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Tribal bonds color Kenyan politics

  • Story Highlights
  • Kenya's 36 million population made up of around 40 tribal groups
  • President Mwai Kibaki belongs to the influential and powerful Kikuyu tribe
  • Challenger Raila Odinga's Luo tribe forms sizeable group in west, Nairobi slums
  • Kenya dogged by poverty, violent crime, corruption, simmering ethnic tensions
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(CNN) -- Kenya has enjoyed a reputation as one of East Africa's most stable nations since achieving independence from the UK in 1963.

Residents of the Mathare slum in Nairobi shout at demonstrators during violent clashes.

But a booming tourism industry, impressive economic growth -- currently six percent a year according to The Economist -- and decades of peace in a region scarred by conflict have served to disguise widespread poverty, violent crime and corruption and simmering ethnic tensions.

Tribal bonds remain stronger than national identity in Kenya, with the country's 36 million people claiming allegiance to around 40 different tribes.

Last week's election pitched incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a member of Kenya's largest Kikuyu tribe, against opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Luo tribe.

The Kikuyu make up about 22 percent of Kenya's population. Mostly originating from Kenya's central highlands, the Kikuyu have long wielded strong economic and political power within the country.

Kenya's first post-independence leader, Jomo Kenyatta, president from 1964 until 1978, was a Kikuyu.

Kibaki, a government minister from 1965 until winning power as head of the Party of National Unity in elections five years ago, also enjoys the support of Kenyatta's successor, Daniel Arap Moi, a member of the Kalenjin tribe who ruled Kenya for 24 years from 1978 to 2002.

The Luo make up around 13 percent of the population, mostly in the west of the country. But they also form a sizeable community in some of Nairobi's most notorious slums, such as the vast Kibera shantytown where Odinga enjoys strong support and where some of this week's fiercest violence has occurred.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement is also backed by many members of the Luhya tribe, Kenya's second largest ethnic group, after Odinga promised to make a leading Luhya his deputy if elected.

This week's violence came as election officials declared victory for Kibaki with 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent for Odinga in the closest presidential vote in Kenyan electoral history.


But the result has been questioned by international election observers, throwing the country's political future into doubt.

Kibaki's first election success in 2002 -- declared free and fair by international observers -- was hailed at the time as a step forward for Kenyan democracy. However, his term has been dogged by allegations of corruption and graft. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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