By Judie Kaberia and Nzau Musau
NAIROBI, Kenya, June 23 – Analysts and politicians in Kenya have warned national leaders that they risk increasing ethnic divisions if they continue to try to make political capital out of the recent violence in the northeast of the country.
More than 60 people were killed in two strikes on the towns of Mpeketoni and Maporomoko near the coastal resort of Lamu on June 15 and 16.
Amid confusion about who carried out the attacks, recriminations flew between the ruling Jubilee coalition led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), headed by former prime minister Raila Odinga.
The Somali Islamist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attacks, as revenge for the ongoing Kenyan military intervention in southern Somalia.
President Kenyatta dismissed al-Shabab’s claim and instead blamed “local political networks” in Kenya. He described the attacks as “politically motivated ethnic violence” targeting what he called “a Kenyan community”. The two towns are home to large numbers of the president’s own ethnic group, the Kikuyu.
CORD responded sharply to what was seen as a hint that it was involved in the attacks, and rejected claims by government officials that it was seeking to destabilise the country through violence.
On June 18, a group of 27 parliamentarians from both Jubilee and CORD called on their respective leaders to cool their rhetoric. They also asked for political rallies to be suspended while an independent investigation into the attacks takes place.
“Members of the National Assembly are disgusted and disturbed by the current state of affairs,” Joel Onyancha, the Jubilee member for Bomachoge Borabu in western Kenya, told the media. “We are therefore making a request that we do not lose sight of [the fact] that we are united in diversity. We are making a request for a cessation of verbal hostilities. Kenyans, irrespective of station in life, must restrain themselves from verbal attacks and innuendos that may poison our nations.”
The violence follows a spate of attacks in the coastal city of Mombasa and in a Somali-dominated suburb of Nairobi.
While there is confusion over who was behind the latest attacks, critics have questioned why Kenyatta was so quick to dismiss al-Shabab’s claim, while the group is not thought to have claimed responsibility for any past attack it did not carry out.
Last September, the group attacked a Nairobi shopping mall killing 67 people and injuring more than 200 others.