Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kenya News Update: Angry Exchanges at Parliament Opening; Annan Snubbed; More Women in Government

Angry exchanges as Kenya MPs meet

Parliament in Kenya has met for the first time since disputed elections, amid continuing tension between the government and the opposition.

Security is tight, with troops deployed around the building in Nairobi.

Voting for a new Speaker, the nation's third most powerful person, is entering a second round after candidates backed by the rivals finished almost level.

There were angry exchanges earlier as the opposition said it feared the secret Speaker vote could be rigged.

Senior opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) official William Ruto said: "We went through [national] elections with a secret ballot, and you stole the vote."

But government MP Mutula Kilonzo retorted: "You are now violating the very principle this country has been seeking."

After one false start, MPs were called forward to cast secret ballots into a transparent box in the centre of the chamber.

The first round ended with 104 votes for ODM-backed Kenneth Marende and 99 for the government-backed Francis ole Kaparo. One of the other three candidates received two votes, and there were two spoilt ballots.

A two-thirds majority is needed in the second round but a simple majority will suffice in the almost inevitable third round.

Orange handkerchiefs

Opposition MPs had originally planned to sit on government benches.

But in the event, their leader Raila Odinga took the seat reserved for the leader of the opposition.

His followers declined to stand up as President Mwai Kibaki entered the chamber - an indication that they do not regard his election as valid.

It was the first time Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki had been in the same room since the 27 December election. More than 600 people were killed in unrest that followed.

About 250,000 people also fled or were driven from their homes in a country once seen as a beacon of relative stability in East Africa.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Nairobi says the level of violence in Kenya has fallen significantly, but tension remains very high.

The ODM became the largest party in parliament, though it does not have an absolute majority.

'In control'

Speaking ahead of parliament resuming, ODM MP Najib Balala said the party was still pressing for a new election.

But he told the BBC's Network Africa programme: "We want to prove to the world we are not going to act in an uncivilised way, we are going to parliament, we are going to show that we are controlling parliament."

Justice Minister Martha Karua told the BBC she believed cooler heads would prevail.

"We are ready to navigate through a hung parliament through persuasion, through negotiations.

"We expect that eventually everybody will come to their senses, realise that we've got to learn to live with each other."

Former UN chief Kofi Annan is due to arrive later on Tuesday at the head of an African mediation team in an effort to bring about negotiations between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga.

Hardline cabinet minister John Michuki played down the visit, saying Mr Annan was "not coming at our invitation".

He added: "As far as we are concerned, we won an election."

But Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula welcomed the visit.

"It was agreed by both the government and the ODM that Mr Annan, along with the other three eminent personalities, facilitate dialogue between the two sides, and we are looking forward to their arrival, he said.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/01/15 15:00:48 GMT

Kenyan political crisis moves to parliament

NAIROBI (AFP)--Kenyan police imposed a major security clampdown in Nairobi on Tuesday for the opening of parliament as the opposition vowed to maintain pressure on President Mwai Kibaki over his disputed reelection.

Tension was also high in the capital's Mathare slum, a flashpoint of recent clashes, after police broke up road blocks put up by opposition youths in new protests against Kibaki.

The opposition plans three days of major rallies from Wednesday in defiance of a police ban on protests.

Parliament opened ahead of the arrival of former UN chief Kofi Annan to take over efforts to mediate a resolution to the political unrest which has left at least 700 dead and displaced a quarter of a million.

Central Nairobi was under a virtual lockdown for the parliamentary session, with a massive police deployment including elite paramilitary units.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims he was robbed of the presidency in the December 27 elections, has vowed his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, which won the most seats in the polls, would sit on the government side of the chamber once lawmakers were sworn in.

ODM lawmakers arrived in the 222-seat parliament wearing orange handkerchiefs tucked in their suit pockets in a symbolic protest at Kibaki's election.

They gave Odinga a standing ovation when he entered the chamber but remained seated when Kibaki arrived.

The first contest of political strength was to be the election for the speaker.

