/ 4 January 2008

Tutu to broker peace deal

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was in Nairobi in a bid to mediate between newly-elected President Mwai Kibaki and defeated opposition leader Raila Odinga on Thursday, said at a media conference that Odinga had accepted his mediation. Sources close to the mediation also told the Mail & Guardian that Odinga had dropped his demand that Kibaki resign before the two sit down to talk peace, after a week of electoral violence in which an estimated 300 people have died.

The talks took place on the day that thousands of members of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM), who were marching to a banned rally in support of Odinga, were met with teargas and water cannons deployed by Kenyan police in central Nairobi.

Odinga called for a million people to attend the rally in central Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, convened in protest against what he says is the fraudulent outcome of the December 27 elections, in which incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner.

Security forces had surrounded the park from the early hours of the morning. Singing the national anthem and chanting ”peace” thousands of people, many of them from the opposition stronghold of the Kibera slum and other pro-opposition slum areas, streamed into the centre of town, where they were stopped by riot police.

Police also fired shots into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowds.

Later in the day the ODM called off the rally, saying it did not want to see more violence, and rescheduled the meeting for January 8. ”We shall end our meeting here. As ODM we are peaceful people. We will hold a peaceful meeting on January 8,” said an ODM leader, William Ruto. ”We don’t want any more lives lost. Our fight is not with ordinary Kenyans. Our fight is with Mwai Kibaki.”

Before the talks with Tutu Odinga had told the media that he would accept international mediation — which has been rejected by the Kenyan government — and also called for the formation of an interim power-sharing government to prepare for a re-run of the election.

In an unexpected move on Thursday Kenya’s attorney-general Amos Wako called for an independent probe into the vote tally.

Kenya’s vibrant and outspoken media also pleaded for a return to peace, with all major newspapers running the same front-page headline, reading ”Save Our Beloved Country”.

”Kenya is a burnt-out, smouldering ruin. The economy is at a virtual standstill and the armies of destruction are on the march,” wrote the Nation in its editorial.

”In the midst of this, leaders — who are the direct cause of this catastrophe — are issuing half-hearted calls for peace, from the comfort of their hotels and walled homes in Nairobi.”

After reopening after the holidays on Wednesday, the Kenyan Stock Exchange suspended trading at mid-day on Thursday because of renewed violence in the capital. Tea and coffee auctions have also been suspended.

By the time of going to print, it was not known whether any protesters had been injured or killed in rally-related violence. At least 300 people have been killed in post-electoral violence in Kenya in the past week. However observers at the march said that the police had acted with ”uncharacteristic restraint”.

Meanwhile, police reported that there were parallel opposition demonstrations in major towns in the country including Kisumu, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kakamega, Bungoma and Nakuru. — Additional reporting by Reuters, BBC

SA’s response

The South African government has expressed concern at the violence that has broken out after the disputed election in Kenya, but says it will take its lead from the SADC.

”The government expresses its highest level of concern regarding the levels of violence in Kenya that have resulted in a number of deaths and destruction to property,” says foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa. ”We express our confidence that the government and opposition parties in Kenya will find a way to ensure they can work together to arrest a further decline into chaos.

”The government is not involved in any interventions in Kenya and that it can only be guided by regional structures.” — Lloyd Gedye