Kibaki buried ethnic reconciliation last Thursday

Kenya’s Grand Coalition last Thursday buried the country’s feeble efforts at ethnic reconciliation. The shreds of national healing were laid to rest together with the bodies of victims of the Kiambaa Church attacks.
 

Youths armed with crude weapons during political and ethnic clashes in Kenya. Picture by AFP.

Youths armed with crude weapons during political and ethnic clashes in Kenya. Picture by AFP.

38 bodies were buried at the Kiambaa church compound in a poorly organized ceremony led by President Mwai Kibaki. The victims were members of the Kikuyu tribe killed during the 2008 post election violence for supporting the President. President Kibaki is Kikuyu.

Kibaki, as usual, messed up what would have been a major milestone in Kenyan history. Instead of the mass funerals contributing to national healing, they have worsened inter-ethnic relations in Kenya. The situation is so bad that there are fears the bodies may be dug up by elements unhappy with the mass funeral.

As a pointer to how low the Kenyan state has sunk, Kibaki’s chief rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga skipped the ceremony. The entire rank and file of Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party were missing at the ceremony. Even local elders and youths from the Kalenjin tribe opted to stay away, making the funeral an exclusively Kikuyu affair.

In a country where support for the President and Prime Minister split the country into two resulting in ethnic clashes last year, the Kiambaa events bode ill for Kenya’s future. Though the Grand Coalition is to blame, Kibaki’s poor handling of the funeral potrays his contempt for peace and reconciliation in Kenya.

ODM legislators say they were not involved in planning for the mass funeral. They were not invited either. Even Prime Minister Raila Odinga was apparently not aware that a mass funeral was in the offing. Government Chief Whip George Thuo, a key Kibaki ally, sent out mobile phone text messages to ODM leaders just hours to the funeral. Neither was the local ODM Member of Parliament kept abreast of events.

ODM has argued that President Kibaki did not attend the funerals of ODM supporters killed in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru and Kisumu and the President was displaying ethnic discrimination by attending funerals of Kikuyu victims.

What should have been a sober moment of national soul-searching was turned into a mockery. This is the tragedy in which Kenyan leaders have driven the country. It is akin to having September 11 commemorations in the United States turned into a black-white or Republican-Democrat affair. Kenyan politicians simply lack a sense of shame as they turn politics into the national staple diet.

As Head of State, Kibaki should have ensured the total participation of all of Kenya’s political leaders. It is difficult to understand why elders in the vicinity and the area member of parliament were not involved. Kikuyu and Kalenjin families had lived peacefully together for decades until political incitement ruined that harmony. Kibaki should have created a situation that would enable the affected communities to remember the peaceful lives they shared until recently.

Kibaki should have engaged with Kalenjin leaders in a dialogue that could bring the Kalenjin community into participating in the mass funeral. The points of difference between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin are not as far apart as they appear. Indeed, Kalenjin political king-pin, William Ruto, has stated that the fighting was not about land but instead, it was political. That proves that Kenya does not need to wait for constitutional and land reforms to attain lasting peace in the country. If political differences between Kikuyu and Kalenjin leaders can be resolved, then incidences of clashes will be stopped.

At the national level, Kibaki should have consulted with ODM and personally invited them to the mass funeral. Had they been approached well in advance, it is very likely that Raila, Ruto and the rest of the ODM fraternity would have jumped at this rare opportunity to put the 2008 clashes behind us. There would have been speeches of forgiveness, co-operation and peace. People from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes would have seen their leaders preach peace together. This alone would have made a major psychological impact.

But then, it is possible the funerals were never about national reconciliation. Kibaki is obsessed with returning the country to “normalcy” hence his decision to erase all marks of the post election violence. The president has ordered the closure of camps that hosted internally displaced persons. Those who were camping along major national highways have been pushed deep into the interior where they are out of sight.

Kibaki has been eager to get rid of the bodies of the Kiambaa Church for a long time and the mass funeral was the culmination of Kibaki’s displeasure at being constantly reminded of the plight of 2008 clash victims. The bodies that were buried on Thursday have been lying at the Moi Teaching and Referral hospital since January 2008.

A few months ago, the government was caught secretly burying the bodies with the help of the police. There was a public outcry and the scheme was abandoned. The Kikuyu were bewildered by Kibaki’s evil act. Last Thursday, Kibaki finally succeeded in getting rid of the bodies while masquerading the event as a state funeral.

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Tanks on the move in weapons saga

The saga continues to unfold concerning the T-72 tanks that arrived in February after 4 months in the hands of Somali pirates.

