/ 20 January 2008

Kenyan opposition calls for rallies to continue

Kenya’s opposition party, determined to bring down the government of President Mwai Kibaki, has called for another day of ”peaceful rallies” across Kenya in defiance of a ban and despite the deaths of more than 20 people in this week’s demonstrations.

Police took forceful action at rallies from Wednesday to Friday protesting against the December 27 presidential election, but opposition-party chairperson Henry Kosgey told reporters on Saturday: ”We will use each and every means to bring down Kibaki’s government.”

He called for more rallies on Thursday, to the disapproval of the European Union.

”Mass meetings … can lead to violence,” EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said, after holding what he called ”positive” meetings with both Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. He said both sides had ”appealed to end the violence”, and had agreed to recognise mediation efforts by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.

Five more people died in ethnic clashes on Saturday when three ethnic groups — Kalenjin, Kisii and Kikuyu — fought each other with bows and arrows and machetes in villages around the Catholic Kipkelion monastery in the Rift Valley, about 300km north-west of Nairobi, according to a reporter at the scene. Police confirmed they had arrived on Saturday afternoon and were guarding the monastery, where hundreds of people have sought refuge.

Nearly 200 houses were set ablaze in what appeared to be an old argument about land.

In a separate incident in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, several homes were set ablaze during several hours of running battles between Kikuyu and Luo ethnic groups, said resident Boniface Shikami on Sunday morning.

Kibaki belongs to the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, and Odinga to the Luo.

One man was beaten to death — a Luo who was riding his bicycle through a group of Kikuyus — as the battles continued for several hours through the night, said resident David Oromo. Police gunfire could be heard in the background of his phone call.

By Friday, at least 24 people were killed in three days of protests called by the opposition — all but seven deaths blamed on police. More than 600 people have been killed in Kenya’s election violence, according to a government commission.


United States ambassador Michael Ranneberger said on Friday there had been ”a lot of cheating on both sides” in December 27 elections that pitted Kibaki against Odinga.

Ranneberger said either Odinga or Kibaki could have won by 120 000 votes because it was a close election and both sides are alleged to have rigged the election. But David Throup, an associate of the Washington, DC-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said in a public conference call with Ranneberger that Odinga won by 120 000 votes.

Kibaki’s power becomes more entrenched each day. The opposition’s best hope may rest in wrangling a power-sharing agreement that might make Odinga prime minister or vice-president.

International mediation continued. A group of former African presidents — Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa, Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano and Botswana’s Ketumile Masire — met both Odinga and Kibaki, Odinga told reporters after the meeting on Friday.

Annan, the former UN chief, is expected on Tuesday to head mediation efforts, his office in Geneva said.

Michel, the EU Development Commissioner, on Saturday met Deputy President Kalonzo Musyoka and urged him to come to an agreement with the opposition ”because the consequence of chaos will be so important and so badly affect the people and the region”.

Kalonzo said: ”We are trying to come out with a healing process and a process which also ensures we engage each other as Kenyans in dialogue.” He said Kibaki is determined to spearhead the dialogue.

But Kibaki has said he wants direct talks with Odinga, while the opposition leader says he will negotiate only through a mediator who can provide an internationally guaranteed agreement. Odinga had previously supported Kibaki in the 2002 election in return for a promised prime-ministership, which failed to materialise.

European Parliament legislators this week urged aid cuts to help force Kibaki to negotiate. His government says it will not be blackmailed and can support itself. But the violence has cost the tourist-dependent economy at least $1-billion, the Finance Ministry has said. — Sapa-AP