Saturday, January 05, 2008

Kenya Update: Land Factors, Peace Plans and the Role of Western Media


The land factor in violence that has rocked North Rift

Kenya Saturday Nation
Publication Date: 1/5/2008

Naomi Ng’endo looked forward to usher in the New Year with continued festivities after celebrating Christmas and taking part in the General Election.

However, her hopes were cut short when hell broke loose on New Year’s eve. Fighting erupted following the announcement by the ECK that Mr Mwai Kibaki had won the closely contested election.

The protest has led to loss of hundreds of lives and the displacement of thousands of people, especially in the North Rift.

Statistics indicate that more than 100 people have been killed in Uasin Gishu District alone with some of the bodies remaining uncollected.

More than 30,000 others have sought refuge in police stations and churches.

The North Rift region has witnessed unrest in virtually every General Election with several contributory factors.

Unlike in the previous elections where tribalism was the main factor, the ongoing insecurity being witnessed in the region is more of land politics.

The region was viewed as predominantly ODM. The region overwhelmingly voted in ODM candidates and gave its presidential candidate Raila Odinga total support.

It was not surprising therefore that the majority of residents were disappointed when the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) declared President Kibaki victorious.

It’s on the account of these results that those viewed to have been supporters of other parties, and in particular PNU, turned victims of the violence.

Communities that were thought to have supported President Kibaki in the elections easily became targets of attacks.

Unlike in previous pre-election clashes witnessed in the region, communities grouped themselves according to party affiliation to fight those who did not side with them.

Land could have been the other underlying factor that contributed to the current skirmishes that have led to the killings and displacement in the region.

The North Rift is mainly occupied by members of the Kalenjin community although other groups have bought land in the region under the constitutional right to live in any part of the country.

For a long time the eve of general elections has seen communities in the province engaging in skirmishes.

The local communities have accused outsiders of acquiring large tracts of land during the administration of Founding President Jomo Kenyatta.

The locals complain that they were left out of this land allocation.

Going to be reversed

During the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi, the residents thought that the allocation was going to be reversed but instead he protected the settler communities.

The residents did not want to hear Mr Moi’s advice in the just concluded elections because they thought he was out to protect the settler communities again.

A resident of Eldoret South, Mr James Mosbei, said the settler communities could not be allowed to continue staying in the region while supporting candidates not favoured by the local community.

Many North Rift residents say the protests against the presidential results were just a cover up as the key underlying factor was the land issue.

As the victims vacate their land, those who have remained are discussing on how to take it over and share it out among the landless.

The targeted land is in Cherangany and Saboti constituencies and the larger Uasin Gishu district.

Mixed signals on peace talks

Publication Date: 1/5/2008

Suggestions that President Kibaki was ready to consider a coalition government with Mr Raila Odinga’s ODM as part of efforts to end the widespread post-election violence might mark a major breakthrough by retired South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

After a meeting at State House Friday, the Nobel Peace Laureate said that the President was not opposed to the idea and was also ready for negotiations, but wants an end to the violence before any talks can start.

The previous day, Archbishop Tutu met Mr Odinga and he agreed to negotiate, suggesting that there was some progress towards talks.

The momentum is moving from demands for a re-tally of the presidential vote to a political settlement that will end the violence and possibly find long-term solutions to the underlying political and social tensions.

But as Archbishop Tutu was reporting on his meeting with the President, ODM was releasing its own statement rejecting participation in a coalition government.

The party also rejected a proposal by Attorney-General Amos Wako for a fresh scrutiny of the presidential election results forms from all constituencies and a political solution through formation of a government of national unity with representation form all parliamentary parties.

ODM secretary-general Anyang’ Nyong’o said the party was instead pushing for an international mediation and a transitional Government to take charge for three months and organise fresh presidential election.

President Kibaki’s PNU has rejected international mediation, insisting that the situation many see as Kenya’s worst crisis since independence does not warrant that level of intervention. On Thursday President Kibaki said he was ready for dialogue if the violence over the disputed presidential election results was first brought to an end. That was interesting because any dialogue would aim at, first, stopping the violence before exploring long-term solutions to the political problem.

President Kibaki was also emphatic that he was properly elected and accused the opposition of causing trouble on being defeated at the polls.

Archbishop Tutu said both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga had assured him that they were willing to enter into talks for the sake of peace.

But it appears there is still a wide gulf between what shape such talks should take and what they should aim to achieve.

The push for talks also come at a time when nearly all the major observer groups agreed that there were anomalies with the tallying of the presidential election votes.

What might be adding to the confusion are the remarks from ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu. After defying pressure from Mr Raila Odinga’s ODM and declaring President Kibaki re-elected, Mr Kivuitu now appears to be expressing doubt on the authenticity of the numbers and even suggesting that documents which would be vital in case of any re-tally were being interfered with at ECK headquarters.

Mr Kivuitu has been insisting that a re-tallying or a vote recount now can only come through a court order after an election petition.

But the Attorney-General, the governments chief legal advisor, differed with that position on Thursday. Mr Wako was of the opinion that there would be nothing legally wrong with a fresh scrutiny of the certificates returned from all constituencies since they law did allow the relevant documents to be made available to the public.

However he said that President Kibaki has been declared elected as President and duly sworn, which means that the exercise would not be about reversing the election results if Mr Odinga was seen to be the actual winner, but for providing a basis for a negotiated political solution or legal action.

