Monday, January 21, 2008

In Kenya More lives lost

By Alex Ndegwa

The Orange party leader Mr Raila Odinga spoke of peace "returning soon" as the Government made an important concession by allowing today’s mass funeral service in the first ever sign of softening up.

But there was widespread outrage over the Kalonzo Musyoka-led mediation team, on a day 26 more lives were violently snuffed out.

In the midst of all this, the Catholic Church’s John Cardinal Njue sent out a passionate plea to President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga: Swallow your pride, sit down and talk so that you save this country before it is too late.

The prelate, who was presiding over mass at St Augustine Catholic Parish, Juja, added: "Go beyond where you are. Look ahead and realise that for Kenya to be peaceful, for current tribal divisions to end and for the killings of innocent Kenyans to stop, you must dialogue".

Police pursue rival groups who fought in Huruma Estate in Nairobi on Sunday. At least two people were hacked to death and many more injured. Picture by George Mulala

But as he spoke of ODM’s willingness to dialogue, Raila told a congregation at the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Holy Trinity Parish in Kibera — a slum that has bore the brunt of the post-election violence — that the supporters of the wounded Orange party have urged him to stand firm and not retreat.

"Peace will soon prevail even if it means that we negotiate with a thief if that is what it will take to bring it," Raila said without elaborating.

But the Lang’ata MP cautioned the Government against any tricks.

Speaking on the eve of a week in which mediation talks are expected to take centre stage with the arrival of former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, Raila said the church had an obligation to stand against injustices and defend democracy.

He, however, said he regretted that a section of the church leadership had already taken sides with the ‘troublemakers’.

"It is hypocritical to see that some church leaders are siding with the people who have snatched democracy away from the citizens, hence the cause of trouble," Raila said.

Quoting Martin Luther King, Raila said: "I have a dream that one day the people of this county shall not be judged by their tribe but by the content of their character".

He referred to the political impasse gripping the country as a "temptation" saying ODM "shall overcome the injustices no matter how long it takes".

Raila made these remarks even as the country remained on the international radar. Both the World Bank and the African Development Bank said they would continue to monitor developments in Kenya closely and would keep their programs under review depending on the unfolding scenario.

By licensing the planned ODM mass prayers for last week’s victims of a deadly police clampdown on protesters, the Government made a huge step in limiting — if not altogether eliminating — the violence, hooliganism and unprecedented scale of destruction witnessed since the declaration of Mwai Kibaki as the winner of the presidential elections described as seriously flawed.

"The service will go on as planned. I want to assure religious leaders behind the event that police would not stop it," Mr Simon Kiragu, the Kisumu OCPD told The Standard yesterday, when asked if the mass planned for the Moi Stadium from 10am today had been sanctioned.

He added: "We know it will be an emotional service but we urge politicians and religious leaders to take control and restrain their supporters from engaging in acts of violence".

Police have shot dead at least 70 people in Kisumu alone since the post-election violence erupted.

This week promises to be another tough one after ODM renewed calls for mass action, expected to ignite fresh duels on the streets over the political crisis that has paralysed the country.

ODM also pulled out another card off its sleeve after it added economic boycott of certain companies and products, beginning this week to pile more pressure on Government.

Another storm was also brewing around the 10-member committee led by VP Kalonzo picked to spearhead talks by President Kibaki.

Several Opposition MPs, church leaders and Nobel Peace laureate Prof Wangari Maathai have all taken issue with Kalonzo leading the talks.

But three Cabinet ministers and an MP yesterday came to Kalonzo’s defence and told Raila to embrace dialogue instead of taking issue with the composition of the Government team.

Ms Martha Karua (Justice), Mr Moses Wetangula (Foreign Affairs), Mr Samuel Poghisio (Information) and Mbooni MP Mr Mutula Kilonzo told ODM to come clean and state whether they are interested in dialogue or not.

Annan is expected in the country at the head of an "Eminent Africans" group to try and help kick-start dialogue between Kibaki and Raila.

Other members of the African Union team are former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and wife of former South Africa president, Graca Machel.

ODM’s programme begins today when the party holds inter-denominational funeral services for their supporters killed in post-election violence in Kisumu.

A follow-up one would be held in Nairobi at Ligi Ndogo grounds on Wednesday.

Friday will be the national day of prayers to commemorate all the "martyrs who have given their lives in the peaceful struggle for democracy, the rule of law and the rejection of the December 27 presidential election results".

And on Thursday, the party plans to hold countrywide peace rallies.

The Government has, however, outlawed political assemblies and the mass action is expected to bring a fresh round of confrontation with the police.

Official statistics show that more than 500 people have died across the country and more than 250,000 displaced and property worth billions looted, torched or destroyed.

The crisis has also dented the previously booming economy — due to losses incurred in closures of businesses and destruction to property — and hit supplies to east and central African neighbours, including Uganda.

Lukewarm diplomatic efforts have so far been fruitless in unlocking the political standoff.

Ghanaian President and African Union head John Kufuor, and other international figures, including US’s top diplomat for Africa Dr Jendayi Frazer, failed to bring the feuding sides together.

The international community has thrown its weight behind the fresh mediation efforts led by Annan, whose fate however remains uncertain as both sides dig into their trenches.

Last Monday, Roads minister Mr John Michuki, a core member of Kibaki’s Cabinet, threw the scheduled diplomatic efforts into a spin when he said there was no need for outside help.

"We won the elections ... We do not see the point for anyone coming to mediate power sharing," he said. "We have not invited Kofi Annan or any other eminent personality to come and mediate."

ODM’s renewed call for mass action too seemed to contradict Annan’s earlier appeal to both parties to refrain from actions that could undermine scheduled mediation talks.

"Pending this (mediation), no party should create facts on the ground or engage in acts that complicate the search for a negotiated solution," Annan said. "The purpose of our mission is to help the Kenyan people find a peaceful and just solution to the current crisis".

The donor community has threatened an aid cut if the political crisis is not settled. Both the EU and the US have cautioned that it will not be business as usual until there is a political compromise that leads to a lasting solution "that reflects the will of the Kenyan people, wins their confidence and helps return Kenya to stability".

Already, the EU Parliament has recommended to its members to stop aid to the country, until the political impasse is resolved.

But EU aid commissioner Louis Michel, who is in the country in the latest diplomatic efforts to try to defuse the crisis, met President Kibaki on Saturday and assured that the EU was yet to freeze aid, saying it would wait for the outcome of dialogue.

The EU election monitoring team concluded the elections fell below international and regional standards.

Raila reiterated he was open to dialogue but he has ruled out any talks spearheaded by Kalonzo whom he described as a traitor.

"How can a Jesus Christ and his disciples sit in a committee chaired by Judas Iscariot? Kalonzo is a traitor," Raila was quoted as saying at the weekend.


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