Kenya rights group warns of vote violence

2011-03-01 08:51

Nairobi, Kenya – Three years ago, Kenya’s top leaders pulled the country back from devastating post-election violence.

Today the country is peaceful, but human rights advocates said they worry the country could again explode during next year’s vote.

More than 1 000 people died and 600 000 were displaced in the ensuing tribal violence after the disputed 2007 presidential election.

The still-smouldering issues in Kenya include demobilising militias that fought during the post-election violence, addressing impunity of connected officials, and addressing poverty and youth unemployment, the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission said yesterday.

“Our concern is that should the government not implement these reforms the 2007-08 violence will seem like a Christmas party compared to the violence in 2012,” said George Morara of the commission.

The commission gave its assessment on the third anniversary of a power-sharing agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga that ended the violence. That agreement made Odinga prime minister.

The group gave Kenya’s coalition government 43 points out of 100 in its scorecard of the government’s performance in implementing the reforms agreed upon three years ago.

Kenya’s prime minister has congratulated the country for achieving one of the key reforms - a new constitution that was approved in an August referendum. The new document reduced the powers of the presidency, which had been used by Kenya’s first two leaders to favour their tribes in land distribution, government jobs and tenders.

Still, critics say the president already has violated provisions of the new constitution 11 times since its adoption last year.

And Peter Karanja, the head of the National Council of Churches in Kenya, said he is suspicious that efforts have not been made to demobilize youth groups and militias recruited to carry out the violence between December 2007 and February 2008.

“The failure to do this three years after the violence raises suspicions that there are plans to engage those groups in similar violence in the future,” Karanja said.

Tens of thousands of internally displaced people still live in camps and cannot go back to their home areas - a testament to the lingering hostility between communities, said David Malombe, an official at the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

And some politicians continue to fan the flames.

In December, the Hague-based International Criminal Court prosecutor named key suspects he wants the court to investigate for masterminding the post-election violence.

Soon after, allies of the six suspects said the ICC’s investigations were targeting certain tribes and ignoring others.

Three politicians now face charges of hate speech after being shown on TV asking people from other tribes to move out of the constituencies they represent if they voted for a new constitution.

One episode of high-stakes brinkmanship between the president and prime minister last month showed a glimmer of hope for the country though.

Kibaki nominated four candidates to top government jobs, but Odinga said he had not been consulted. Kibaki eventually withdrew the nominations after local and international groups said he had made the nominations unconstitutionally.

Tired of waiting for their leaders to unite the country, some Kenyans are now making a push to reach out to each other to avert future fighting.

A movement that spread through Facebook and Twitter asked Kenyans to sing the national anthem as a sign of unity on Monday, the anniversary of the peace agreement brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan.

Alison Ngibuini, one of the organisers, said the initiative was a call for people to soul search on what unity means and what is at stake for Kenya.

“We intend to peacefully and creatively rally Kenyans by pushing for a positive national identity in an attempt to counter and defeat negative ethnicity,” Ngibuini said.

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