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.”
Kenyans in US cities have also held peace rallies: Houston, Dallas (more coverage on Dallas here), Washington DC and New York.
About Julia N. Opoti
A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.
I send some comments I made on the Newsweek site: let’s investigate the role of the Kenya Nation Newspapers in this mess. Some things they did that I just find baffling if they are really honest.
They a chance to answer Kenyans on the following issues:-
1. “too close to call” meme
2. opinion polls that did not tally up
3. exit poll that is quixotic
4. peace call immediately after announcement of Kibaki as winner
5. “be a statesman and step back Raila… and you will have your turn in 2012” meme
6. Raila – “be a strong opposition leader”
7. “genocide” meme – ask by who and where it appeared first in the kenyan mass media
8. no “Kibaki resign” campaign – (he is a disgrace to a common man’s morality)
9. no report on a press conference in which 8 or 9 “ministers” including law professor Kibwana can’t
provide evidence for government genocide claims and running away from the interview
10. no report on loads of buses leading a government security institution after midnight with lights off
with special appointment letters from the president
11. reporting what ECK chairman confessed in a contradictory manner compared to what the Standard
newspapers reported: the evidence can be found on youtube
12. where are the electoral announcements, audio and reports, they collected from the 210
13. why would a noted journalist ask Raila for his tallies instead of revealing the ones he was
using to right gleefully thus “By late on Friday night, however, the tide had started changing. As presidential results from pro-Kibaki regions, which seemed to have been held back for unclear reasons, started coming in, the gap started closing swiftly, and a shocked opposition began to realise that preparations for a triumphant entry into State House might have to be put on hold.”
Keep in mind that Kibaki’s people have some world class spin doctors trying to massage his thuggery
and fraudulence. This guys are better prepared after studying Bosnia, Rwanda and second world war attrocities and strategies.
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