Kenyans Protest Murder of Popular Foreign Minister

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AFTER a week of protests and unprecedented street demonstrations, Kenyans are keeping up pressure on their government for a full accounting of the killing of the country's popular minister of foreign affairs. Robert Ouko's body was discovered Feb. 16 near his rural home in western Kenya. President Daniel arap Moi has promised a full investigation. But many say the government itself is involved.

Ouko was a powerful and popular official who may have posed a threat to the power or ambitions of others. And some Kenyans suggest that opponents of President Moi's - either persons inside or outside government - might be responsible, attempting to undermine public support for his administration.

The slaying has rocked this nation like few events since independence in 1963. Recalling several murders of popular politicians under the presidency of the late Jomo Kenyatta, Kenyans are expressing their outrage. One Kenyan working woman clenched her fists and said angrily - ``enough.''

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The government's handling of the case thus far has not allayed suspicions. First reports from the scene conflict with official government descriptions.

University students rejected a government explanation last week of the circumstances that they thought implied that the death was a suicide.

``No more lies. We want the truth. No coverup,'' students shouted as they passed government offices and police headquarters. More than 1,000 students demonstrated in downtown Nairobi.

Normally the Kenyan government only allows pro-government rallies. But the government was in an awkward position: If it had tried to squelch the demonstrations, the public might have interpreted that as part of a coverup.

But ``the students are speaking for all of us,'' says a Kenyan professional in Nairobi, who belongs to the Kikuyu tribe. A Luo businessman (of the same tribe as Ouko) in Nairobi also whispered his suspicions of high-level involvement.

A general concern for public safety is also growing. ``How can a minister with a bodyguard and other security facilities be murdered mysteriously?'' asks the Rev. Jephthah Gathaka of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. ``If this be so, what can we say about the security of a common mwananchi [citizen]?''

Many Kenyans blame the government for not protecting Ouko. ``Where were you? Where were you?'' demonstrating students shouted angrily passing by the police headquarters.

Police had acted with restraint during the first demonstrations. But the General Service Unit (GSU), a government paramilitary force, responded to rock throwing by repeatedly clubbing and kicking suspected rioters and bystanders, as well as knocking down a television journalist. An onlooker said ``They [the GSU] are causing the riots. They enjoy beating people.''

Riots also broke out last weekend in Mombassa and in Ouko's hometown of Kisumu.

Public resentment against government goes beyond the immediate death of Ouko. A university student told this reporter during a demonstration: ``We want democracy.''

And K. Murungi of the Kenya section of the International Commission of Jurists said: ``Unless we develop a national culture of openness and pursue truth to its logical conclusions, unfortunate and tragic occurrences ... will always repeat themselves.''

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