Wednesday, January 2, 2008
By: Julia N. Opoti
ST. PAUL, Minn.— In almost sub-zero degree weather over one hundred Kenyan-born Minnesotans gathered at the steps of the St. Paul State Capitol to speak against the violence in their country of birth.
The demonstrators were reacting to news that their home country, which has been a stabilizing force in the fragile East African region, was engulfed in ethnic violence that was likely to escalate.
The past few days have been some of the most violent in post-colonial Kenya. On Dec. 27, 2007 a historic number of Kenyans went to the polls to vote in their parliamentary and presidential elections. The election was peaceful with observers applauding Kenya for a mature expression of democracy. Tension in the country quickly rose as the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) delayed announcing the presidential results.
The delay led to accusations by the main challenger, Raila Odinga, that the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) was purposely delaying the tally with intentions to rig the votes. The ECK, without investigating the claims of irregularities (PNU also accused Odinga’s ODM party of rigging), declared Kibaki the winner.
The announcement and immediate swearing in of Kibaki for a second term as president of Kenya led to riotous protests across the country. As Odinga contested Kibaki’s presidency, his supporters took to the streets demonstrating violently. The government immediately retaliated by deploying its paramilitary police unit known in Kenya as the GSU (General Service Unit).
The chair of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) has since admitted to irregularities in the electoral process angering Kenyans from all political affiliations. Both President Kibaki and Raila have taken a hard stance while both the local and international community have urged them to reconcile.
Although in the past Kenya has had its own share of tribal conflicts, it is the first time ethnic violence has been nationwide.
Over 300 people have been killed in just four days, while close to 70,000 have been internally displaced. Hundreds more have crossed the border into Uganda seeking refuge, according to the Red Cross and other international agencies. Thousands of Kenyans are also said to be suffering traumatic stress. The ongoing violence has flared in many parts of the country, with Nyanza (Raila’s tribal home) being rocked by the most severe of these. The sprawling Nairobi slums of Kibera and Mathare have also been hit with serious clashes. Most of the rioters and looters have been young men who live in abject poverty, perhaps disillusioned by the system, both politically and economically.
Reaction from Minnesota
Siyad Abdullahi, a Kenyan community leader commenting on the election said “We are proud of Kenyans who showed up in record numbers to vote, however I am disappointed in the electoral process.” He urged Kenyans who had experienced democracy in the US, and knew its essence to speak out against the irregularities in Kenya.
Another community leader, Lillian Magendi called onto Kenyan leaders to “rise above self gratification.”
Many Kenyans are past tribal differences and political ideology.
“At this moment, I am impartial to politics. I don’t care whether Raila or Kibaki win. We need peace first then democracy. There can be no democracy if we do not have peace,” says Douglas Kimani.
Others like Josephine Manene whose family is suffering the consequences of the violence seek prayer in solving the Kenyan crisis: “We need divine intervention because when God intervenes nothing can stand in the way.” Manene’s father who is a business man in Matutu Settlement Scheme, close to Sotik, has had to close shop for fear of his life.
Mustafa Adan’s family is also going hungry. While there is no violence in Garissa where his family is located, Adan says transport of food from other parts of the country has affected the availability and price of food. “It is even impossible to get telephone credit,” he says.
Minnesota State Senator Amy Klobuchar sent a representative to show her support for the Kenyan people.
Kenya Community Abroad
In a press statement, KCA- a socio-political organization comprising Kenyans in the Diaspora as members— spoke against the post election violence: “KCA urges President Kibaki to salvage the country from degenerating into a basket case by agreeing to a re-run of the Presidential election. KCA believes this is the surest way out of this imbroglio.”