Raila demands release of ODM youth

Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, has demanded the release of youths arrested for ethnic and political clashes that erupted following disputed elections in December 2007.

Raila has also called for the prosecution of Kenyan police officers over the deaths of hundreds of supporters of his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) during the violence.

ODM is accusing the Kenyan government of detaining hundreds, if not thousands, of its youth following political and ethnic clashes in the first quarter of 2008. The youths were charged with rioting, murder, arson, rape and blocking highways. The country’s railway network was also vandalized by supporters of the Prime Minister. Kenya’s security forces have denied detaining ODM youth, saying that most of those arrested were given bonds while awaiting trial.

The violence caused the deaths of close to 1,000 people. Raila Odinga of ODM was running against President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU) in a tight contest. President Kibaki was declared winner with a small margin, but Raila and ODM rejected the results as rigged. ODM supporters took to the streets against the government.

As with most of Africa, both ODM and PNU were supported by rival tribes, and PNU supporters became the target of ODM attacks. Hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu, Kisii and Kamba were evicted from ODM strongholds in Nyanza, Western and Rift Valley provinces for supporting Kibaki. In retaliation, Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya were pushed out of Central and Eastern Kenya. At one point, it seemed as though Kenya would be partitioned into two. By March this year, at least half a million people were homeless, seeking refuge in sordid camps across the country.

Most of the ethnic attacks were in ODM strongholds, but Raila has said the violence was a spontaneous reaction to flawed elections and that there was no ethnic cleansing agenda. The party cites the shooting of 80 people in Kisumu, as evidence of state repression against peaceful demonstrators, a claim the government denies. Human rights bodies and aid agencies believe that slightly over 30% of total deaths were caused by police shootings. The rest were a result of machete attacks, lynchings and arson.

International mediation efforts led by former UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, and supported by the United States, resulted in a coalition government. Kibaki retained the presidency and a new post of Prime Minister was created to accomodate Raila. 42 ministers were appointed from ODM, PNU and ODM-Kenya, a splinter group of ODM.

ODM is convinced that it was robbed of victory in the elections while PNU accuses ODM of muscling its way into government. Though the coalition is holding, analysts say that supporters of Raila and Kibaki were unhappy with the compromise. The United States told both leaders that they must ensure the survival of the coalition in order for Kenya to remain peaceful and to continue playing its role as an American ally in the region.

The Prime Minister is facing growing pressure from ODM rank and file who resent his growing ties with President Kibaki and the Kikuyu ethnic group. Raila’s latest remarks could be viewed as a move to assure his supporters that ODM ideals are very much alive.

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