High cost of Kenya's protests

Violence rocked Kenya for the third week running as the police cracked down on opposition protesters during a three-day countrywide civil disobedience campaign to press for the reversal of the controversial re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

The mass action kicked off on Wednesday, the same day Kenya’s main trade union body, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), estimated that post-election mayhem could result in more than 500 000 job losses and cost more than $1,5-billion.

While Nairobi remained mostly calm, chaos besieged opposition strongholds in western Kenya and along the coast. In Kisumu police killed three protesters and scores were injured when security forces opened fire on them.

Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli told the Mail & Guardian that the post-election violence exerted huge pressure on the economy, disrupting transport between major towns and other countries in the East African and Great Lakes region.

‘The cost of the post-violence [on the] manufacturing and agricultural sectors cannot be gainsaid. The economic success of the past five years was wiped [out] in just one week of mayhem.
At least 500 000 jobs in the tourism, manufacturing and agricultural sectors were lost in the past three weeks,” he said.

This week’s protests in Nairobi were poorly attended. But in the city’s main slum districts of ­Mathare and Kibera the police reportedly used live bullets to repel looters and gangs of youths involved in running battles with the security forces.

The slums are in constituencies where opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga has strong support.

Despite growing international pressure Kibaki has been reluctant to accept international mediation, insisting the post-election violence of the past three weeks is a Kenyan problem and can be resolved internally.

The latest international mediation effort was expected to get under way on Tuesday, but was postponed after former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, who was to head a panel of three eminent Africans, became ill and cancelled the trip. The panel includes former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa and stateswoman Graça Machel.

This week 13 countries, including the United States, expressed ‘grave concern” about the continuing political stalemate and threatened to cut aid flows if the country’s commitment to ‘good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights” weakens.

The ODM called for three days of demonstrations after last week’s attempt by African Union chair and Ghanaian President John Kufuor failed to break the political deadlock. Kufuor cut short his visit to Nairobi after two ministers in the Kibaki government belittled the visit as a call ‘for a tea session with our president”.

In Nairobi the opposition played cat-and-mouse games with the police, who were deployed on major roads to prevent ODM supporters from reaching the venue of the rally.

George Khaniri, an ODM MP, said the protesters opted to march through the capital’s central business district to outfox the heavy security at the rally venue.

‘Mass action is on. The Uhuru Park venue is inaccessible as it is sealed off by police. We opted to march through the city centre,” he said.

The relative calm was disturbed when police lobbed tear gas into buildings to smoke out workers who were still on duty, as many businesses hurriedly closed for fear of looting. People were forced to trek long distances after public transport to the CBD was cut off.

This week the ODM achieved two key victories, with its candidates winning the positions of speaker and deputy speaker in Parliament, beating the ruling party’s candidates.

ODM supporters took to the streets to celebrate the victory of the ODM’s Kenneth Marende and Farah Maalim.

Dr Bonny Khalwale, a legislator whose party supports Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, said he believed the ODM’s victory in Parliament had appeased many opposition supporters.

‘Their supporters are still celebrating and [have] forgotten about mass action. The protests will soon fizzle out after [the] ODM triumph against the government-friendly parties’ bid to elect the speaker of the national assembly,” Khalwale said.

William Ruto, a senior ODM official told the media this week that the ODM is determined to keep up the pressure. ‘We will not allow Kibaki to make this country a dictatorship,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Mombasa, the backbone of the tourism industry, residents resorted to ‘sit-ins” to press for Kibaki’s resignation.

This year’s projection for tourist arrivals was 1,5-million. According to the Kenya Tourism Board, the prevailing political crisis could translate into 120 000 job losses, while further political unrest could lead to a total collapse of the tourism industry, which earned the exchequer $940-million last year.

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