KENYA: Tensions high as Annan-brokered talks begin

Friday, February 1, 2008

The "official dialogue process" began on 29 January between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), even as violence that has ravaged the country since late December continued to spread, with the latest casualty a Member of Parliament who was shot dead outside his home in Nairobi, the capital.

Pledging his commitment to the process of national healing and reconciliation, Kibaki announced that 32 fully-equipped police stations would be built in parts of the country affected by the violence. He said Ksh700 million (US$10 million) had already been committed to this project.

ODM leader Raila Odinga also committed himself to the dialogue process but maintained that the most urgent issue facing the country was the resolution of the "deeply flawed" presidential elections that have resulted in violence in many parts of the country.

Both leaders condemned the killing of the MP for Embakasi constituency in Nairobi, Mellitus Mugabe Were.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told IRIN the police was treating the case as murder, "but this man was a politician and you can never rule out anything".

The MP's killing fuelled the already high political tension across the country. Hundreds of people have been killed and at least 255,000 displaced since the violence started soon after an announcement by the Electoral Commission of Kenya declaring Kibaki winner of the 27 December 2007 presidential elections.

Were, who won the seat on an ODM ticket, was shot dead as he returned home in the early hours of 29 January.

"We have put together a very competent [investigations] team," Kiraithe said, adding that the police were not ruling out a political motive for the murder.

He said ODM was free to send an investigator of its choice to join the police inquiry team to avoid any suspicions of a cover-up.

However, ODM leader Raila Odinga said the killing was nothing less than an assassination.

"This was an assassination; planned and executed by ODM's enemies," he said on local television. "How can the police spokesman dismiss it as a common murder yet no investigation has been carried out?"

When the news of the MP's killing spread, trouble started in various areas of the city, with reports that four people were killed in chaos that erupted in the Kibera slum, in the constituency represented by Odinga.

A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said rowdy youths had created boundaries in sections of the slums, depending on their ethnicity.

"The gangs, armed with machetes and all sorts of crude weapons, have created borders that members of the different ethnic groups dare not cross," the journalist said.

Earlier, Kiraithe said the police had prevented youths from Kibera slum and Umoja residential area from taking to the streets to protest at Were's murder.

"Right now the situation is under control," he said. "People out to destroy lives and property will not be treated with kid gloves."

However, tension remained high across the country as an African Union-mandated team, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, held its first national reconciliation meeting with Kibaki and Odinga, who have nominated three members each to lead their parties in the negotiations.

Annan arrived in the country last week and has already held meetings with the two groups as well as other stakeholders. He has also visited camps for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Education crisis in Samburu

Meanwhile, in the far-flung northern district of Samburu, school has yet to start as teachers and parents continue to avoid the area due to fear caused by the post-election violence.

Education officials said on 28 January that a number of teachers from outside the district had already secured transfers to their home district or to other areas they considered safe.

The Samburu executive secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, Raphael Lesaloit, said the district was experiencing a shortage of teachers and appealed to the government to consider recruiting local graduates to replace teachers who had moved out of the district.

"We already had a shortage of teachers in the district; the situation is worse now because more teachers have left out of fear and some have secured transfers to other areas," Lesaloit said.

Some parents who fled the area following attacks soon after the election results had yet to return.

Moreover, local schools have yet to receive teaching materials and funds for free primary education. A teacher at a school in Maralal, the district's headquarters, said they would have to send home children who had reported to school or demand money from their parents because the government had not sent any money.

Government services in the district have also been affected as several public servants have left, with the worst affected offices the ministry of health, veterinary and livestock services.

At the same time, workers at hotels in Samburu and Isiolo districts have been sent home after tourist cancellations.

Fabian Lolosoli, a member of the Samburu Tourism Cultural Group, said the cancellations and difficulties getting livestock to market had deprived many families of income.

"The government and donors are focusing their attention on the internally displaced in areas affected by conflict whilst we are suffering in silence,” Lolosoli said.

"Intervention measures to help Kenyans affected by the chaos should also take our plight into consideration," he said.

Source: IRIN