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With the whole world convinced that Kenya was helping the government of Southern Sudan bust a United Nations arms embargo, the Kenya Army laid claim to the weapons. Top military commanders said that the tanks were part of an arms acquisition programme and that Kenyan crews had even been trained in use of the tanks.

Most analysts knew that it was only a matter of time before the tanks began the journey to their real destination: Southern Sudan. The predictions seem to have come true, with reports that a column of tanks has been seen in the northern Rift Valley province in the past week. This is where the highway to Sudan passes through.

Defence spokesman Bogita Ongeri, however denies claims that the tanks were heading to Southern Sudan. Instead, Bogita said that the tanks were being transported to participate in “military exercises” in the northern Rift Valley districts.

What makes the events interesting is a visit to Kenya by a top official of the Southern Sudan administration at around the same time. Rumours indicate that the Sudanese official had arrived to “inspect” the tanks. The Kenyan government, of course, denied the claims.

Despite repeated statements by the government, most people in Kenya are convinced that the tanks belong to Southern Sudan. Kenya traditionally sources its weapons from Western countries and shifting to Russian weaponry would signify a major shift in military strategy.

A ship carrying the 33 tanks was hijacked by Somali pirates in September 2008. If it wasn’t for the pirates, its highly likely that the weapons would have been in Sudan by now. After all, it was not the first time that Russian built tanks had been delivered to Mombasa in preceding months. The previous consignments were secretly shipped to Southern Sudan.

The ship, the MV Faina, was finally released in February 2009 after its owners paid millions of dollars as ransom to the Somali pirates holding it. The ship’s captain died during the 4 month captivity.

Athletes reflect on ethnic massacres

Enough time has passed that Nehemiah Kosgei can be candid about what he did a year ago, when this Rift Valley town famous for producing world-class distance runners gained a grim new notoriety as the center of a shocking explosion of ethnic violence in Kenya.

Sipping a soda on a hotel patio, the lean, 31-year-old marathoner calmly explained how he used a friend’s sedan to ferry hundreds of poison-tipped arrows to Eldoret. In nearby villages, men from his Kalenjin tribe launched the traditional weapons at rival Kikuyus to avenge a disputed presidential election.

Grisly stories seem to hang in the air above Kenya’s Rift Valley, where many of the country’s world-class runners train.

You can read more of this on the Christian Science Monitor >>

Why Uhuru and Ruto will face The Hague

They both started out in the same political party. They were both mentored by the same man: Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s second president. They are regarded as the youthful vanguard of Kenya’s politics and who will chart a new course when the old autocrats leave the scene.

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The two parted ways in the months leading to the 2007 General Election, with one supporting his baptismal godfather. The other supported the arch-enemy of his political godfather.

Now, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Samoei Ruto find themselves on the same boat once again. They will soon find themselves facing war crime prosecution at the International Criminal Court in the Dutch city called The Hague.

Uhuru and Ruto will share the dubious distinction of being the first Kenyans subjected to an international judicial process. At The Hague, they will be joining the likes of Charles Taylor, Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Jean Pierre Bemba.

Interesting how fate turns out. Uhuru and Ruto are victims of a geriatric political system that seeks to use and dump the youth and thereby frustrate the rise of fresh leaders.

There is no doubt that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are capable leaders in their own right. Though coming from opposing backgrounds – Uhuru the son of a former president, Ruto comes from a rural family – they seemingly found common ground in Moi’s KANU party.

With Moi’s guidance and bulldozer tactics, the two rose up the ranks of KANU to become presidential contenders within a very short time. In 2002, Moi settled on Uhuru as his successor, much to the chagrin of the KANU old guard. Ruto bought into Moi’s plan and backed Uhuru to the hilt. Had Uhuru beaten Kibaki in the 2002 elections, Ruto would obviously have become a major player in his administration.

Back in 1992, faced with an opposition onslaught in Kenya’s first multiparty elections since the 1960s, Moi made Ruto the deputy leader of Youth for KANU 92. YK 92 was a campaign outfit that had access to unlimited funds and had only one goal: Moi’s victory at any cost. YK 92 corrupted the Kenyan political system in ways that had never before been seen. The opposition was too broke to compete and Moi won the election.

The face of YK 92 was its leader, Cyrus Jirongo, assisted by Ruto. After the polls, public outrage and diplomatic pressure forced Moi to disband YK 92. Of course, Jirongo and Ruto took the flak while Moi pretended to be unaware of what had taken place.

A similar scenario replayed itself in the controversial 2007 polls, only this time, the stakes and the body count was much higher.

What are the charges against Ruto and Uhuru?

