News 2008

 

'WE ARE READY TO DIE'

Kenyan Opposition Vows To Continue, Despite Violence

By Thilo Thielke in Nairobi / SPIEGEL

Restraint seems to be one quality the police in Kenya don't have much of. Security forces on Wednesday killed at least two demonstrators and evacuated much of Nairobi's center. The violence continues on Thursday with the opposition vowing to continue -- no matter what.

The scene on Wednesday afternoon in front of the Serena Hotel in Nairobi was a strange one. A pack of journalists was waiting to talk with politicians from the opposition, angry because of massive irregularities in the late December presidential elections, which President Mwai Kibaki claims he won. The rest of the city was virtually empty, but security officials clearly wanted the small clutch of journalists to disappear, too. Over and over again, paramilitary troops would fire teargas canisters into the crowd -- a display of naked brutishness that continued for hours.

Kibaki's Kenya, already a country that has seen its vital tourism industry disappear almost overnight, is turning into a police state. As each day passes, the country is becoming increasingly like the kind of tribal dictatorship all too numerous on the African continent. Democratic mainstays are vanishing: demonstrations have been banned, press freedom limited and the police have become much less shy about using violence.

On Wednesday, while demonstrators were being chased through the streets of Nairobi, Kenya's largest television channel KBC decided to show Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" instead of the news. For weeks, Kenyan media have been prohibited from airing live reports. It's a minor miracle that they're still on the air at all.

Herded through the City Center

International pressure is growing. On Wednesday, the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France recommended that all EU aid to Kenya should be halted until the dispute over the late December election is resolved. Lawmakers criticized the EU executive for making a payment of 40.6 million ($60.2 million) to Nairobi just one day after the flawed vote. The EU also joined a statement issued by 13 countries, including the US and Canada, threatening to cut off aid to the government if "its commitment ... to good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights weakens." The threat is not an idle one -- some six percent of Kenya's budget is covered by foreign aid.

Germany is one of those countries that regularly sends aid to Kenya -- 24 million in 2007. On the Web site of Germany's Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, it says the government wants to "anchor democratic structures and an understanding for how a constitutional state functions in Kenyan society."

Exactly how that "understanding for how a constitutional state functions" looks in practice was on full display on Wednesday. Opposition demonstrators were herded through the city center by free-swinging cops. Police fired away at the crowd with live ammunition in the gigantic slum Kibera; at least two people were killed as rallies sprang up across the country. In the western Kenyan town of Kisumu, the police are suspected of having tried to cover up two additional deaths. Four people were killed in Kitale when they were attacked by a group armed with Kalashnikovs. The number of dead since the election is estimated to be as high as 700.

On Thursday, machete-wielding demonstrators threw stones at riot police once again. "Our rallies will continue until the government sits down with us and seeks a solution," opposition spokesman Salim Lone told the Associated Press. "Calling off rallies would be admitting defeat to those who first stole the presidential election and are now killing innocent protesters on sight."

Gigantic No-Go Area

The pattern for the new wave of demonstrations was set already on Wednesday morning. Opposition leader Raila Odinga labelled the parliament building in Nairobi a military camp and once again emphasized that he would not recognize the "illegal government" and that the protests would continue. Kenyan security personnel responded by violently crushing any demonstration they could and evacuating huge quarters of the city. Nairobi's center has become a gigantic no-go area.

Najib Balala, an opposition leader from the city of Mombasa, made his way through the clouds of teargas toward the reporters. "We are going to shut down the city," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE after a brief pause to catch his breath. "We are going to use all forms of protest. If our people are prevented from demonstrating in the city, then we will find other ways, including strikes. We are going to change our strategy daily. Mass protests don't mean that shops will be plundered." Balala then accused the government of trying to buy off opposition parliamentarians. "They offered anyone who voted for the government's candidate for parliamentary president 2 million Kenyan shillings (20,000)," he said.

It seems doubtful that President Kibaki will buckle under opposition pressure. The atmosphere in the last couple of days has clearly become more tense. In a Tuesday editorial for the Kenyan paper Daily Nation, the Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah wrote: "Suddenly, Nairobi was becoming Harare, and Kenya, Zimbabwe." Gappah was referring to the ills brought to Zimbabwe by the catastrophic rule of Robert Mugabe.

The same fate now seems to be threatening Kenya. The economy is in ruins, with some 90 percent of tourist bookings cancelled. Kenya's tourism association says that turnover is down 42 million in January alone. Some 120,000 jobs may be cut by March, the association estimates.

'Ready to Die'

A number of Indian businessmen are preparing to leave the country. It is looking increasingly likely that Kibaki may be preparing to blame the unrest on foreigners in the country. Already, rumors are circulating that foreign journalists are to be blamed for the fact that tourism has dried up. On Wednesday, mounted police showed little restraint in breaking up a group of waiting journalists.

The human rights group "Kenyans for Peace, Truth and Justice" is concerned that the violence may further intensify. "We have received alarming reports from human rights observers in Nairobi's poor quarters, according to which political leaders are organizing youth gangs to prevent people from participating in the demonstrations of the Orange Democratic Movement."

Still, the protests are likely to continue. "We are going to go on until Kibaki is gone," said opposition politician William Ruto on Wednesday. "We are ready to die."

 

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