Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Displaced people seeking refuge at the Tigoni police station in Limuru, outside Nairobi, receive donated clothes
NAIROBI, 4 February 2008 (IRIN) - UN and Red Cross officials briefed negotiators from Kenya's political parties meeting on 4 February as part of a dialogue aimed at resolving the political crisis. Leaders from the government and opposition discussed humanitarian issues as the second item on a four-point "national dialogue" agenda.
They were told that displaced people trapped in "hostile" areas may need further organised transport operations to take them to safety. A briefing prepared by the officials listed the dimensions of the humanitarian problems, mechanisms for response, coordination and fund-raising efforts.
The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) estimates 301,000 people were displaced in post-election violence as of 31 January, not including those hosted by other families. Many are in police stations or churches out of fear for their security, being of a minority ethnic group in that area. The negotiation teams, chaired by the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, "were listening carefully", Elizabeth Lwanga, UN humanitarian coordinator for Kenya, told IRIN.
"We hope they understand the gravity of the humanitarian situation and the critical importance of stopping the violence, because without the violence stopping, the humanitarian situation will continue. "There was a discussion on the need to move people to where they're safe, whether it is to their original regions or back to where they've been displaced from, but the issue in all cases is security," she said.
In a statement following the day's session, the Kenyan parties said that they would "assist and encourage displaced persons to go back to their homes or other areas and to have safe passage and security throughout."
The UN's top official on the human rights of IDPs, Walter Kälin, told IRIN said that basic principle for any movement of IDPs should be their own "free choice".
However, he pointed out "you can only freely choose if you have different options available".
It is "very common", he added, that IDPs "end up threatened from all sides and become political pawns".
As well as efforts from the international community, "[national] authorities have the responsibility to create conditions that allow for such freedom to choose", he said, referring to rights and responsibilities laid out in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
Abbas Gullet, head of the KRCS, told IRIN that organised relocation of IDPs to their places of ethnic origin had to be considered, even though it raised political, ethical and legal issues.
"We are at a critical point ... this is an issue that needs to be seriously considered." He proposed that at least IDP women and children could go "back" voluntarily until things improved. "We haven't said we're going to do it," Abbas said, acknowledging the dilemmas. "We don't want to be involved in any form of ethnic cleansing," he stressed. However, he argued that the IDPs themselves were asking to be moved to their areas of origin, and for those economic migrants without property, land or businesses, the relative security and opportunities for earning a living at "home" were compelling reasons to move voluntarily.
The government took out advertisements in the national press over the weekend to stress that Kenyans could live and work anywhere in the country without regard for ethnicity. But while the IDPs' wishes should be paramount, the rule of law needed to be applied to prevent a domino effect: those returning to their ethnic homelands in need of land and livelihoods should not then forcibly displace minorities already there, said an international official working on IDP issues.
He cited the example of Bosnia, where a division of the population along ethnic lines due to insecurity became a "fait accompli".
An analyst familiar with the legal issues told IRIN that "reinforcing evictions" by assisting relocations posed major ethical questions, especially where families had owned land for a generation or more outside their "homeland".
Nevertheless, private citizens have been helping their ethnic kin to get out, he said, by providing cash or trucks. Unless continuous pressure is maintained to enforce IDPs' right to return to their land, a dangerous precedent would be set, where in future any group might feel able to say "well it wasn't their land 40 years ago" and make further violent land grabs.
"We shouldn't go down that road," the analyst said; people are "choosing between poor options".
Lwanga said "having them [IDPs] in police stations is not right. [In the short term] maybe it's better to have them go back to their homes ... if it is voluntary".
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Story from IRIN
Call for Kenyan truth commission
Houses in western Kenya are still being torchedFormer UN chief Kofi Annan has called on Kenya to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to help end the crisis following disputed polls.
A similar body in South Africa helped shed light on apartheid-era crimes and ease tensions.
Mr Annan, who is mediating talks between rival political leaders, also said UN investigators should look into alleged human rights abuses in Kenya.
Political and ethnic violence has left hundreds dead and thousands homeless.
President Mwai Kibaki claimed victory in the presidential vote on 27 December, but the opposition says the vote was rigged.
Joint peace rallies should be convened by all leaders of parties
Fragile peace-making effort
At the weekend, scores more were killed despite an agreement signed by Mr Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
In another development, Kenyan authorities have lifted the live broadcast restrictions imposed after the election.
