/ 11 January 2008

Kenya opposition to resume mass action

Kenya’s opposition said on Friday it would restart nationwide protests against President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election after African Union mediation failed to end the country’s political crisis.

Raila Odinga’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) also called for international sanctions on Kibaki’s government.

It said demonstrations would be held in nearly 30 places around Kenya next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

”Sanctions at this point of time are necessary … it would be irresponsible to trust this government with a single cent,” ODM secretary general Anyang’ Nyong’o told reporters.

He said his party had asked police to provide security for a planned mass rally on Wednesday in a central Nairobi park.

Previous protests have led to riots and vicious clashes between Odinga’s supporters and the security forces, adding to a total death toll of about 500 since the December 27 vote.

The government has said it will not allow more protests, and police in riot gear patrolled parts of the capital on Friday.

”Dialogue is not engaged in the streets. Dialogue suggests that people resolve their differences peacefully, over a table, not through destroying property and killing innocent Kenyans,” Local Government Minister Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters.

The unrest has tarnished Kenya’s democratic credentials, damaged East Africa’s largest and previously booming economy, hit supplies to neighbours and unnerved Western donors.

This week’s failure of AU head and Ghanaian President John Kufuor to broker a deal has depressed Kenyans living through one of the worst chapters of their nation’s post-independence history.

Kufuor flew out empty handed late on Thursday, but said former United Nations head Kofi Annan, another Ghanaian, would lead a group of eminent Africans in another push to resolve the crisis.

ODM said Annan told Odinga — who says Kibaki robbed him of victory by rigging — that he would fly in on Tuesday.

Analysts say Odinga has lost momentum in recent days as Kibaki entrenches himself by appointing the core of a new Cabinet, carrying out state functions and recalling parliament.

‘Mortal combat’

Aides for the 76-year-old president, a veteran of Kenyan politics and member of the nation’s largest and most powerful Kikuyu tribe, say the opposition’s refusal to meet Kibaki face-to-face shows it is not interested in dialogue.

But ODM say they will only meet if an international mediator is president.

Kibaki and Odinga, a 63-year-old former political prisoner and wealthy businessman, have not met since the vote, even though they have had close ties in the past, including when the opposition leader sat in Kibaki’s Cabinet from 2002 to 2005.

Around Kenya, there is widespread frustration that the poor have largely paid the price of the unrest while the political elite have stayed in comfortable and well-guarded compounds.

As well as the death toll, which aid groups say will rise to well over 500 and Odinga told Reuters was already nearing 1 000, more than a quarter of a million Kenyans are homeless from ethnic clashes in the days after Kibaki’s December 30 swearing in.

”Our leaders are stuck in mortal combat, unable to rise above their ambitions and put the interests of the country and the people first,” wrote Daily Nation columnist Lucy Oriang.

The West, including the United States and Kenya’s former colonial ruler Britain, has expressed displeasure at irregularities in the presidential vote count, and is pressing for some sort of power-sharing agreement.

Kibaki has said he will consider a coalition, while Odinga would prefer a re-run of the election.

In the latest statement from abroad, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged both sides ”to engage without any pre-conditions” and ”agree on a way to share power so as to reflect the clear democratic will of the Kenyan people”.

With key sectors like tourism and commodities affected by the crisis, analysts say the full impact on one of Africa’s brightest economies depends wholly on how long it lasts.

”Sentiment is likely to benefit from any resolution to the current impasse, although it is highly unlikely that confidence will bounce back to pre-election levels,” Standard Chartered analyst Razia Khan said. — Reuters