Kenya’s newly formed coalition government is divided over how to deal with thousands of people arrested in connection with the post-election violence which was sparked by the country’s disputed presidential poll. Divisions have emerged among ministers allied to Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party (ODM) and President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) over the issue of amnesty.
Ministers in the premier’s party are calling for amnesty, an appeal rejected by their counterparts in the president’s party. “ODM called for protests and PNU ordered police to shoot at the youths to quell the protests. The police were as guilty as anyone,” said Agriculture Minister William Ruto.
“This is a matter that decides whether our country is under the rule of law or the rule of the jungle. There is due process to be followed before the youths are released,” said Justice Minister Martha Karua.Thousands of people are still being held by the police in connection with violence in December and January that killed over 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Many of those arrested were from the Kalenjin ethnic group in the Rift Valley or from the western city of Kisumu, who were supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, now the prime minister.
Several of the lawmakers from these areas are calling for amnesty for those being held, a call that was echoed by the premier during his visit to the Rift Valley. Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said on Wednesday the issue whether to forgive those who committed crimes after the Dec.27 elections will be discussed in the cabinet on Thursday. And his Information counterpart Samuel Porghisio downplayed rifts among ministers over the handling of the post-election violence suspects. “What we have witnessed is individual opinion of some MPs. Amnesty was never an issue of agreement or disagreement during the(Kofi) Annan-led talks,” he said. Energy Assistant Minister Charles Keter said most of those arrested were engaged in political protests against what they perceived as a stolen election. “We (MPs) are their products. This is the time we should pardon each other; we will not stop agitating for their release,” said Keter. “These people were fighting for their rights. I feel that if we have a coalition government which is trying to reconcile Kenyans, they should be given amnesty,” he said.
But key figures in President Kibaki’s party have rejected calls for amnesty, saying those responsible for serious crimes should be brought to justice.”Thorough investigations should be conducted and those who killed should be charged with murder. Those who set houses ablaze should face arson charges,” said Dick Wathika, an assistant minister for public works. Those who support amnesty argue that the arrests inexplicably targeted communities supporting Odinga, while supporters of the president who committed crimes in towns like Naivasha and Nakuru received less attention from the police. “We have people who were murdered in Naivasha. The people who murdered them were seen by the police and the police never arrested a single one of them. Human heads were used to block roads in Naivasha and the police saw it and they never arrested a single person holding a human head,” said Prof. Ayiecho Olweny, education assistant minister. Supporters of amnesty also argue that most of those arrested are young people who likely had little role in organizing crimes. Some members of the president’s party including human rights officials agree.
“These are basically youth who are used by other people, so my thinking is that we need to have a structured amnesty program, nota blanket amnesty,” said Lee Kinjanjui, a legislator.
Hassan Omar Hassan of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights said the Amnesty debate has become politicized. “What is happening from both sides is that the debate has taken an ethnic dimension, it has taken a partisan position, it has taken grounding within the framework of personalities,” he said. “We cannot politicize matters of great national importance to that point. And I think it will not do any Kenyan any good if that were the trend this discussion were to take.” As divisions persist, analysts said the fate of the post-election violence suspects remain in the hands of the cabinet which is expected to discuss the issue by the end of the day.