Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

/UPDATE/POLITICS-KENYA: Mediation to Address Election Crisis Planned

Najum Mushtaq and Jacklynne Hobbs

NAIROBI and JOHANNESBURG, Jan 3 2008 (IPS) - Opposition officials have postponed a gathering that was supposed to take place Thursday in Kenya&#39s capital, Nairobi, this after police clashed with demonstrators as they tried to make their way to Uhuru Park for the rally.

The head of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Raila Odinga, had appealed for a million people to be present at the gathering, which forms part of a days-long campaign to have results from the Dec. 27 presidential poll, which saw head of state Mwai Kibaki returned to office, overturned. The event has apparently been rescheduled for next Tuesday.

Reports of violence also emerged from the coastal city of Mombasa.

The chairman of the African Union, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, had been expected in Kenya Thursday to help bring an end to post-election strife that has claimed upwards of 300 lives across the East African country, according to figures from the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the International Federation for Human Rights.

There appeared to be some uncertainty about his visit at the time of issuing this update, although the ODM has said it is willing to accept him as a mediator. However, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu was said to have arrived in Nairobi to mediate in the crisis; plans have reportedly been made for him to hold talks with Odinga, but not with the president.

Appeals for calm have been made by Britain and the United States, among others, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown raising the possibility of an administration that includes both Odinga and Kibaki, sworn in for his second term on Sunday.

Between 70,000 and 100,000 people are said to have been displaced in the violence, which erupted over the weekend as concerns grew about the validity of the vote count for the presidential ballot. With opinion polls having given Odinga the edge over Kibaki during the campaign, the ODM head and his supporters were quick to allege electoral fraud concerning the president&#39s re-election.

Concerns about the poll were also expressed by the European Union observer mission, which earlier this week issued a damning assessment of certain aspects of the elections. A Jan. 1 statement from the mission quotes Chief Observer Alexander Graf Lambsdorff as saying that "…problems started after the close of polls. EU observers were turned away from tallying centres, particularly in Central province, without being given results and were denied access to the tallying room at Electoral Commission (ECK) headquarters on several occasions."

Results from Central province were to prove decisive.

While Odinga was the clear frontrunner in the initial stages of the vote count, his lead eventually narrowed, amidst delays – notably in the announcement of results from Central province, a Kibaki stronghold. The final count gave the president victory by approximately 200,000 votes, sparking fears that results had been held back until officials knew by how much they should be inflated to ensure victory for Kibaki. The Odinga camp was, in turn, accused of vote rigging.

The Kenya Election Domestic Observation Forum also pronounced itself dissatisfied with the vote counting, and in a further twist, Electoral Commission of Kenya head Samuel Kivuitu told a local paper that he did not know whether Kibaki had won or not.

Widespread looting and arson have accompanied the death and displacement, which are being attributed to ethnic divides as much as political rivalries. Kibaki is part of the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya&#39s largest ethnic group, long dominant in business and politics to the ire of other tribes. Odinga is a member of the Luo group.

In perhaps the most shocking incident of the post-election period, as many as 50 people were killed Tuesday in the western town of Eldoret when the church that they had taken refuge in was set alight. Those in the church were said to be Kikuyus; western Kenya constitutes Odinga&#39s support base.

The political rhetoric has been as heated as the confrontations in Kenya&#39s streets and slums, with Kibaki and Odinga accusing each other of being responsible for genocide.

Matters have not been improved, say observers, by repressive treatment of protesters by police, or the imposition of a ban on live broadcasts – something that serves to encourage "a dangerous flurry of rumors and speculations," noted Tom Rhodes, Africa programme co-ordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"On a more positive note," says the EU statement, "the parliamentary election broadly appears to have commanded greater confidence amongst Kenyan people." (Dec. 27 also saw legislative and local elections take place in Kenya.)

The parliamentary ballot gave the ODM about 100 seats of the 210 contested, against almost 40 for Kibaki&#39s Party of National Unity (exact figures are not available on the ECK website), raising the spectre of a president hamstrung at every turn by hostile legislators. Kibaki&#39s invitation for parliament to meet him at State House this week was apparently rebuffed by opposition legislators.

Most of the president&#39s cabinet members were wiped from the electoral landscape on Dec. 27. Vice president Moodi Awori (ousted from a seat in the Western province that he had held for over 25 years), foreign affairs minister Raphael Tuju, information minister Mutahi Kagwe, health minister Paul Sang and lands minister Kivutha Kibwana were amongst the casualties.

Another clear statement of the electorate’s desire to make a break from the past was the defeat of three sons of former president Daniel arap Moi. Gideon Moi lost the Baringo Central Constituency in the Rift Valley, a seat the Moi family had held for the last 50 years on the platform of the Kenya African National Union. The other two, Jonathan Toroitich and Raymond Moi, were also allied with Kibaki, and duly lost to ODM candidates.

For many observers, it seemed clear that voters attached little significance to Kibaki’s achievements on the economic front. "It is a generational change. People have given a verdict against the longstanding, old political clique," said Andrew Mwangi, a civil servant.

This may have been because growth has largely failed to translate into better living standards for a good many Kenyans – in part because of corruption that Kibaki failed to quell, despite his promises to the contrary during the last polls, in 2002. Roads and the railway network did not improve either, while the largely inefficient bureaucratic machinery remained well entrenched.

But, the winds of change will blow to scant effect in parliament while the crisis over the presidency continues to loom.

When President Kenneth Kuanda lost the 1991 election in Zambia, a bewildered Mobutu Sese Seko exclaimed: "How could you lose an election you had organised yourself?"

Hopes are that Kenya is not living down to the expectations expressed by the erstwhile Zairean ruler.

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