Friday, January 04, 2008

Kibaki, Raila spell out conditions

By Saturday Standard Team

President Kibaki is open to a coalition arrangement, including the Orange Democratic Movement, but first violence has to stop.

Second, the President stood his ground saying his opponents, who he on Thursday asked to seek legal redress if they felt aggrieved, should respect the authority of his Government.

ODM leader Mr Raila Odinga wants a presidential re-run in three months, but managed by an interim government.

The Kibaki side says, ‘No!’ to both demands by the man who believes he was unfairly robbed of victory in the December 27 General Election.

That was how close President Kibaki and Raila were to the negotiating table yesterday – as Mombasa exploded with teargas and mayhem.

The two extremes were what peacemakers were trying to bring together as a humanitarian crisis loomed in Nairobi due to disruption of the traditional food supply chain into the heavily populated capital.

The Kibaki side, too, appeared to soften with spokesman Alfred Mutua, who is on record dismissing international mediation at this stage as interference, throwing in a new dimension.

He was quoted by Reuters South Africa, saying, "We would accept even another election as long as the Constitution is followed. If the courts decide it, we would accept that."

Peace-making broke fresh ground as South Africa’s Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu finally met President Kibaki. When he walked out of State House he told journalists: "There is a great deal of hope."

"The President was not averse to the formation of a coalition, but clearly there has to be an acceptance that there is a governing authority," Archbishop Tutu said.

Tutu is the lead mediator in the effort to end the post-election violence that has claimed about 300 lives and reduced sections of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret and Kakamega into smouldering ruins. The injuries and destruction of property witnessed since the release of the controversial results are legendary in scale in independent Kenya’s history.

The morbid nature of events unfolding in Nairobi was discernible from the fact that even as Nairobi struggled to return to normalcy, the crowds on the streets thinned out when word went round ODM supporters were going to swarm Uhuru Park at 2pm. The recreation park named after Independence Day remained ringed by GSU commandos.

Tutu met Kibaki as US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer hit the road to Kenya. He was expected last night. But US President George Bush told Reuters: "They (Kibaki and Raila) have an opportunity to come together in some kind of arrangement that would help heal the wounds."

Meanwhile, Pentagon member Mr Najib Balala was tear-gassed in Mombasa as GSU personnel ringed Sakina Mosque. He declared the town would from today be the theatre of daily riots until President Kibaki admits there was a mistake.

Signs that peace talks could be long-drawn were discernible from the security blockade thrown around informal settlements in Nairobi, considered reservoirs of ODM support.

The undercurrent could also be read in Eldoret North MP-elect Mr William Ruto’s rallying call to supporters: "The perseverance of a river is what makes an ocean’’.

The World Bank warned the violent clashes, deaths and destruction of property could reverse the country’s ‘impressive economic record’, as France gave its harsh verdict on the elections, supporting ODM’s claims. "Were the elections rigged? I think so, many think so, the Americans think so, the British think so, and they know the country well," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

The slide to violence stunned many Kenyans unaccustomed to such terms now creeping into their vocabulary, particularly ‘safe corridors’, ‘internally displaced persons’, and ‘international mediators’.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent Frazer to Kenya. "The secretary’s phone calls are one way. Public statements are another way. But Secretary Rice decided this morning that it was important to send Jendayi [Frazer] out to Kenya to try to bring that message directly to the leaders," said spokesman Sean McCormack.

Frazer is expected to meet Raila’s team and other key players in the elections roundly condemned as flawed, and whose results Electoral Commission chairman Samuel Kivuitu and his five of his members have questioned.

He added: "Her presence there could be a way to encourage them, to get together. It’s also certainly a way that we can more directly try to encourage them to get together and open up that dialogue.’’

The US initially congratulated President Kibaki over his triumph, but hastily withdrew the statement when controversy set in.

On Thursday, Attorney General Amos Wako called for an independent probe of the counting and proposed a government of national unity, saying that the court does not necessarily have to be involved in its construction. Yesterday the Anglican Church called for an independent commission to recount and re-tally the votes.

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said this was the only remedy for peace in the country. The Church, Nzimbi said, was offering to mediate between the Government and ODM.

"We the Anglican bishops offer ourselves to walk with you through this path towards peace and reconciliation for all Kenyans," he added.

The Catholic Church and the Muslim fraternity have also proposed a similar measure to reverse the waves of violence sweeping across Nyanza, Western Kenya, Rift Valley, Nairobi and Coast province.

The hazy picture of a peaceful settlement hung in the horizon as it emerged that ODM leaders, frustrated by heavy security machinery in Nairobi, could have decided to pan out.

Tomorrow Pentagon member Mrs Charity Ngilu, and ODM’s MPs-elect Mr Omingo Magara (South Mugirango) and Mr Kipkalia Kones will be in areas between Kisumu and Kisii, including the South Rift, "assessing the situation and condoling party supporters.

Tutu left for South Africa as a ray of light cut through the standoff between Kibaki and Raila. "There is hope for peace since ODM and the Government are open to possibilities for negotiation," he said.

Later, Mombasa exploded as a demonstration of Muslims Balala led was stopped by police with teargas, guns and cudgels. Business stalled as the demonstration spread across the town.

Nairobi, which had ground to a halt on Thursday, as ODM leaders were stopped by police from holding a rally at Uhuru Park was yesterday still restive, with thin traffic and few pedestrians.

ODM leaders led by chairman Mr Henry Kosgey and Orengo and Magara walked into Uhuru Park in the afternoon, but were tear-gassed.

The situation in some other main towns was reported to be still tense, with hundreds of internally displaced people camping at police stations, churches and fields.

In Migori, villagers reported that police killed 11 people and injured 30 others, but police put the official death toll at four.

Kenya Red Cross (KRC) captured the gravity of the crisis with an appeal for Sh957 million to assist about 500,000 victims.

In a press conference, KRC Secretary General, Mr Abbas Gullet said so far 100,000 people have been displaced, but the number could reach 500,000.

He put death toll so far at 177 people with 17 of them being victims of a razed church in Eldoret. From the church tragedy, 42 people were taken to hospital with serious burns.

Eldoret leads with the number of the displaced at 65,000 followed by Lugari (18,200), Kericho, (1,600) and Nairobi, (1,216).

About 200 have been displaced in Kisumu and 226 in Mombasa. Other badly affected towns are Kakamega and smaller towns in Western Province.

The situation in Kenya, regarded as the regional business hub, attracted the highest attention and drew pressure from the West, with Bush leading world leaders in expressing concern.

"It’s very important for the people of Kenya to not resort to violence," Bush told Reuters news agency in an interview at the White House. "

McCormack said the US was not prescribing what the solution should be, but added, "They do need to come together; they need to broker some political solution to the political crisis."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on Kibaki and Raila, to ease tensions. "I want to see the possibility explored where they can come together in government," Brown told reporters.

The Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier and Beverly J, Oda the International Co-operation Minister said, "Canadians are shocked at the horrific deaths of people taking refuge in an Eldoret Church as well as at the loss of life elsewhere in Kenya."

World Bank said the unrest threatened Kenya’s impressive recent economic growth and poverty reduction, citing business leaders’ estimates that the country was losing some US$30 million (about Sh210m) a day.


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