Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Rift In Running

Kenyan Runners in Peril As Violence Continues.

(pictured L-R: #1 Evans Rutto, #8 Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, and #14 Jimmy Muindi.)

Since a disputed presidential election Decemeber 27, Kenya has been gripped by a wave of inter-tribal violence and ethnic conflict. The East African nation, which became independent from Britain in 1963, has struggled with its elections process since the rule of Kenya's second President, Daniel arap Moi who held on to power from 1978 to 2002.

After Moi was barred from running for office, Mwai Kǐbakǐ, an ethnic Kikuyu from the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) party was elected President. The 2007 election pitted Kǐbakǐ versus opposition leader Raila Odinga from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Odinga is of Luo tribal affiliation, who comprise 13% of the population to the Kikuyu's 23%.

After an election, which some observers say was rigged in Kǐbakǐ's favor, violence broke out, quickly spreading to Kenya's largest province, the Great Rift Valley, home to many of Kenya's Olympic-class runners. Many runners in the Rift are Kikuyu, and face daily attacks and threats. As one friend of ForwardEver blog put it:

"This didn't get much press but Wesly Ngetich (winner of Minnesota's Grandma's Marathon in 2005 and 2007) was shot and killed by an arrow during ongoing violence in Kenya on Monday."

Other sources have explored the possibility of Kenya's success diminishing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to violence in their nation.

The Great Rift Valley's combination of altitude, climate, diet and running centers has produced hundreds of champion runners over the past 30 years, as well as created a running-tourism industry in the Valley for those interested in training with champions. Now all that may be in danger unless former UN secretary Kofi Annan and others can help forge a truce and establish peace in this great and important African nation.

If Kenya can be dominant in running, it can be equally culturally and economically successful on the world stage. Lets hope compromise is reached sooner rather than later, for runners, farmers, business people and all Kenya's citizens.