Saturday, January 05, 2008

Kenyan violence affects aid programs

Up to 100,000 people are facing starvation in western Kenya due to election-related violence. While the leaders continue to be in stalemate in Nairobi, the World Food Program (WFP) has warned that 100,000 people in the Northern Rift Valley are in “critical need of food”. This part of Kenya has seen some of the worst violence including the burning of the church in Eldoret that killed 35 people seeking refuge. Trucks carrying WFP food remain stranded have been prevented for days from entering western Kenya because of insecurity. The violence is also affecting shipment of WFP food to Uganda, southern Sudan, Somalia and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Vigilantes have set up checkpoints and transporters in Mombasa refuse to move trucks out of the port without escorts. Fuel shortages have meant that UN humanitarian flights to Somalia carrying aid workers and cargo such as medicine have also been cancelled. Meanwhile in western Kenya the UN estimates 180,000 people have been displaced by the unrest which has officially killed 360 people so far. The violence flared up after the disputed election result which saw incumbent president Mwai Kibaki re-elected at the expense of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Raila's party has demanded fresh presidential elections but may accept a coalition arrangement. "This is about a democracy and justice," said Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. "We shall continue to defend and promote the right of Kenyans so that the democratic process should be fulfilled.” Kibaki has now said he will accept calls for a rerun of a disputed election but only if a court orders it. Kenya’s High Court could annul the vote as illegal, which would force a new vote. South African bishop Desmond Tutu held talks with both men last week and said they were both “open to the possibilities of negotiations."

For that to happen, however, the violence needs to stop. There are signs things are slowly coming back to normal. The overnight death toll on Friday was fewer than 10, compared with the more than 300 people killed in a few days earlier this week. The security ring around Nairobi was relaxed overnight allowing free movement of commuter buses, private vehicles and pedestrians for the first time since Sunday. Hundreds of Odinga’s supporters attempted to protest in the capital yesterday but were forced to disperse by paramilitary police using tear gas.

Many media accounts have focussed on the ethnic dimension in the violence. Kibeki and his hardcore supporters belong to the Kikuyu group while Odinga draws his support from the Luo group. The majority of the victims so far are Kikuyus who make up 22 per cent of the population and are Kenya’s largest ethnic group. However the Foreign Policy Watch blog warns that this aspect should not be exaggerated. They point out that Kikuyus and Luos (as well as other groups) cooperated in the National Rainbow Coalition that brought Kibaki to power in the first place. It places stronger blame on the endemic corruption at the heart of Kenyan society.

When Kibaki was elected in 2002, there were great hopes that Kenya had turned the corner and that he would be the man to reform the nation. But they proved to be false hopes. The opposition to Kibaki this time was especially intense among the poor jobless youths who had voted overwhelmingly for change. In their view, a ruling clique that had stolen billions of dollars in a period of five years had stolen the elections. According to Horace Campbell, this verdict was obscured by ethnic alienation and the constant refrain “that the crisis and killings emanated from deep 'tribal' hostilities.” Campbell argues this won’t change until there is a break from “looting, extra judicial killings, rape and violation of women, and general low respect for African lives.”

The poor state of Kenya’s prison system is symptomatic of wider ranging social, political, judicial and economic stagnation in the country. Prisoners are subject to dehumanising conditions and the remand system can leave the accused waiting for years for a trial. At Kamiti maximum security prison space is so tight that if one prisoner turns while sleeping, all must turn. Prison officer David Mwania said the situation was common in all Kenya jails. Mwania said the problems were due to lack of funds to provide for basic essentials for inmates. “Simply, the system cannot cope anymore,” he said.

No comments: