Amnesty debate splits giant cabinet

Kenya’s giant cabinet is split between prosecuting or forgiving perpetrators of ethnic and political violence that left 1,500 dead early this year.

Cabinet ministers and members of parliament allied to President Mwai Kibaki want the perpetrators, planners and financiers of the violence prosecuted and jailed for the violence that left 350,000 dead. On the other hand, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his allies say that youths arrested for crimes committed during the violence were, “fighting for democracy,” and that police were just as much to blame for the killings.

Politicians from Prime Minister Odinga’s ODM Party say the actions of their youth were responsible for the formation of the giant coalition and therefore the youth should be rewarded rather than punished. During the violence, supporters of President Kibaki and his PNU Party were hounded out of their homes and many were killed. In Western Kenya, roads were blocked, railway lines uprooted, bridges vandalized and entire commercial centres razed to the ground.

Kikuyu politicians say that giving a blanket amnesty to perpetrators of crime would create a bad precedent in the country. “I might as well go to Kamiti Prison and release all the convicts,” said Justice Minister, Martha Karua. Many of the victims of the clashes were Kikuyu. They were evicted from ODM strongholds for voting for Kibaki. The Kikuyu are resented for dominating commerce away from their own ethnic homelands hence the looting and destruction of shops and other businesses.

Communities such as the Luo, Kalenjin, Luhya and the coastal groups that supported ODM are growing increasingly worried about the presence of Kikuyu in their areas. Indeed, the ODM capitalized on this resentment to campaign against President Kibaki who is a Kikuyu.

Kikuyu politicians are under pressure from the displaced to negotiate a return to their property. Therefore politicians from both sides would not want to appear as going against their community interests.

The violence between January and March this year erupted following disputed general elections held in December 2007. It was a head to head presidential contest between Mwai Kibaki of the PNU party and Raila Odinga of ODM. Latent ethnic animosities were whipped up by both sides during the campaigns.

Kibaki was declared as the winner and subsequently inaugurated for a second presidential term, but the ODM claimed the elections were rigged. Its supporters launched violent attacks against the Kikuyu and other Kibaki supporters in western Kenya, Rift Valley, Coast and Nairobi.

By the end of January 2008, the Kikuyu launched their own reprisal attacks in Limuru, Naivasha and Nakuru resulting in the deaths and displacement of Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya groups resident in those areas. ODM says the Kikuyu employed the services of Mungiki, which itself is an illegal organization.

Internationally sponsored talks resulted in the current giant coalition with Kibaki as President and Raila as Prime Minister. However, animosities between their supporters in the countryside run deep. Many of the displaced fear returning to their homes and businesses for fear of attack. In the Rift Valley, Kikuyu who tried to return have come under attack from the Kalenjin. Their former homes have been taken over and farms subdivided and renamed.

One Kalenjin Member of Parliament has said that if the Kikuyu cultivate their former farms in the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin will come to harvest the crop.

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