Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 9 News List

A force not immune to ethnic tension

By Xan Rice , THE GUARDIAN NAIROBI

Kenya's military has an excellent reputation at home and abroad. Apart from a brief, failed coup attempt by air force officers against former president Daniel arap Moi in 1982, it has kept out of politics.

The army is regarded as professional and disciplined, having protected Kenya's borders during the civil wars in Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda. Staffed with volunteers, it has played a major role in peacekeeping missions on the continent, in Bosnia and in East Timor.

"Though not brilliantly equipped, it is a well-trained, disciplined force," a European analyst in Nairobi said.

Cooperation with the British army, which has training facilities in Kenya, is strong. There are also links with the US military, especially since al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

During his 24-year tenure Moi made sure his Kalenjin ethnic group occupied many top army positions. This changed under Mwai Kibaki, who retired many of Moi's generals and replaced them with members of his Kikuyu ethnic group.

The more than 20,000 rank-and-file troops are ethnically diverse, however. Analysts say that with the opposition having swept six of the country's eight provinces in the presidential election, it is likely that the bulk of these soldiers would have voted for presidential challenger Raila Odinga rather than Kibaki.

This may be the main reason why Kibaki resisted sending in the army as post-election violence spiraled. Even within the armed forces, there are those who believe that if troops are asked to quell further protests in opposition strongholds, the military could be split along ethnic lines -- with disastrous consequences.

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