Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kenya’s reality check as Annan jets in

By Standard Team

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and bitter rival Party of National Unity (PNU) will on Wednesday be presented with another important chance to take steps that could help return the country to sanity.

Expectations that former UN chief, Mr Kofi Annan, who jetted into the country on Tuesday night, will bring together the two warring groups and chart a path out of a crippling post-election impasse — which has touched off an economic meltdown and threatens a complete social breakdown — were quite high last night.

But the bloodletting continued unabated.

The country also remained in the cross-hairs of the donor community. The World Bank (WB) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) were the latest to join in the fray with a chilling proclamation.

"The current situation could drive two million Kenyans into poverty, reversing the gains made over the last few years," the two institutions said in a joint statement. "Business confidence is being undermined."

The statement added: "We wish to continue working with the people of Kenya ... but it is difficult to do so effectively in an environment of instability".

It further said that both the WB and AfDB will, accordingly, continue to monitor developments closely and keep programmes under review, while making necessary adjustments as the situation evolved.

But this did not dim the optimism.

The crisis has been occasioned by a stand-off between PNU and ODM over the outcome of the presidential vote. Orange party leader, Mr Raila Odinga, says he won the election and it was stolen from him. But PNU maintains President Kibaki, who was quickly sworn-in after the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) chairman Mr Samuel Kivuitu controversially declared the results, won fair and square.

"The ultimate objective is to have a solution that would bring peace and reconciliation," Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said ahead of the talks.

Former South African First Lady Mrs Graca Machel and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni — the only foreign leader to congratulate President Kibaki over his disputed re-election — arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

President Kibaki, Vice-President Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Foreign minister Mr Moses Wetangula and his Internal Security counterpart, Prof George Saitoti, were at hand to receive the dignitaries

ODM mass protest

Machel, who gave her husband Nelson Mandela’s message of hope to Kenyans, said: "When I left home, he wished me all the best in the negotiation. He wishes all the best for Kenya and Africa as a whole".

She added: "I’m positive the crisis will be sorted out amicably and an end will be brought to the violence in which over 600 lives have been lost".

On Tuesday, ODM emerged from a day-long consultation session to announce it would pick its negotiation team once Annan establishes the rules of engagement.

Annan will head the team comprising former Tanzanian President Mr Benjamin Mkapa and Graca. The team will be working with the former African Presidents Mr Joachim Chissano (Mozambique), Sir Ketumile Masire (Botswana) and Mr Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia).

Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, ODM secretary-general, also said they would put their case to Ugandan leader Museveni as the chairman of the East African Community (EAC).

But the Orange party ruled out calling off mass protests.

"We don’t want to pretend that things look good here by calling off mass protests simply because mediators are around. It’s our right to enjoy peaceful assembly. So the mass protests will continue," Nyong’o said.

The Party of National Unity also assumed a new hardline position.

Kalonzo, who heads PNU’s 10-member talks team, ruled out any negotiations with ODM, saying the talks constituted a forum to dialogue on ways to bring down political tension.

The party also dismissed the possibility of power-sharing, throwing a spanner in the works ahead of the talks.

"Our friends on the other side are talking about forming a negotiating committee. There are no negotiations. This is dialogue in the spirit of Kenya,’’ Kalonzo, who spoke after chairing a Parliamentary Group meeting of the coalition government and which was attended by more than 40 legislators at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), Nairobi, said.

"It is not about powersharing. Our Constitution does not allow for losers to share power with winners. We beat them during the elections,’’ Makadara MP, Mr Dick Wathika, said.

The party also said it would not sit at the same table with Pentagon member Mr William Ruto and party chairman Mr Henry Kosgey.

Their reason was that the two are pursuing a different agenda.

But even as politicians sat in conference rooms, precious lives continued to be lost.

Youths suspected to be members of the outlawed Mungiki sect overran and took over Elburgon town. Sniffing tobacco and chanting war cries, they attacked a motorist and burnt him to death in his car. They barricaded all roads leading in and out of Molo town.

More killings continue

In Kipkelion, seven more people were killed, bringing the death toll of those who have died in the district to 29. Four bodies were discovered by villagers in the bush at Mutaragon village in Kipkelion division on Tuesday morning.

"The bodies, which have been taken away by the police, had deep cuts while others seem to have been hit with blunt objects," said a provincial administrator, who declined to be named.

Rival groups battled it out most of the day in Nairobi’s Korogocho, Huruma and Mathare slums. Four people were killed in the skirmishes.

In the border of the North Rift and Western Province, the violence took a new twist when erstwhile political allies turned on one another.

Fighting raged even as MPs Mr George Khaniri (Hamisi), Dr Sally Kosgei (Aldai) and Mr Elijah Lagat (Emgwen) tried to broker peace.

And another internationally renowned marathoner, Wesley Ngetich, 34, was shot in the chest with an arrow during fighting in his hometown of Trans Mara, not far from the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

Three weeks ago, former Olympian Lucas Sang met his death in the hands of a marauding crowd on a night that another top athlete, world marathon champion Luke Kibet, narrowly escaped death.

Official Government figures released on Tuesday put the number of those killed so far at 685, but the Opposition said it could be over 1,000.

Special Programmes minister Dr Naomi Shaban also said the number of those displaced had reduced from 258,836 to 222,177.

But Nobel Peace laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai, regretted that as the current political crisis persisted, President Kibaki continued to remain aloof and unreachable.

"Internationally, the conflict is presented as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and another "Rwanda’ in the making since Kibaki and Raila are from two communities," she said.

Kenyans, she noted, bury their heads in shame, anger and frustrations as they continue to plead with the President, but State House appeared out of reach.

"Why is it difficult for Kibaki to personally pick a phone, as they sometimes do, and ask Raila to talk? He is unreachable. He is near yet so far," she said.

She called for the beginning of a healing and reconciliation process among Kenyans.

She said the current political impasse would be resolved by understanding the root cause of tribal clashes.

"This time round, let Kenyans not sweep tribal clashes, demonstrations, murders, rapes and destruction of property under the carpet as they have always done. Only when the truth is known and justice is received can anxiety be reduced and wounds heal," she said.


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