Neither side secured a majority in the legislative vote prompting a fight to woo smaller parties ahead of the session.

"We have already done an audit and established that we have the majority on the floor of the House," said Mutula Kilonzo, the spokesman of the government side.

The opposition, however, was in combative mode.

"The battle will today shift to the House after they rigged us out," said ODM member William Ruto. "We are determined to ensure that Kenyans get what they deserve and that is justice attained during the polling".

Odinga's party secured 99 seats, while the PNU led by Kibaki, whose re-election has not been recognised by the ODM, mustered only 43 seats.

The speaker's election requires a two-thirds majority for the first two rounds, but requires only a simple majority if the vote moves to a third round.

There are four candidates with the government side supporting the re-election of veteran speaker Francis ole Kaparo, and the opposition pushing their own choice.

Kofi Annan was expected in Nairobi late Tuesday to lead senior African political figures in the latest attempt to resolve the political deadlock, ahead of the new mass opposition protests.

"The interests of the nation and the people must be paramount," said Annan in a statement prior to his departure. He faces a Herculean task that last week defied his countryman, Ghana's President John Kufuor, current head of the African Union.

Graca Machel, the wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa were to accompany Annan.

The government has rejected the need for international mediation.

"We won the elections so we do not see the point for anyone coming to mediate power-sharing," Roads and Public Works Minister John Michuki, a hardline member of Kibaki's new cabinet, said Monday.

Many feared further violence between police and opposition supporters during this week's rallies.

Odinga has ignored pleas by religious leaders to call off the protests and insisted that police have no right to bar them.

Police say more than 700 people were killed in riots and tribal killings following the announcement of Kibaki's re-election amid international concerns over flaws in the vote tallying.

Some 260,000 people have had to flee their homes since the violence erupted, prompting a humanitarian crisis in the country.

The UN refugee agency said that it will keep providing assistance to thousands of Kenyans who have sought refuge in neighbouring Uganda.

More than 6,100 people -- many of them members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe -- have crossed into eastern Uganda, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva, citing figures from Ugandan authorities.

The UNHCR will help move refugees from border areas to the town of Mulanda, where Ugandan authorities have set up a temporary site, he said.

Mwai Kibaki Snubs Kofi Annan Mediation

New Vision (Kampala)
14 January 2008
By Vision reporter and agencies

THE Kenyan government yesterday rejected a mediation mission by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to try to end political unrest and sent a stern warning to the opposition ahead of nationwide protests.

Annan was due in Nairobi today, two weeks after President Mwai Kibaki's contested re-election sparked violence, which claimed the lives of over 600 people and displaced at least a quarter million.

But Kibaki's government again rejected international mediation of the crisis.

"If Kofi Annan is coming, he is not coming at our invitation," roads and public works minister John Michuki, a hardline member of Kibaki's new cabinet, told reporters in Nairobi.

"We won the elections so we do not see the point for anyone coming to mediate power-sharing."

International mediation efforts have so far failed to bring Kibaki to the negotiating table with opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says the December 27 election was rigged.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) accuses Kibaki of not being interested in finding a way out of the impasse, and using delaying tactics to entrench himself in power.

"It shows that all this is a charade," ODM spokesman Salim Lone told The New Vision yesterday.

"The same happened to (AU chairman) John Kufuor. Kibaki repeatedly said no mediation was needed, which delayed his coming for eight days, and a cabinet was announced just as he was landing."

Top US Africa envoy Jendayi Frazer, who spent a week in Kenya, said afterwards she was "deeply disappointed" that the two rivals had been unable to reach agreement on how to hold direct discussions.

Frazer also warned that the United States could not "conduct business as usual in Kenya."

The EU, in its third statement on the Kenyan crisis, yesterday urged both sides to embrace the mediation efforts by the African Union.

"The EU expresses its full support for the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, headed by Kofi Annan, which will work with the Kenyan parties to resolve their differences and all other outstanding issues, including constitutional and electoral reforms," a statement yesterday said.

Graca Machel, wife to Nelson Mandela, and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa are also on the panel.

