Kenya- Post election violence update

NAIROBI, Kenya — “We hurriedly buried the seven in the shallow grave and fled due to fears of attacks,” explained cattle farmer Joseph Mwangi-Macharia last month as armed police accompanying him went through the motions of unearthing the bodies of his entire family, unwitting victims of the violence that followed Kenya’s disputed December 2007 election.

“This was my lovely wife. They decapitated her when she pleaded that they spare her 18-year-old granddaughter,” said the 52-year old Mwangi-Macharia amid sobs, “Why in God’s name did they have to kill her in this fashion?”

As the seven bodies were interred in Kenya’s Rift Valley province, a flashpoint of some of the deadliest intertribal skirmishes, a moral dilemma was also confronting Kenya’s people and leaders: Would a blanket amnesty for perpetrators of crimes against humanity — such as those who wiped out Macharia’s entire family — be a pragmatic way for the country to get past recent events? Or would it constitute an injustice of epic proportions, given the circumstances that led to the formation of the now two-month-old coalition government?About 1,500 people were killed and 355,000 others displaced from their homes soon after the controversial results of Kenya’s presidential elections were announced in December. Now the country is wrestling with how to deal with that reality while preserving a fragile peace.

“The remote perpetrators, leaders and planners of the type of violations witnessed in Kenya must never be exempted under any circumstances. To do so would be a travesty of justice,” said Maina Kiai, executive director of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC), a government-funded organization.

According to Kenyan police spokesman Eric Kiraithe, 12,000 people are awaiting trial for crimes related to the post-election violence, while another 340 suspects whose identity is known are yet to be apprehended.Georgette Gagnon, Africa program director at Human Rights Watch, says her organization has evidence against leaders of Prime Minister Rail Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for helping to incite the ethnic violence, and she cautions against playing the amnesty card.The violence was triggered by the widespread perception that Kibaki, an alumnus of the prestigious London School of Economics, stole the election from opposition politician Raila Odinga, an East German-trained mechanical engineer.

According the government-appointed Electoral Commission of Kenya, Kibaki won 4.5 million votes compared to the Odinga’s 4.3 million. But independent observers accused the commission of engaging in fraud to put Kibaki over the top.To stem the spiral of violence that threatened to tear the country asunder, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan attempted to negotiate an acceptable political settlement between the two parties.In April, Kibaki and Odinga settled for a power-sharing arrangement that saw the former grudgingly give up some of his executive power to the latter, who now serves as prime minister in the so-called “grand coalition” government of the country’s two largest rival parties, a first such coalition in Africa.But the power-sharing by the two antagonists has been anything but calm as their respective camps have disagreed on practically everything, including amnesty. The battle for political succession in 2012, when the next polls are scheduled, continues to undermine the cohesiveness of the government.

On the amnesty question, Odinga’s ODM favors an unconditional release of all those suspected of taking part in the violence, while Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) seeks due process for all suspects.
“Many of those being held were acting as our vigilantes whose only crime was to ensure that a free and fair election took place. But the police force has been biased in the whole issue. Only ODM people were picked up. I have raised the issue with President Kibaki severally and we expect the matter to be resolved expeditiously,” Odinga told a public rally in late May.He added: “I don’t think we should be talking about giving amnesty to those already in custody because they committed no crime. Is it a crime to fight for your democratic rights? Or is it a crime to stand and say that last year’s elections were rigged?”

Henry Kosgey, ODM chairman and the country’s minister for industrialization, also believes genuine reconciliation will only be achieved if the government releases the suspects unconditionally.”There should be no double application of the law,” Kosgey said recently. “Youths that butchered people in the name of defending Kibaki have never been arrested but ours are rotting in the cells.”Meanwhile, others, including world-renowned Kenyan novelist and playwright Ngugi wa Thiong’o, say the reality of election rigging cannot justify the violence committed in retaliation for that crime, and are urging the U.N. to probe the killings.

“I . . . call upon the United Nations to act and investigate the massacres that took place in Kenya as crimes against humanity and let the chips fall where they may,” Thiong’o told the BBC in January.

“For the sake of justice, healing and peace now and in the future I urge all progressive forces not too be so engrossed with the political wrongs of election tampering that they forget the crimes of hate and ethnic cleansing — crimes that led to untimely deaths and displacement of thousands,” he added.Conspicuously, President Kibaki has so far remained above the fray, though his PNU allies are unanimously agreed that nothing should get in the way of justice for the perpetrators.

“Whether the investigations come from the international scene or from our own jurisdiction does not really matter. What is important is that they are done and those found guilty charged accordingly,” said Martha Karua, minister for justice, national cohesion and constitutional affairs.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also in agreement with his fellow party members, has a message for those who committed violence: “You can run for 20 years but the law will still catch up with you,” he said. “Take for instance the case of Felecian Kabuga, the fugitive Rwandan who is still being pursued for having had a role in the genocide that took place in 1994. Those who were involved in crimes against humanity here are undeserving of amnesty.”

