Kenya on Wednesday pledged tougher action to rein in post-election violence that threatens to spiral out of control, in the East African nation’s darkest moment since independence in 1963.
Protests over President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election in the December 27 vote have degenerated into cycles of killing between rival tribes, and there is evidence of gangs being increasingly well organised on both sides.
The top United States diplomat for Africa urged the political rivals to forge a compromise at mediation led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan and said ethnic retaliation had ”gone too far”.
”There has been an organised effort to push out people from Rift Valley … it is clearly ethnic cleansing,” US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said in Ethiopia.
Most of the deaths since the election came in attacks that at first targeted Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, whose members are now taking revenge on pro-opposition tribes.
Police have also killed close to 100 protesters backing opposition leader Raila Odinga.
”Democracy is not defended by killing people and those who are behind the violence will be held to account in the future,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Parliament in London.
Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said police would tolerate no more violence and would ensure the country’s roads and railways, economic lifelines for neighbouring nations, would remain open.
”We have decided to act tough this time. We are not going to allow criminals and hooligans to run around,” he said.
Youths have set up roadblocks across the Rift Valley in the past month, squeezing transport to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, whose economies depend on Kenya’s Mombasa port.
Announcing a $14-million fund to help Kenya’s 300 000 refugees from the violence, Kibaki also talked tough.
He urged victims of violence to avoid retaliation and rely on security agencies who were ”under strict orders to take stern and firm action against those financing, inciting and engaging in actual acts of violence and sabotage”.
The government on Tuesday demonstrated its willingness to apply heavier force, sending in two army helicopters to fire rubber bullets over a Kikuyu mob in Naivasha.
But Saitoti said the military would still be used in a humanitarian capacity. Troops have been deployed to clear roads, escort trucks and protect refugees.
The opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) accused the government of secretly instituting a shoot-to-kill policy — something police have denied.
”I urge the president himself to take action to rescind the order, because it is illegal,” Odinga said. ”It’s inhumane and barbaric. It is giving the police licence to lynch our people.”
Amid nationwide horror and grief after more than a month of bloodshed, Kenyans laid wreaths at Nairobi’s ”Freedom Corner” on Wednesday, some with cards reading ”Peace”, ”Love” or ”Sorry”.
US-based rights group Freedom House said Kenya was ”in grave danger of civil war” while Amnesty International said nine local rights activists, all but one of them Kikuyu, had received death threats denouncing them as traitors to their ethnicity.
Annan’s team on Thursday plans a second day of talks between Odinga and Kibaki’s negotiators, each a mix of moderates and hardliners — the latter of whom are blocking progress.
After bringing Kibaki and Odinga together on Tuesday, Annan said he was confident ”immediate political issues” could be resolved in four weeks. Broader issues could take a year.
Kibaki (76) says he is the legally elected president, but is open to sharing power. Odinga (63), says he was robbed by fraud during the vote count and wants Kibaki to stand down or allow a new election after a period of power-sharing.
Much hangs on the fate of the talks, including the future of Kenya’s economy — East Africa’s largest and previously one of its brightest. The $1 billion a year tourism industry has been hard hit and the currency is near a three-year low.
The violence has taken the lid off decades-old divisions between communities over land, wealth and power that hark back to British colonial rule and have been stoked by politicians at election time over 44 years of independence. – Reuters