William Ruto joined Raila Odinga’s faction of the ODM Party, where he mobilized his Kalenjin ethnic compatriots to vote for Raila. In this, he came into sharp conflict with his political mentor, Daniel arap Moi, who wanted the Kalenjin to vote for President Kibaki.

Thanks to Moi’s machinations in the years 1992 – 2002, the Kalenjin had developed a heightened sense of ethnic nationalism, especially against the Kikuyu ethnic group. With the Kikuyu supporting President Kibaki, it was just a matter of time before an ethnic conflagration erupted. Ruto, apparently, did not sense this and played into the hands of Kalenjin ethnic purists from the old Moi administration.

In December 2007, violence began in the Rift Valley between the Kalenjin and pro-Kibaki ethnic groups, notably the Kikuyu. Though Moi was now supporting Kibaki, the old purist networks he had established among the Kalenjin re-emerged on the side of Ruto and played a leading role in the clashes. A leading light of Kalenjin nationalism is one Jackson Kibor.

In January 2008, Kibor openly told BBC Radio of his involvement in the ethnic cleansing of Kalenjin land. The recording is widely available on the internet and forms part of the key evidence against Ruto.

During his 2007 presidential bid, Raila visited the Rift Valley on numerous occasions and promised to enact ethnic federalism, or Majimbo, if elected. This is the same rallying call that the Moi networks had used when ethnic clashes first erupted in 1992. Raila could not have been that naïve.

After post elections violence in 2008, Raila went back to the Rift Valley and told the Kalenjin that he did not support the return of ethnic groups evicted during the violence. Raila’s ally, James Orengo, specifically said that migrant communities evicted during post election violence should seek land elsewhere, and not among the Kalenjin.

Was Raila aware that he was playing with fire by courting Kalenjin ethnic purists? Of course he was! But he now pleads ignorance, leaving Ruto to become the scapegoat. Ruto has been left holding the short end of the stick. He will face war crime and genocide charges for the deaths of hundreds of Kikuyu, especially in his hometown of Eldoret.

Ruto is currently grappling with a corruption scandal in his Agriculture ministry. He is accused of allocating his close allies government maize, which they sold for a huge profit while millions of Kenyans starve. Among the names that keep coming up is that of … hold your breathe … Jackson Kibor.

The case against Uhuru Kenyatta is not so clear-cut. Uhuru is accused of financing and planning Kikuyu revenge attacks against the Kalenjin, Luhya and Luo tribes.

In late January 2008, after a month of ethnic victimization, the Kikuyu armed themselves and launched retaliatory attacks in Naivasha and Nakuru. It is said that Uhuru held a meeting at State House with leading Kikuyu personalities to plot the attacks. It is, however, not clear whether President Kibaki (himself a Kikuyu) attended the meeting or if he was aware of the plans.

Unlike Ruto’s case, there are very few witnesses to testify on Uhuru’s involvement in ethnic clashes. If established that Uhuru is guilty, he can plead self defence and provocation. By the end of January, state authority had collapsed in Kenya and the Kikuyu were being attacked from all directions. It was under those circumstances that Kikuyu leaders decided to take matters into their own hands.

The revenge attacks in Naivasha and Nakuru drew the attention of the international community of impending civil war in Kenya. Within days, intervention by regional and world leaders brought to an end most of the violence. The coalition agreement between Kibaki and Raila was signed a month later.

Like Ruto, Uhuru is both a beneficiary and victim of Moi’s political tricks. In 2002, Moi was due for retirement and was determined to prevent KANU leaders including Raila and George Saitoti from assuming the presidency. Moi had spent 5 years wooing Raila into the party with the promise of handing power to him but, in reality, had no intention of doing so.

As it turned out, Moi’s Vice President in the 1980s happened to be opposition leader in 2002. Moi felt he could be comfortable as a retired president with Mwai Kibaki at the helm. What better way of doing this than by destroying KANU’s chances of winning? And what better way of ensuring KANU’s loss than by introducing an unknown, untested candidate with no prospects of winning? This is how Project Uhuru came to be.

Kenya’s youthful leaders cannot take over the mantle of leadership if they continue playing to the tune of the old guards. It is obvious that the likes of Moi, Kibaki and the Odingas have a monopoly over power that they do not wish to relinquish. They will continue to use and dump young politicians in the same old power games of ethnicity and exclusionary politics.

It is time that the young turks rose up and defined their own rules in the power game. Emerging leaders should learn from the experiences of Uhuru and Ruto and never allow themselves to be seduced by money and high office. Of what use is all the wealth in Kenya when you are an international criminal?

As for Uhuru and Ruto, their fates are sealed. To The Hague they must go.