At the time, the government said it was imposing the ban to ensure public safety.
South African role
As talks resumed in Nairobi, Mr Annan called for "immediate measures to promote reconciliation and healing".
"Joint peace rallies should be convened by all leaders of parties to promote peace and reconciliation," he said.
My heart aches for Kenya. Your countrymen and women have suffered
Bishop Desmond Tutu
A framework for the negotiations was agreed on Friday, but the man he hoped would lead the talks, South African businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, has been dropped from the mediation panel after Kenyan government objections.
Mr Ramaphosa played a key role for the African National Congress negotiating with South Africa's last minority white government.
Meanwhile, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, who led South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has appealed for an end to the "totally unacceptable" violence and called on Kenyans to back the talks.
"My heart aches for Kenya. Your countrymen and women have suffered greatly," he told the BBC.
"It is in your power to stop the violence if you act as one. You have an opportunity now to stand up for peace."
'At the brink'
The discussions are due to last a month and aim to halt the bloodshed within two weeks.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee
The two sides are due to discuss the key allegations of electoral fraud this week.
Other issues that the two parties agreed to address are
- the humanitarian situation
- the political crisis
- land and historical injustices
But Mr Kibaki and his supporters continue to accuse the opposition of fuelling the unrest.
"This is a politically instigated situation," said information minister Samuel Pergisio.
"It is a process that requires these politicians to go back and speak to their people."
The unrest has blocked many of Kenya's main road and rail links, which are vital for Uganda, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region.
A delegation of Ugandan ministers has travelled to Tanzania to discuss importing goods via its port of Dar-es-Salaam, instead of Mombasa in Kenya.
Story from BBC
Annan's Rapid Diplomacy Confounds Sceptics
The East African (Nairobi)NEWS4 February 2008 Posted to the web 4 February 2008
By Jaindi Kisero
Can former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, Africa's most decorated diplomat, deliver a resolution to the Kenya crisis?
After a few days of sittings, all indications are that the mediation talks to end the post-election conflict have started on a positive note.
Initially, hopes were dashed when it emerged that the protagonists had chosen a number of hardliners to the parley - including ODM strongman William Ruto and Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua from the PNU side.
Pundits predicted a protracted affair characterised by intransigence and hostile manoeuvring by the representatives of President Mwai Kibaki and his rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga.
But as the mediation process kicked off in earnest on Wednesday, the vibes coming out of the talks being held at the Nairobi Serena Hotel were beginning to confound sceptics.
The most significant sign of progress was the fact that Annan had managed to get the protagonists to agree to concluding the mediation process within seven days.
It was a major breakthrough because, with the country still engulfed in widespread violence, a protracted mediation process running into months was a prospect the international community, which is keen to restore stability in Kenya - did not want to contemplate.
When the talks convened on Wednesday, the expectation was that the parties would spend an inordinate time "talking about talks" and arguing about mundane preliminary issues.
For instance, pessimists had predicted that the talks would not go beyond a dispute over the credentials of some of the representatives, especially of Nairobi lawyer and secretary general of ODM-Kenya Mutula Kilonzo.
A day earlier, Raila Odinga had, during the launch of the talks, argued that his party only recognised the PNU as the opposite party in the dispute, and was therefore not prepared to engage other parties in discussions.
Thus, expectations on Wednesday were that the ODM team would make heavy weather about the participation of Mr Kilonzo in the talks as a representative of President Kibaki.
Also expected to generate tension at the meeting was the issue of whether the talks were a "national dialogue" or a political and "international mediation."
In the wake of the conflict, the standard argument of people on Kibaki's side has been that what is at issue is a mere discussion about the security situation in the country.
This attitude was captured best by the remarks of government spokesman Alfred Mutua when he at one point insisted that AU chairman John Kufuor, President of Ghana, who visited the country in the second week of January to start the mediation process, had been in Nairobi to "have a cup of tea" with President Kibaki.
Last week, concern grew on the ODM side when it emerged that the agenda that Annan had put out consistently referred to the talks as a "national dialogue."
"We are now in a position to submit to you, for your consideration and agreement, a set of documents to establish the process of national dialogue," he had said in a letter dated January 27 to both Raila and Kibaki.
The manner in which Annan set out the agenda and what he saw as the priorities of the mediation process was also promising to raise heat.
