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Kenya risks a return to election violence

Better governance would solve a lot of Kenya's problems, reducing the risks of violence.

It's been a bloody five years for Kenya, once East Africa's most promising model of development. Tribal and ethnic violence following the disputed presidential elections in 2007 has never fully been healed, and as the next round of voting in March approaches, fears are that Kenya is on the brink of chaos again.

Tuesday brought the latest in a series of preventable violence. More than three dozen men, women and children were butchered in clashes between the Pokomo and Orma tribes over grazing rights and water usage. It was just the latest in a series of tit-for-tat clashes that, more than anything, underscores the federal government's inability to maintain security nationwide.

Kenya's failings are, to be fair, deeply complex. Tribes have fought over resources for centuries. But there is little doubt Kenya's challenges have been made worse by corruption, nepotism and a failure to distribute power and wealth evenly among the dozens of tribes and faiths that make up Kenya's mosaic.

These shortcomings are most magnified on the under-developed coast. Allegations of a concerted campaign against Muslims, who make up 11 per cent of the population, have led to a surge in deadly demonstrations in and around Mombasa. The assassination this month of a cleric there, Aboud Rogo, who was accused of terrorist sympathies, has only deepened suspicions that the government of President Mwai Kibaki has turned its back on the Muslim minority.

A small but increasingly powerful fringe political group, the Mombasa Republican Council, is determined to turn frustration with the federal government into a secessionist movement. And Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab, which has promised to avenge Kenya's invasion of southern Somalia in October 2011, has found traction among frustrated Kenyans in the east. "It's like a ticking bomb," the historian Stanbuli Ahmed Nassir told Reuters.

That bomb can be defused. Kenya is being governed by parochial interests - tribal, ethnic and dynastic. What Kenyans need, in the eastern region especially, is a federal government that has a constructive political and economic plan. In the east, a common grievance is that Nairobi seems to have no interest. Proving that claim wrong should be a top priority for this government, and the next.

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