Africa, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS-KENYA: Disputed Poll Sparks Call for Int’l Probe

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 2 2008 (IPS) - Amidst growing calls for an international investigation into last week’s disputed presidential elections in Kenya, the continued rioting and killings in that East African nation are threatening to destabilise a staunch U.S. ally in the global war on terrorism.

“What is taking place in Kenya today is a mockery of democracy,” said Rev. Gabriel Odima, president of the U.S.-based Africa Centre for Peace and Democracy.

“The international community, especially the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union (EU), should take a strong position, and force President Mwai Kibaki to step down to pave the way for an independent audit to resolve the current crisis in Kenya,” he told IPS.

He said the cause of democracy and the enjoyment by the citizens of human rights and freedoms have suffered, and will continue to suffer in Kenya, “as long as the international community gives support and credibility to oppressive and repressive regimes in Africa.”

The Kenya Human Rights Commission and the International Federation for Human Rights have condemned the killings of some 300 people, and appealed for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to probe charges of a rigged presidential election.

The appeal has been directed at the African Union (AU), the EU and the Commonwealth Secretariat – all three of which are in a position to exert political pressure on President Kibaki.

Touted as a role model for multi-party democracy in Africa, Kenya is one of the largest recipients of U.S. development and military assistance in the politically-troubled continent.

“Kenya is the linchpin of East African stability and is a frontline state in the fight against terrorism,” says the latest 2008 U.S. “Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations” released by the State Department.

For fiscal year 2008, which ends in October, the United States has earmarked an estimated 540.4 million dollars to Kenya, mostly for peace and security, good governance, military training, child survival and humanitarian assistance – up from 269.5 million dollars in 2006.

These increases include 481 million dollars for fighting HIV/AIDS (up from 175.9 million dollars in 2006); 28.3 million dollars for development assistance (up from 21.6 million); 800,000 dollars in military credits (up from zero); and 550,000 dollars for military education and training (also up from zero).

In its report, the State Department says that Kenya “has the potential to become a transformational country and achieve improved standards of living, improved quality of life, and more transparent, less corrupt and more participatory democratic governance.”

But such progress, the report argues, will require an economic growth rate of 7.0 to 8.0 percent per year on a sustained basis. According to the latest available figures, however, Kenya’s growth rate was only about 5.8 percent in 2005.

If the current crisis continues to worsen, it could adversely affect the country’s growing economy, particularly the tourist trade which brings in over one billion dollars annually.

Rev. Odima said the agonies of the people and the loss of lives and property in Kenya, and other African countries like Uganda, are not isolated cases.

“The very sad events in Kenya have some similarities with the events in Uganda and Rwanda. Kenya is moving towards being another failed state in the region,” he warned.

Odima also said that to use the police or the military to suppress the people’s choice and claim victory in an election which many Kenyans believe was won by opposition leader Amolo Raila Odinga “is a recipe to genocide.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has “strongly deplored” the loss of human lives in Kenya.

“The secretary general calls on the political parties and leaders to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue and by making full use of the existing legal mechanisms and procedures,” he added.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also expressed her deep concern, calling on the government to abide by its international human rights obligations in responding to demonstrations. That includes holding police accountable for their actions.

While recognising the challenges in maintaining order, she said, security forces must use force only in proportion to the actual threat faced.

The declaration of Kibaki as a second term president was followed by charges of a rigged election, in which the initial lead was taken by the opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

In the simultaneous parliamentary elections, Kibaki’s ruling party was trounced, including the electoral defeats of 20 outgoing cabinet ministers and the country’s vice president.

As of last count, Kibaki’s party won only about 35 out of 210 seats, compared with about 100 seats won by Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.

In a statement issued Wednesday, both the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the International Federation of Human Rights said that “massive differences in 49 constituencies between the total of parliamentary and the presidential votes combined with the delay of the official announcement of the results raise great concerns.”

Protests of opposition supporters have been organised in all the country’s major cities, including Nairobi and Mombasa.

These protests, the statement said, are being bloodily repressed by security forces in violation of the freedom of expression provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Kenya.

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