According to the draft agenda, the top priority on the list was an end to the violence followed by action to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country.
The issue of the disputed presidential elections and a political settlement came way below on the priority list in Annan's suggested agenda.
There were loud murmurs on the ODM side, with the hardliners arguing that Annan had swallowed Kibaki's bait.
Nevertheless, our sources told us that when the parties met for the first time, the mood was not to waste too much time on preliminaries.
ODM raised Kilonzo's participation, but did not dwell on it. A disagreement also arose about whether or not it made sense to retain the so-called liaison officers in the meeting, but after hours of debate, Annan not only allowed the parties to redesignate them as "secretaries," but also to nominate one more representative to make it possible for each side to have a maximum of four representatives.
As we went to press, the ODM side had already nominated Ugenya MP James Orengo as their fourth representative in the talks.
The only preliminary issue that took up Annan's time during the Wednesday meeting was the participation of Gichira Kibara in the talks, with the ODM team arguing that the man was a civil servant and, therefore, did not qualify to be at the meeting.
The question of whether what was at issue was a national dialogue or a mediation was discussed and dispensed with without much controversy.
The PNU side also took issue with the ODM's demand for a re-run of the presidential election, pointing out that the results of elections could only be dealt with by the High Court.
In the draft agenda, Annan had included a requirement that the ban on live coverage of events by the government be lifted.
The PNU side demanded that the item be removed from the agenda, as it had become the subject of a court case.
What raised heat was the choice of the chief mediator who will continue to chair the dialogue process when Annan will have left.
Annan and fellow panellist Graca Machel proposed the name of leading South African politician and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa.
According to our sources, the PNU side resisted, arguing that Ramaphosa had too many intimate links with people in Kenya to play honest broker in the conflict.
The PNU also reportedly argued that given Ramaphosa's history and role within the African National Congress, he was likely to be inclined towards the opposition.
But the panellists held firm, with Machel reminding them that Ramaphosa had impeccable mediation credentials that had seen him taking assignments internationally, including Northern Ireland.
It is noteworthy that the following day, Tanzania's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bernard Membe, announced on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that Ramaphosa had been named as chief mediator.
Suddenly, progress was looming on the horizon; this breakthrough, observers said, revealed the hand of a very skilful and experienced negotiator - one Kofi Annan.
He came to Kenya to find a highly polarised environment, where the main players, President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, were hostages of hardliners within their camps.
Kibaki had made it clear to him that he was the duly elected president and his number one priority was peace.
The opposite side wanted a re-run of the presidential election or a re-tallying of votes.
Worse, even as he engaged in diplomacy, the security situation in the country was deteriorating rapidly.
Annan consulted widely, and met political leaders, women's groups, religious leaders, youth groups, community-based organisations, representatives of the business community and legal and human-rights groups.
"We also sought the views of the diplomatic community, namely the African Union, the European Union and the United States," he said in a letter to President Kibaki and Raila.
Annan also visited the Rift Valley to witness the plight of thousands of families who have been displaced by the post-election violence.
What is clear is that Annan recognised very early on that his mission would be impossible if he did not win the confidence of both sides - especially President Mwai Kibaki.
From the way he framed the agenda of the meeting, it was clear that he realised that he had to move tactically to get the latter's commitment to the mediation process. He managed.
The situation right now is that if President Kibaki backs out of the mediation process, he may well have to face the UN Security Council. Friday's "booster" visit to the talks in Nairobi by current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, during which he stated that the situation in Kenya was "unacceptable," certainly seemed to suggest that.
Kofi Annan of Ghana, the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations, is the first to be elected from the ranks of UN staff. His first five-year term began on January 1, 1997 and, following his subsequent re-appointment by the UN member states, he began a second five-year term on January 1, 2002.
Born in Kumasi, Ghana, on April 8, 1938, Annan studied at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi and completed his undergraduate work in economics at Macalester College in the United States in 1961. From 1961 to 1962, he undertook graduate studies in economics in Geneva.
As a 1971-1972 Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Annan received a Master of Science degree in management.
Annan joined the UN in 1962, working for the World Health Organization in Geneva, where he later also served with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
At UN Headquarters in New York, Annan held senior positions in a diverse range of areas.
Annan is married to Nane of Sweden, a lawyer and painter. The Annans have three children.
Copyright © 2008 The East African. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).