Kenya talks focus on easing violence
The country's two political rivals agreed to help ease distribution of humanitarian aid, but not to a power-sharing government.
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As if to focus the minds of the two rivals, the UN Security Council Wednesday condemned the "ethnically motivated attacks" in Kenya, and also expressed "strong concern at the continuing dire humanitarian situation in Kenya and [called] for the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons."Skip to next paragraph
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Applying further pressure, United States Ambassador Michael Rannenberger announced travel bans against 10 members of parliament, reportedly from both the president's party and the opposition, for their participation "in the instigation of violence, violation of human rights and breaking of democratic practices." The travel bans apply against the politicians as well as their families, including children attending school in the US.
The challenges facing Kenya's leaders have deep and personal roots. Rulers who awarded land to their cronies and favored their ethnic kin would be reluctant to give up that tangible lever of power, unless forced. Rulers would be even more loath to give up the absolute powers – of apportioning budgets, choosing members of the judiciary, and clamping down on opposition and press freedoms at will – that Kenya's liberation-era Constitution gives its office of presidency.
Yet analysts, both in Kenya and across Africa, say that Kenya's only hope for peace is if it addresses those very issues now.
"Kenya sits as an indication of a broader problem, the African problem of how to organize the political state," says Francis Kornegay, a senior analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg. With men like Kibaki and Odinga and their respective entourages, "We are dealing with a political class that has come from years of dictatorship. These habits die hard."
In a Kenyan context, political leaders typically have drawn their support primarily from members of their own tribes. Odinga's biggest supporters come from the Luo tribe who live in the western part of the country, and he has forged alliances with a "Pentagon" of opposition leaders representing other ethnic groups. Mwai Kibaki's supporters come from the Kikuyus of central Kenya.
This means that any political dispute can quickly transform into ethnic violence. Immediately following the announcement on Dec. 29 that Kibaki had won the polls, violence broke out against Kikuyus in areas where the opposition ODM vote was strongest. In recent days, members of Odinga's Luo party have been chased from their homes in villages in Central Province, the traditional Kikuyu homeland.
François Grignon, Africa program director of the International Crisis Group think tank, says the talks still have a long way to go if they are to help ordinary Kenyans. "Progress has been made because they are meeting, they are talking to one another, they are making commitments to the reconciliation process," he says. "But as far as the political issues go, they are still a long way apart."