Kenyans pray for peace, await aid

Kenyans across the political divide prayed for peace on Sunday while aid workers sought to bring relief to nearly 200 000 refugees from post-election violence that has killed hundreds.

“Our leaders have failed us. They have brought this catastrophe upon us. So now we are turning to the Almighty to save Kenya,” said Jane Riungu, leading her five children in their best clothes to a hilltop church outside Nairobi.

One week after the announcement of President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election ignited protests, riots and looting around the East African nation, there was little sign of him meeting opposition rival Raila Odinga to sort out the crisis directly.

Would-be mediators, including Washington’s top Africa diplomat Jendayi Frazer and Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, shuttled between both camps.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor was due to visit in coming days in his capacity as chairperson of the African Union.

A Kibaki statement on Saturday that he was ready to form “a government of national unity” was met with scepticism by the opposition.
It says he stole the December 27 vote and is occupying the president’s seat illegitimately.

Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) wants Kibaki (76) to quit and an international mediator to broker talks prior to a new election in three to six months. ODM was also accused of vote-rigging in its stronghold areas.

“We are not interested in Kibaki’s solution to this problem ... He has nothing to offer as he did not win the election,” Odinga said at his Orange House headquarters in Nairobi.

Government spokesperson Alfred Mutua accused Odinga of trying to “use the back door to gain power” by refusing to negotiate with the president or use the courts to contest the vote. ODM says the courts are packed with Kibaki allies.

“This kind of grandstanding does not help anyone in this country. If Honourable Raila will not speak to President Kibaki, do you expect Kibaki to kneel down to him?” Mutua said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a Kibaki ally, said in a statement read on state television that he “hoped peace and legality would prevail in Kenya. Kenya’s peace and security is Ethiopia’s peace and security”.

Meles was in touch with both sides, and had received a message from Kibaki delivered by Kenyan Education Minister George Saitoti, the statement said.

Back to normal

The toll from the post-election violence continued to emerge.

Looters in the Rift Valley town of Kericho, where major tea growers operate, struck the Chebown tea estate owned by Unilever on Wednesday and Thursday, a Reuters photographer said.

Workers from the Kisii tribe fled from there and neighbouring farms after pro-opposition members of the Kalenjin tribe chased them in the latest ethnic violence in the Rift.

In the cities, most Kenyans were preoccupied with getting back to normal, amid scepticism about politicians whom they see as viewing power as a means of acquiring wealth rather than improving the lot of ordinary people.

The opposition has threatened to hold more rallies, but police Commissioner Hussein Ali said they remained banned and police would stay on heightened alert.

At least 300 people have died, some in battles between police and protesters, others in ethnic violence.

Looting and criminality have also flared during the chaos, claiming yet more lives in a nation that had been seen as a relatively stable democracy and flourishing economy.

Simmering unrest forced the United Nation’s World Food Programme to get a police escort for 20 trucks carrying food aid from the port in Mombasa to refugees in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The United Nations estimates that 250 000 people will need aid in the next three months. The government says 180 000 people are displaced, a number Kenya’s Red Cross puts at 100 000.

In Protestant, Catholic and other churches, there were prayers for peace and moments of silence for the dead on Sunday.

All major media channels broadcast an hour-long series of inter-denominational prayers, comments from ordinary people, set to a score of patriotic music.

In the town of Eldoret, tens of thousands of people were in makeshift refugee camps after ethnic violence including the burning inside a church of 30 people—mainly of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe—by Kalenjins furious at the election result.

Odinga (62) had looked on course to win the vote until Kibaki was handed a narrow victory last Sunday. International observers say the election fell short of democratic standards, and France accused Kibaki’s government of rigging the result. - Reuters

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