I fear for Kenya

Things in Kenya are very serious again. Details as usual are here (Standard), here (Daily Nation) and here (NYTimes for an American-oriented summary). Be sure to check out the editorials, opinions and commentaries from the Kenyan papers, e.g. “Blood of Innocents Will Be on Your Hands”

For all practical purposes, mediation talks are dead. Unless, Kofi Annan can prevail on the two “big men” to fix it personally, we could be in big trouble. Actually the issues have always been deep, but we all held the false hope that Annan could work a miracle.

In his statement yesterday, Kofi Annan said that if there had been goodwill, these negotiations would have been resolved two weeks ago. He said his move of suspending the talks was intended to speed up the talks, but he had already said that the negotiators were incapable of reaching an agreement. This was classic Annan framing a stern message with words of hope.

Last night, both sides were on TV casting blame on each other. The government’s big line is that this cannot be a solution imposed by outsiders – namely US, UK, EU. They seem especially unhappy with the public pressure from the US. The US line has always been that they are here to support Kenya. They can’t impose a solution, they only want insist that there be one.

A few weeks ago, one of my friends suggested that the government would use Annan as a smoke screen to help restore order and normality while they put pieces in place to prepare for crushing any future opposition. I’d like to believe that this isn’t true, but in the last few days, news reported that they had just conducted massive transfers of police ­and government officers from the western areas. Now my friend says that they seem have everyone where they want them, and last night, the foreign minister made a statement that “the government presence will be felt all over the country so that Kenyans can feel safe and go about their business as usual.”

Also, research by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit that 91 per cent of victims from Western Province died of gunshot wounds (and about 43% of the 1000 people who died in the post-election violence) – which translates to mean they were shot by police. (Though some crooks have guns, guns just aren’t as common here as they are in the US or in other trouble spots.) This jives with stories we heard from people returning from the western areas right after the elections. “The morgues are full of people shot by the police.” Of course, the situation in different areas was dramatically different. The same article says, “in the Rift Valley where most of the deaths occurred, the report found out that majority of the victims were either bludgeoned to death, hacked with machetes or shot with arrows.” Any way you look at it, it is a tragedy.

Tomorrow the opposition has promised “mass action” – supposedly peaceful protests, which invariable devolve into violence. [UPDATE: Mass Action called off] My guess is that we will have at least another couple of weeks of tension before even the possibility of any solution being reached. Maybe the government wants to take one more crack at seeing if they can get the country to go about “business as usual” without having to share power. At the same time, the opposition will want to make the government feel enough economic pain to get them to give in. Tellingly, the finance minister was trying to reassure the public that the economy is well on its way to recovery since the election violence.

I still hear the echo of the election chairman (yes the very one that everyone agrees let the country down) a week after the results were announced as he was discussing the pressure he was under. “There are certain people around the president, whom God should have never allowed to come into this world.” I’m certainly not saying that things would be any different if the roles were reversed. I’m fairly confident that there are some of these people on both sides – as there are everywhere in the world. People in power, regardless of who they are, almost always do whatever it takes to preserve their own power and privilege.

One of Kenyan columnists likened the attitude of Kenyan leadership to that of elite Ivorians who were totally out of touch with the poorer masses before their war. He provided a fairly striking image of a well-educated professional Ivorian who had claimed to “know my people.” He later saw footage of her on TV being evacuated into a helicopter – barefoot with her baby strapped to her back. She, like so many of the others had totally misjudged her people and the potential for violence. Maybe I’m just a pessimistic, but I feel like that is what many of the Kenyan elite are doing now. Power is blinding, and violence is an evil force of its own.

It’s clear people on both sides have been preparing for battle. 200 were arrested on Monday, but how many more training camps are as of yet undetected? Business people have been paying gangs for protection in anticipation of future violence. Plus part of the initiation rituals of many groups involve warrior training for all their young men, so it doesn’t take much to mobilize them.

The vice president was in Rwanda and Kampala over the weekend. I’m guessing that he was there to at least assure them that transportation of all the cargo to their countries won’t be interrupted like it was a few weeks ago. (Or maybe to gauge their military intentions.) How can a country that cannot even maintain their own roads keep a few hooligans from burning a truck or two and bringing the whole transportation system to a standstill again? All they need is a few TV images of riots with a few buildings or vehicles burning to paralyze the country again with fear.

Meanwhile the leaders of some churches are working around the clock to try to do something. They are organizing the wheels of hope, and many Christians nationwide will begin fasting again on Saturday for the month of March. Still, I can’t help but hear the words of an old professor ringing in my ears. If you want to have the just society that God intended for the world, you have to be able to influence the leaders at the top who create and maintain structures and institutions of injustice. (N.B. I’m not talking theocracy here.) On Saturday, security guard at the gate told me, “We need real leaders. Not people who are only interested in their stomachs.”

I think everyone agrees that at this point; we need true Divine intervention. Stay tuned. . .

Meanwhile life goes on as normal?

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