Horror of fuel explosion that killed 120

Video showing the horrors of the fuel explosion in Kenya’s Rift Valley province that killed 120 villagers and motorists.

Robbing the dead is common in Kenya

Yesterday’s disaster on the Nakuru – Eldoret highway symbolizes the moral and intellectual bankruptcy that has afflicted Kenyan society. If it wasn’t for the explosion, the looting of that accident scene would have passed off as a normal event.

Across Kenya, a culture has emerged of looting from road accident victims. Even where dozens lie dead or dying, the first people at the scene will loot as much as possible before offering assistance.

A few years ago, several foreign tourists driving themselves to the Kenyan coast crashed somewhere along the Nairobi – Mombasa highway. A bus crew that happened to be first on the scene proceeded to loot travellers cheques, foreign currency, clothes, jewelery and other valuables. Needless to say, none of the tourists survived.

A similar scenario replayed itself on the same highway when a Kenyan family perished in a grisly road crash. People from nearby villagers were only interested in stealing clothes, money and mobile phones. Those who arrived at the scene much later took away motor vehicle parts for sale as second hand spares.

But a fuel tanker accident is the biggest bonanza that can befall Kenyans living near highways. The looting of fuel is motivated by high oil prices and heavy demand from public transport operators. Men, women and children will rush to the site of a fallen tanker with all kinds of containers. There have been cases where women took cooking pots from their kitchens for use in carrying away fuel!

The fuel is sold to motorists at a discount, hence the heavy demand for stolen fuel. Currently, oil companies are selling petrol at 75 Kenya Shillings (US$1) a litre. Fuel stolen from an accident scene could easily sell for about Kshs60 a litre. This is low enough for motorists looking for bargains but very profitable for a poor villager who got it for free.

A 20 litre jerrycan of petrol siphoned from a tanker could fetch about Kshs1,200 ($16). This is more than most rural Kenyans earn in a month. Indeed, there are villages so poor that no single household will have more than Kshs20 ($0.26) in cash.

Other popular accidents involve trucks carrying consumer goods such as cereals, cooking oil, clothes, detergents and electronics. These are quickly looted and sold off in neighbouring towns, where shop owners are happy to get the goods at low prices.

Trains have not been spared either. A few months ago, a train carrying cereals from the port of Mombasa to the interior derailed in Nairobi’s Kibera slum. People swarmed and broke open the train wagons in order to loot maize and wheat.

In the eastern suburbs of Makadara, a herd of Maasai cows were hit by a goods train that did not stop. Residents of nearby slums converged on the scene with machetes, axes, knives and saws and descended on the dying cows. People carried away chunks of meat as the Maasai herdsmen watched helplessly. In any case, the Maasai had their own fears of prosecution for grazing on a railway line.

Where are the police when these accidents happen?

Majority of Kenyan police stations are located in town centres. Rural areas have few police stations, meaning that when an accident happens, it will be hours before police arrive. By then, most of the cargo will be looted with little attention paid to the injured. This further explains the rather high fatality rate from road accidents in Kenya: lots of people die from injuries that could be treated if they were taken to hospital in time.

In yesterday’s disaster, police found people already looting fuel. Infact, it may well turn out that the police were going elsewhere and just happened to come across the accident. To their credit, the fallen officers tried to secure the crash site but circumstances dictated that it was too late to save lives.

Another disaster: 100 dead in fuel tanker explosion

Just three days after 26 people died when a supermarket in Nairobi burst into flames, at least 100 are feared dead in a fuel tanker explosion in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The deaths occurred on Saturday evening along the Nakuru – Eldoret highway when hundreds of villagers rushed to a fuel tanker accident to siphon fuel. Among the dead are at least 5 police officers who had gone to prevent the kind of disaster that tragically ended their lives.

This latest disaster occurred at the Sachangwan area, about 30km west of the Rift Valley provincial headquarters at Nakuru. The area was also affected by last year’s political and ethnic clashes.

According to reports, a fuel tanker from the Nakuru oil depot got involved in a road accident at about 7pm local time. Villagers and motorists stopped to scoop fuel using any available container they could find. Police arrived to chase away the looters and it is believed this is when an exposion engulfed the site in fire.

It is still not clear what exactly caused the fire but an accident scene with hundreds of people fighting for loot is really a disaster in the making.

Among those caught in the fire were people travelling between Nakuru, Eldoret and Kisumu. Initial reports in Kenyan media indicate that a passenger bus may have fallen victim to the explosion.

Bodies could be seen burning at the site hours after the disaster.

We will bring you more of this story as details emerge.