/ 22 January 2008

Annan prepares to mediate in Kenya

Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan was due to arrive in Kenya on Tuesday to try to mediate in a post-poll crisis that has torn the country in two and triggered weeks of violence that has killed at least 650 people.

A hotly disputed election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power last month amid cries from opposition leader Raila Odinga that he rigged it. Electoral observers complained of ”serious irregularities” in the tallying process.

Odinga’s supporters took to the streets but the government hastily outlawed their protests. Some sliced up members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe with machetes, killed them with arrows or burned their homes. Police shot dead scores of demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Kenyan police fired tear gas on Tuesday to disperse scores of supporters of President Mwai Kibaki, who took to the streets of central Nairobi to back his disputed re-election.

Police chased the supporters, who had been chanting ”Lead on, Kibaki!”, into shops and nearby alleys in the latest bout of unrest in the east African nation.

Police have banned street protests since the election, almost all of which have been by the opposition.

About a dozen police officers fired at least three canisters of tear gas at the group, which numbered about 100, as they moved down a main street with banners saying ”Respect Kibaki” and showing his face.

In some of the latest violence, rivals from Kibaki’s Kikuyu and Odinga’s Luo ethnic groups attacked and mutilated victims of the other tribe in Nairobi on Sunday, killing at least three, while police said a further four died in violence in the Rift Valley.

The violence has displaced 250 000 people. The government and opposition accuse each other of genocide. Both still refuse to hold talks, despite pressure from Western powers like the United States, Britain and the European Union.

Annan will face this situation when he arrives in Nairobi late on Tuesday to try to broker a deal between the two sides, which eluded African Union head and Ghanaian President John Kufuor earlier this month.


The opposition has refused to talk to the government except with international mediation, but some hardliners in Kibaki’s Cabinet are openly hostile to Annan’s offer of mediation.

Roads Minister John Michuki made a pointed remark last week that the government had not invited him.

”Kofi Annan … will be arriving in Kenya on Tuesday to continue with the promotion of dialogue between the government and opposition,” read a frosty, two-paragraph statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry late on Monday.

Agitated by what it sees as Western interference in its own affairs, Kenya’s government summoned British High Commissioner Adam Wood on Monday to voice anger at Britain’s critical stance.

Analysts say that even if the government softens its line, it is hard to see what Kibaki can offer Odinga to appease him — his Cabinet is already named. Diplomats hope Annan can bring them into a power-sharing arrangement and possibly a fresh vote.

But Odinga is in no mood for talking. ”I’m the rightful elected president. Kibaki stole his way into power,” he told Reuters in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu on Monday.

The opposition has called for further protests to start on Thursday and the government says it is determined not to allow them, raising fears of a fresh round of violence.

Scenes of police opening fire on demonstrators trying to flee and TV footage showing an officer shooting two unarmed men at close range have drawn condemnation from rights groups.

Nation TV reported on Monday that Odinga’s people were pressing for legal action against the police. Odinga has also called for a boycott of companies linked to Kibaki allies, such as Equity Bank, Brookside Dairies and two bus companies. — Reuters