The lingering influence of colonialism is a fundamental element of the continuing violence in Kenya.

At least 800 people have been killed so far, and more than 250,000 people displaced from villages and towns in the west, and from the poorest urban settlements around Nairobi. Most of that number come from Kibaki’s ethnic group, the Kikuyu, who have been chased from their homes in western Kenya’s volatile Rift Valley by well-organized groups of fighters from the local Kalenjin and Luo communities. Those communities backed Odinga, but also have longstanding issues with the Kikuyu over land that date back to British colonial rule.

But now the Kikuyus are fighting back.

In the once-calm western provincial capital of Nakuru on Thursday, gangs of hundreds of young Kikuyu men began hunting down people mostly from the Luo and Kalenjin communities, hacking people with machetes or stoning them to death. The violence continued there until Saturday evening, leaving at least 56 people dead, then shifted to Naivasha on Sunday.

The problem is that the Kikuyus emulated colonial rule by excluding other ethnic groups from power. I know that apologists for colonialism are constantly trying to argue all the “good things” that Europe brought to Africa, but one of the most enduring “gifts” of colonialism was the hegemony of a single ethnic group above others.

It looks like neither Odinga nor Kibaki are trying very hard to calm their supporters.

The latest spate of violence across western Kenya has taken on the character of revenge, and appers to be spiralling beyond the control of the country’s deadlocked political leaders, who have vaguely called for peace but also blamed each other for the fighting.

With former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in town for mediation, opposition leader Raila Odinga is preparing for talks with President Mwai Kibaki, whom Odinga accuses of stealing this country’s Dec. 27 election. Controversy over the election results set off a wave of ethnically-charged violence that has plunged Kenya into its worst crisis since gaining independence in 1963.

“If this process fails, we are going to face severe difficulties in our country,” said Salim Lone, a spokesman for Odinga.

Maybe they’re hoping that the violence will ultimately leave one of them much stronger than his opponent. My concern is that if it isn’t stopped soon, in could turn into a protracted ethnic and military conflict.

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