'WE ARE READY TO
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
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
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
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
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
'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."