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  • Think Tank Links Kenyan Athletes to Violence


    Rumors of Kenyan runners involvement in the post-election violence have been circulating since early January, and the ICG report reinforces their veracity. (Getty Images)
    According to a report by the Belgium-based International Crisis Group , Kenyan runners in the Rift Valley have been funding and leading attacks in the violence that has engulfed parts of the country since disputed election results were released in December.

    "We are very confident that they are part of the equation. They are a rising elite who see their leadership potential and economic prospects being curtailed by the fact that they are politically marginalized nationally,” ICG director Francois Grignon tells UK media.

    Athletics Kenya chair Isaiah Kiplagat denies the charges.

    "I am sure no single athlete was involved in promoting violence as reported. They are busy training for coming competitions, and they would not have that time for those things. In fact, as we speak, many are abroad training because of the problems here," he told Reuters Africa.

    In the weeks immediately following the outbreak of fighting, athletes said they received death threats because of rumors they supported the violence. In late January, 57 athletes released a statement saying they had no hand in politics.

    "I don't have the nitty-gritty of the flare-up, but I am sure that no athlete would want to finance or promote violence. That would be contrary to all the principles that sportsmanship entails," says Kenyan Olympian Paul Tergat. (Getty Images)
    However, the report by ICG tells a different story. The report says tensions have existed between the Kalenjin tribe, to which most runners belong, and the rival Kikuyu tribe.

    "(Kalenjins) continue to feel aggrieved by the settlement of Kikuyus in their home areas after independence and often view Kikuyu communities as unscrupulous and greedy land-grabbers, who have historically manipulated the political system to ensure their dominance in commerce and politics," the report reads.

    "The athletes have made fortunes from competing in international track and field events and have transformed some of the depressed and sleepy rural villages in the region by investing in farmland and other real estate. The motivation for giving the raiders cash and transport is said to be partly economic. They allegedly want the Kikuyus evicted so they can take their farms and property."

    ICG officials say that field interviews have led them to determine that athletes are training and commanding raiders.
    And the report pins the blame for the death of Lucas Sang, a 1988 Olympian, on his own involvement in the troubles.
    Kenyan-born runner Bernard Lagat says winning medals in Beijing will heal the country. (Getty Images)

    Reports from late December when the violence erupted after the disputed national elections say Sang was stoned or hacked to death while walking home.

    Luke Kibet, the 2007 world champion marathoner who was with Sang, said the Kalenjiins were attacked by a group of Kikuyus. Kibet said he himself was struck with a rock and barely survived.

    According to his story, this attack is what sparked a Jan 1 riot in Eldoret that led to 100 killings. Some 30 of those were burned alive in a church.

    An estimated 1,000 people have died in the two month Kenyan unrest and 300,000 have been displaced.

    International Crisis Group, an 11-year-old non-profit group based in Belgium, engages in high-level advocacy and policy prescription.

    Written by  Eric Connelly

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