Meanwhile, some arguably more independent observers contend that the nation’s political culture must be cleansed of its tradition of deception if Kenya is to move forward.

“Kenya is a country that is built on a shaky foundation of half-truths with regard to its past,” said human rights lawyer Njonjo Mui. “If we are to survive and reinvent ourselves as a nation, we must discover our truth and urgently deploy it to the task of truly setting us free.”

Indeed, the most recent violence is part of a well-established history of interethnic strife, particular at election time. Such clashes also have occurred in 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2006.

Paul Wanyande, a lecturer of political science at the University of Nairobi, traces the roots of election-related violence to former President Daniel Arap Moi, who he says pursued a political strategy of balkanizing the country “into tribal fiefdoms.”

“Unfortunately, when a new administration ascended to power in 2002, it encouraged impunity when it dithered on acting on myriad official reports that had named and shamed individuals linked to past human rights violations,” said Wanyande.

Amnesty International also has added its voice to those who want a full investigation of the post-election abuses and killings.

“Amnesty International wants the African Commission and the Kenya Government to prioritize an investigation into the human rights violations and abuses perpetrated during the post-election period,” said the organization’s Africa program director, Erwin van der Borght. “Impunity for human rights violations will only store up problems for Kenya’s future.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating whether to bring charges against those involved in the violence.


6 thoughts on “Kenya- Post election violence update

  1. he Kenyan government says Operation Rudi Nyumbani — Return Home in Kiswahili — is almost complete; most of the camps for internally displaced people are closed and the remaining IDPs will be resettled within a week or two. But the hastily implemented programme is being called into question by Kenya’s civil society and human rights activists.

    “Only a fraction of IDPs have returned,” says Prisca Kamungi of the IDPs Advocacy and Policy Centre in Nairobi, “And those who have are not able to rebuild their homes or resume normal life as most of them are living in make-shift camps near their farms and the local communities remain hostile and unwelcoming.”

    Very few people have actually moved back to or been able to rebuild their homes. Instead, the returnees are living in tents they were given when they were moved from the camps, according to Kamungi. In official government jargon, these new clusters of tents, far from the public eye in rural areas, are called Satellite Camps. The U.N. designates them as Transit Camps.

    At the peak of the violence, the United Nations Secretary General’s representative on IDPs estimated that there were between 350,000 and 500,000 internally displaced persons. In February 2008, more than 300,000 of them had been registered in 300 camps nationwide. But these statistics provide only a partial picture as it was also estimated by the U.N. that an equal number of IDPs were living with friends and family.

    In May, the government decided that as envisaged in the national peace accord brokered by the former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, those living in camps across the Rift Valley and Nairobi should return home. The fact that the planting season begins in May and June was added impetus to resettle small farmers and farm workers before the growing season is lost.

    The government has refused to pay any compensation — a source of resentment among the returning IDPs — but it has promised to provide other assistance such as provision of seeds and agricultural implements.

    And while the demand for compensation and assistance money is souring government’s relations with IDP groups, in some areas like Sugoi in Uasin Gishu, the epicentre of clashes in Rift Valley, local communities are demanding amnesty for those arrested and charged with involvement in the violence that followed the disputed election as a prerequisite to resettlement.

    Joyce Njeri, whose family has lived in a camp at the Eldoret Showground for two months, says her family was eager to return home despite the unwelcoming residents and conditions. “But as soon as they reached Sugoi, local youths drove them back saying there cannot be resettlement without amnesty.”

    The Kibaki-led grand coalition remains divided on these two issues. Agriculture Minister William Ruto and other Orange Democratic Movement politicians from the Rift Valley are campaigning for amnesty, while the Party of National Unity of President Kibaki is opposed to the idea.

    Monitors’ verdict

    The United Nation’s assessment of Rudi Nyumbani observes that “most farmers with land went back voluntarily, and except for a few well-publicised instances, which were responded to by the government, returns were not coerced per se.”

    Kenyan civil society has a more critical verdict. A report released on Jun. 24 by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) finds the government plan deeply flawed.

    “While carrying out the resettlement exercise, (the) government has been flouting internationally accepted standards and thresholds that govern resettlement programs globally,” the report says. The commission, an independent body instituted by parliament in 2002, has done case studies of north, south and central parts of Rift Valley — the province worst hit by the violence — as well as Nairobi.

    The commission concludes that, with the exception of a few areas, the “exercise has taken the form of movement from bigger camps to smaller camps in areas near or adjacent to the farms of the displaced persons.”

    “There are generally poor living conditions in the new/transitory camps there is no basic sanitation and water facilties. Humanitarian organisations are now having a new challenge delivering supplies to the many small camps,” says the KNCHR assessment.

