started calling to see if we knew about it. I then confirmed with friends in Eldort that it was true. It was on the news this morning. Some people are reporting 50 killed. Kenya Red Cross said it was closer to 150. The actual number is not yet clear
Lipparell believes news media reports are lagging behind events: "It is now being reported that the total number of people who have been killed in the past 4 days is 250. I personally think these statistics are two days behind. There is no way by the reports we are getting from friends around the country that it is this low." But on the other hand, Lipparelli thinks its premature talk about genocide: "At this point, this is being blown out of proportion and I believe that the media is making it sound like the whole country in on fire. The reality is that only three major cities are in chaos, but the rest of the country, today, is peaceful."

I've been trying to hunt down some other good blogs on the Kenya situation. Global Voices has lots of Kenya blog updates on this page. Kenya Pundit is outstanding (via Blattman). This South African commentary says the conflict is not simply a tribal war as it portrayed in the Western media but "in reality a confluence of divisions – regional, ethnic, rural/urban, and of course above all political." Al Jazeera has some good reports. And finally, a report in the FT is sobering. The West, writes Michael Holman:
did not believe it was ultimately in their interests to have a showdown with the barons of corruption. They did not want to upset what they saw as a regional “island of stability” from which the UN and other international relief agencies, including hundreds of foreign non-governmental organisations, operate – a thriving business that accounts for a fifth of Kenya’s annual foreign exchange earnings.

Weighing in the balance are the longstanding military agreements Kenya has signed with the US and the UK, which have assumed particular importance since President George W. Bush launched his war on terrorism.

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