Amid Kenya clashes, growing calls for calm
International mediators are arriving in Kenya to help end the political standoff after last week's disputed vote.
Johannesburg, South Africa
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Out in the suburbs, a growing number of newly arrived African statesmen – from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah – met with Kenya's two top leaders to help find a peaceful resolution to the ethnic violence that has killed more than 300 people since last week's disputed presidential vote.
Yet, amid the ethnic clashes, there are a few signs of hope that the crisis that followed Kenya's Dec. 27 national elections might be moving toward resolution.
The very fact that police used water cannons, rather than live ammunition as in the past, shows a restraint in the government's use of force. And the presence of potential mediators gives both leaders a face-saving way to soften their positions and seek middle ground, experts say.
"We want [Mr. Kibaki] to own up to the fact that the elections were not right, they were rigged, and even the chairman of the Election Commission Samuel Kivuitu [said] that they were rigged," says Najib Balala, an opposition member of Parliament. "So we must sit down and negotiate. We are ready to negotiate, if Kibaki and his people can admit the elections were rigged. So far they refuse."
This might seem like an impasse, but François Grignon, director of the Africa program for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, sees them as a "display of strength" on the way to the negotiation table.
Signs of cooperation
"The government is on the defensive," says Mr. Grignon, and the fact that they used water cannons and tear gas and fired in the air shows that "the government knows it is being watched and it doesn't want to lose all political legitimacy. They don't want to be shown on international TV shooting at crowds holding green branches."
The opposition, despite its tough words, "has made a very strong appeal for mediation," says Grignon, and has even given up its previous demand that the president resign his post before beginning negotiations.
Both sides, in short, seem to realize the limits of their power, he says. "There is a growing feeling of a need for a caretaker government that could rule the country."
Kibaki appealed for calm Thursday, saying: "I am ready to have dialogue with the concerned parties once the nation is calm and the political temperatures are lowered enough for constructive and productive engagement."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Odinga Wednesday night and Kibaki Thursday, urging both of them to work toward a political solution.
Mr. Tutu met with Odinga Thursday and announced that the fiery leader was ready for the "possibility of mediation." Tutu also said he hopes to meet Kibaki.