    Though the report does not allege coerced or forced resettlement, the commissioners note that in some cases the displaced were “induced specifically by officers of the provincial administration” to leave the camps and go home. Those who have returned have not been given enough information on the situation back on the farms.

    The commission’s observers also fault the government for pushing through the resettlement process even as “almost in all places visited by the team… no peace meetings were held between different communities ahead of the resettlement exercise. It appears that the government took the approach that peace initiatives will be carried out after the IDPs are settled back to their farms.”

    Out of sight, out of mind

    Prisca Kamungi of the IDPs Advocacy and Policy Centre says the statistics on IDP returns are exaggerated. She told IPS that the objective of the government’s policy is to clean up Kenya’s image by “pushing the displaced people off the radar.”

    Far from signaling that reconciliation is taking place, the closure of the IDP camps is a cosmetic exercise.

    “They want to show the world that after the national peace accord the country is back to ‘normal’. The effect of this policy is that rather than living in big camps, the displaced will be scattered around,” says Kamungi.

    Ms Kamungi says that because of the international spotlight, the Kibaki government has taken a different approach to that taken by President Daniel Arap Moi’s government in the 1990s.

    “In the 1990s, the government of President Moi was able to remove the camps and displaced people through violent means because Kenya was not in the limelight then. One of the consequences of that was more slums in urban areas. This government cannot adopt the same methods but its policy is equally ill-conceived and will bring the same results,” says Kamungi. “When does displacement end? Are those driven out of camps in 1995 and who had nowhere to go other than to the slums still displaced and in need of resettlement?”

    The Kenya Human Rights Commission reported that about 300,000 people were displaced in election-related clashes in 1992. In the Rift Valley, the end of the elections was not followed by the return of the displaced to their former land. Rather, those who had camped at market, church and school compounds were violently dispersed.

    “In 1994, the Maela camp near Naivasha was burnt to the ground; it had more than 10,000 IDPs from the Narok area,” says Kamungi. Public outcry and extensive media coverage and criticism led to the resettlement of 200 of them in an arid government-owned land near Maela, not to their former fertile lands.

    “The others, considered ‘outsiders’, were put in government trucks and dumped at Ndaragwa, Kiriti stadium and Ol Kalau in central province, the ‘ancestral’ homeland of the Kikuyu. They were left stranded; not helped to settle in Central Province. Consequently, a large number of these landless, disenfranchised people found their way into shopping centres, the streets of Nairobi and slum areas.,” says Kamungi, who wrote a report for the Jesuit Refugee Service on the 1992 displacement.

    The mode of resettlement has been slightly different in 2008, though the result is much similar.

    Kamungi also noted that only those who have no other support system ended up in IDP camps in the first place. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people who had either family members in other areas with the means to support them or the money to establish themselves independently in a new location did not end up in camps. And most of these integrated internally displaced people, as they are known, are excluded from resettlement plans.

    Kamungi believes that a comprehensive policy is required to address the long-standing problem of resettling the displaced people, who have been in focus this year only because the violence caught international attention.

    Peter Karanja of the National Council of Churches in Kenya, has a different take on Operation Rudi Nyumbani. This exercise, he told IPS, “must be seen in light of the humanitarian situation the IDPs have been subjected to.

    “They have been in camps for several months. Some have gone without adequate food, shelter and other basic amenities. The spread of HIV/AIDs has also been reported in the camps. Children were dying due to adverse weather condition,” says Karanja, whose organisation is one of the church groups that were the first to respond to the crisis.

    He also notes that this is the planting season in most parts of the Rift Valley where the majority of the IDPs came from. Given the squalid conditions in the camps, he believes prompt resettlement will mitigate their suffering even “as politicians engage in endless controversy over when, how and by whom should the IDPs be settled.”

    But Karanja objects to how resettlement has been handled. “The government moved virtually alone without involving other actors. Physical resettlement should have been accompanied by a deliberate and rigorous engagement in a broad process of peace building and reconciliation.”

    That goal seems distant as even the major political groups within the government fail to speak with one voice. “Peace building amongst the politicians from both sides is a prerequisite as their conflicting statements are undermining and hindering the return to normalcy,” says Peter Karanja.

    Joseph Macharia, who worked as an aid-delivery volunteer with an NGO in a camp in Naivasha, another lakeside Rift Valley town with IDP camps, says that like most other contentious issues the grand coalition is dealing with, the IDPs have become a political football to be kicked around. “The problem is being buried, not resolved. It will re-emerge even if Operation Rudi Nyumbani is officially declared a success and all the camps are closed.”


  3. many IDPS still languish in makeshift camps away from the limelight.Now, we want to forgive the ‘BOYS’, what about the victims.Unless the rule of law was suspended for election,let anybody found guilty be punished accordingly.

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