"The EU calls on all parties to engage fully and constructively with this process and stresses their responsibility to ensure an immediate cessation of violence, to resort to dialogue and to secure a solution according to democratic standards," it added.

In similar terms as the US, the European Union made it clear it would not engage with the Kenyan Government until there is a "political compromise which leads to a lasting solution that reflects the will of the Kenyan people".

Recalling that the findings of its electoral observers cast serious doubts on the results of the presidential elections, the EU further called for all allegations of election irregularity to be pursued "through the proper democratic and legal channels".

More trouble is expected as the Kenyan Parliament officially opens today. Neither ODM nor Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) managed to secure a majority in parliament, prompting a fight between both sides to woo smaller parties.

Odinga has vowed that his party will sit down on the government's side on the parliament benches.

"We expect rough times and a major showdown in parliament, dominated by patronage, vendettas and unproductiveness if the situation remains as it is," Kenyan political analyst Evans Manduku said yesterday.

Senior ODM official William Ruto denied that by attending the opening of parliament, convened by Kibaki, the opposition would be recognising the legitimacy of his presidency.

"We are not going to sit back and allow them install a speaker who will pave the way for the illegitimacy to continue," he said.

The police and opposition supporters brace for further clashes tomorrow as the opposition plans three days of nationwide rallies to protest Kibaki's re-election.

A police ban on rallies has fueled fears of fresh violence, after the force cracked down with tear gas and water cannons on previous opposition demonstrations.

"Kenyans should be warned that anyone participating or organising a rally will be held personally responsible and will have to face the law," interior minister George Saitoti warned at a press conference yesterday.

Over 700 Kenyans have been killed in the wave of violence across the country. More than 6,000 have sought refuge in Uganda.

ODM nominates three women to House

Publication Date: 1/15/2008

ODM has presented six names to the Electoral Commission of Kenya for nomination as MPs. This will in effect raise their numbers in the House to 105.

The proposed nominees include Sheikh Ahmed Dor, the cleric who spearheaded the MoU between ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga and some Muslim leaders, former Gachoka MP Joseph Nyaga, who is a member of the Pentagon, and former Eldama Ravine MP Musa Sirma.

The other nominees are women. ODM executive director and lawyer Janet Ongera, who was among those who formed ODM Kenya. Later she moved to ODM. The others are gender activists Rachel Shebesh and Ms Sofia Abdi. Ms Shebesh has been active in community mobilisation programmes and women empowerment advocacy in Kasarani constituency. She lost in the nominations. Ms Abdi is active in ODM Women Democrats movement.

The party’s move is in tandem with the ODM manifesto which spelt out a 50-50 sharing of power and positions.

ODM secretary-general Anyang’ Nyong’o did not, however, divulge details on how they chose the nominees.

There have been complaints from party supporters. The only woman in the ODM National Elections Board, Ms Josphine Kuluo, had been tipped as one of the favourites for nomination.

Nairobi ODM youth group also complained that comedian and youthful Dagoretti parliamentary candidate John Kiarie deserved nomination. ECK declared the 12 positions for the nominated MPs at the weekend.

Political bottlenecks

A letter from commission’s chairman, Mr Samuel Kivuitu gave ODM six positions, PNU three, ODM-K two and Kanu one slot.

Meanwhile, the Small Parties Parliamentary Group has met ODM and President Kibaki to iron out political bottlenecks before today’s opening of the 10th Parliament when the Speaker is to be elected.

A key member of the SPPG, Dr P.L.O. Lumumba, said they met ODM leadership on Friday and only MPs-elect met President Kibaki at State House the same day.

Dr Lumumba said this was to develop frameworks of working with both parties on matters of national and legislative interest.

Mr Odinga met all the 36 elected councillors on the party’s ticket in Nairobi. The meeting, also attended by MPs-elect, was aimed at taking charge of the affairs at the city council.

ODM has 36 councillors out of 59. The party with the highest number could be advantaged in electing the mayor, deputy mayor and all committee heads.

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