Friday, January 11, 2008

Concerned Citizens for Peace in Kenya - 1/8/2008

During the past week, Kenya has featured as a top news item in the international news media. The reason for this prominent coverage is located in the contested results of Kenya’s general elections held on the 27th of Dec. 2007 and in the tragic aftermath.

During the weeks and months prior to the elections, polling agencies were predicting an exceedingly close electoral race between the two main contending parties. In this contest, Hon. Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent President and leader of Party of National Unity, was standing for a second term of office in competition with his chief opponent, the Hon. Raila Odinga, leader of the Orange Democratic Movement.

In the event, the elections attracted a record number of enthusiastic voters. According to local and international monitors, the election of members of parliament and civic officers was well organized and produced generally credible results. [Difficulties arose in the subsequent tallying process.] In this regard, a record number of incumbent members of parliament, including cabinet ministers, lost their seats.

In the late afternoon of December 30, 2007, the Hon. Mwai Kibaki was declared by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission to be the newly elected President of Kenya. This declaration was immediately and vigorously contested by the Orange Democratic Movement. On the same day, only hours after the presidential inaugural ceremony at State House was concluded, violence, disruption and killings began to sweep across the country resulting in the deaths of hundreds and the displacement of multiple thousands of Kenyans.

According to observers, the intensity of this conflagration has been exceeded only by the pre-independence Mau Mau upheaval of the 1950s.
Thanks to strong public pressure, including calls from peace groups and interventions by representatives of the international community, the current political impasse will be broached on Jan. 11, 2007 in the form of exploratory face to face talks between President Kibaki and his contesting opponent, the Hon. Rail Odinga, mediated by President Kufour of Ghana, current Chairman of the African Union. Overt violence has meanwhile diminished and relief supplies are becoming available to the thousands of internally displaced Kenyans.

On Monday, December 31, 2007, a forum called the ‘Concerned Citizens for Peace’ was launched at the Serena Hotel, located strategically next to Nairobi’s famous Uhuru Park. This forum is sponsored jointly by the Nairobi Peace Initiative-Africa and the Africa Peace Forum.

Five experienced Kenyan peace practitioners serve as its core group:
  • Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat of the Africa Peace Forum
  • Mr. George Wachira, senior research and policy advisor with the Nairobi Peace Initiative-Africa
  • retired Gen. Lazarus Sumbeiywo, mediator of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement negotiated between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement
  • retired Gen. Daniel Opande, a senior officer with the United Nations peacekeepers in Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia and
  • Mrs. Dekka Ibrahim Abdi, a peace consultant who was awarded the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
While Kenya was burning with violence and mayhem, the Concerned Citizens for Peace addressed the public with peace messages through the electronic and print media; invited and received from the public more than 250, 000 ‘sms’ messages of concern and solidarity;

held public forums with concerned people; facilitated the mediation visit to Kenya by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; launched six committees focused on peace action at community level, through initiatives by women, on sms-blog sites, by youth for peace, and with the mass media.

By means of this initiative, the Concerned Citizens for Peace have tapped into a large, diverse Kenyan constituency for peace. In addition to immediate ‘emergency peace action’ already undertaken, the group is identifying issues and strategies for peace to be launched in the medium to long term.

Kenya’s week of violence has given vent to many social, spiritual and political fissures which need to be addressed, healed and reconciled.

Harold Miller
Formerly Country Director for Mennonite Central Committee
Jan. 8, 2008
Nairobi, Kenya

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