BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Maina Kiai, the chairman of Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said Saturday that hoped President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who recently signed agreement to share power, would focus on replacing a constitution he said expired years ago.
Kiai was addressing Kenyan-born residents of Minnesota and their friends, who flocked the Sheraton Hotel in Bloomington to hear a first-hand account of the post-election violence that led to the death of over 1,000 Kenyans and the displacement of an estimated 300,000 others. While the violence shocked Kenyans abroad and the international community, Kiai said the signs had been there for many years.
“It was bound to happen,” Kiai said.
Kiai attributed the violence to a constitution that allows a winner-take-all political system, which raised the stakes and made politicians more willing to incite Kenyans to kill each other.
“Kenya’s constitution was like milk with a sell-by date,” Kiai said. “That date was in 2002. For five years we have been drinking spoilt milk and in December it gave us diarrhea,” he added, as his audience applauded with laughs and cheers.
Kiai cautioned Kenyan against laying all their hopes in a political deal made by competing politicians, but instead pressure Kibaki and Odinga to put Kenyans first. He cited the response former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan gave when Kiai thanked him for brokering the peace deal because “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that hurts.”
“Anna told me, ‘At the same time, when these same elephants make love, the grass hurts too!’” Kiai said amid laughter. “We have to make sure they don’t make love too much.”
Kiai said he hoped that the “co-presidency” agreement would create a functioning Parliament that would shepherd reform. He advised the unity government to have not more than 25 ministries with a balanced portfolio where ministers and permanent secretaries alternated between parties.
Citing the burning of a church in Eldoret that left an estimated 50 people dead, and the later vengeful killings in Nakuru by members of the dreaded Mungiki sect, Kiai said it was clear that some leaders were behind it.
“I am not sure if it was pre-planned, but it was organized,” Kiai said.
Kiai said that on his visits to mortuaries in Kisumu, Kakamega and Migori, he saw that victims had gun shots wounds on their backs, indicating that they had been shot by police officers as they fled – a gross violation of human rights by the state.
Kiai said the political upheaval and violence that pitted Kenyans against people they had lived with side by side as neighbors also found the Good Samaritan in many Kenyans once the killings had stopped. Even members of Kenya’s middle class, who have come under fire in the past months for detaching themselves from the crisis by hiding in the safety of their suburban homes, came out in droves to donate resources to those affected by the violence.
Peace and reconciliation
Kiai called for a truth and reconciliation commission that would bring to justice the perpetrators of the violence in different parts of the country. He alluded to high ranking politicians in instigating violence and was confident that they would face their day in court. This same commission would be urged to facilitate peace talks between different Kenyan communities. Other things that the commission would include solving Kenya’s land issue, and a national discussion on creating new economic resources for the country’s poor who solely rely on depleting land resources, Kiai said.
In response to Kenyans who contend that such a commission would hurt the country by reviving old pain, Kiai said: “There is no healing without pain. When you have a decaying tooth, you have to go through a painful extraction to avoid an infection that could kill you.”
Several members of the audience expressed concern over the continued violation of human rights as internally displaced persons continue to live in fear for their lives. Some Kenyans continue to live in camps while others have sought refuge in neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. According to news reports at least 50 people have died since the deal was signed two weeks ago. The crisis has left a wound that will take Kenyans a while to heal.
“The crisis has exposed our differences,” Kiai said. “Members of different communities continue to distrust each other.”
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.