All the major observer groups, the European Union, the Commonwealth and the Kenya Elections Domestic Observer Forum which had submitted preliminary reports by yesterday, concurred that while the voting was largely open and free, the vote tallying for the presidential elections was marked by serious anomalies.

Most of them also recommended a fresh scrutiny of the result forms submitted from all the constituencies, but in an environment where there are allegations that the forms could have been altered, that might not provide a solution.

It might however be important if only for the purpose of establishing whether documents had actually been altered or replaced, and to what extent.


Media council should set rules for covering conflicts

Story by PETER MWAURA | Fair Play
Publication Date: 1/5/2008

After viewing a K24 Eyewitness News video tape by Jeff Koinange (of CNN fame) on the riots in Kibera, Nairobi, and several newspaper pictures of the post-election violence that began on Sunday, I was struck by one fact: The rioters understood that they must feed the cameras.

In those pictures, the rioters were acting out for the cameras. They seemed to know that to further their side of the dispute they had to get the media to become part of them. They understood perfectly that they had to feed the media to keep their cause in the headlines.

So when the cameras arrived, the rioters stepped up their war dance, held up their stones and machetes and burning tyres menacingly for the world to see. They were seeking to influence public perceptions of the riots. And the media empowered them.

I was also struck by the symbiotic relationship between journalists and rioters. I was reminded of the famous CNN video tape of Nigeria’s Niger Delta rebels repeatedly aired on February 7, 2007. Wielding guns, the rebels in black outfits and black ski masks put up a war dance for the benefit of Jeff Koinange and his TV crew.

BY COVERING A CONFLICT, JOURNALISTS play out the conflict. They frame, and sometimes inflame, the conflict. They create the reality on which we base our understanding of the conflict.

In some situations, the media even help to escalate and ripen the conflict, even to create new conflicts and flashpoints. There are many instances of this. Perhaps the most illustrative is Charles Taylor’s rebellion in Liberia.

Mr Taylor started his rebellion in the 1990s reportedly with $300, some 20 hired thugs and a satellite phone, which he used to call BBC for interviews. After a series of dramatic interviews with BBC’s Focus on Africa, his rebellion came to fruition.

The media also contributed to the escalation and ripening of conflicts in countries such as Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in the early 1990s, the Soviet Union during its break-up in 1991, Palestine, Israel and South Africa during the apartheid era.

In those conflicts, when a TV crew appeared a riot occurred because rioters were acting out for the cameras. In some of those conflict situations, if there had not been cameras there probably would not have been riots.

The dynamics of a conflict tend to sweep everything into its net. Journalists are sucked in and become players in the conflict.

During the recent riots in France, where demonstrators went on nightly car burning sprees, journalists were caught in the conflict dynamics. Editors were faced with the dilemma of whether to cover, or cover up, the riots.

As one French editor aptly put it: “Do we send journalists because cars are burning, or are cars burning because we send journalists?”

The French public television station “France 3” stopped broadcasting the numbers of torched cars. Other TV stations followed suit.

One of France’s leading TV news executives, who censored his broadcasts, said he did not want to encourage extremism.

Jean-Claude Dassier, the director general of the news service, LCI, said the prominence given to the rioters on international news networks had been “excessive” and could be fanning the flames of the violence.

He said his channel had decided not to show footage of burning cars.

“Journalism is not simply a matter of switching on the cameras and letting them roll. You have to think about what you’re broadcasting,” he said.

Most journalists, especially those trained in the Western tradition, however, think conflict is news and news is conflict. They also treat news as a commodity and compete over it.

They say they are gatherers of facts and their role is to provide information, not to create peace. However, in Africa, in such emerging democracies like Kenya, journalism cannot consist of merely reporting facts, especially in inflammable situations. There is an arguable case for peace journalism.

The violence that Kenya has experienced was directed against individuals and groups as representatives of larger communities. The violence was displayed, with the help of the media, as public spectacles so as to spread fear among the targeted communities.

I think the Government ban on “live broadcasts”, announced during the height of the riots, was informed by such considerations.

GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN ALFRED Mutua explained that the Government “requested the media not to air live Press conferences and call-ins into radio shows because it wants to empower editors to be in control of the information relayed by their media houses”.

He went on to say that in the prevailing environment, some people were using the media to call for violence and to incite members of the public to engage in violence. The Media Council, however, rejected the argument, arguing the ban infringed Press freedom.

But there seems to be a case for the council to re-think the issue of reporting ethnically inspired conflicts, particularly in situations where the conflicts have the potential to escalate and lead to ethnic cleansing or untold destruction of lives and property. The council should consider formulating some guidelines.


Violence and cynical foreign news crews

Publication Date: 1/5/2008

As a Canadian, ARNO KOPECKY gives his impression of what he has seen in Nairobi during the riots this weekIn most of the television clips we see of the riots these days, it seems there are almost as many journalists in the frame as looters.

Kenya’s election debacle has quickly become a world event, sharing the No. 1 news slot with Pakistan’s assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto and the occasional suicide bomber.

Accordingly, the number of foreign reporters flitting around town in red vests has quintupled, their presence all the more noticeable for the lack of anyone else in the streets.

As one of them (minus the red vest), I’ve enjoyed watching the subtle interactions that take place between the growing pool of competitors for the most shocking photo, the saddest story, the most heroic reporting. We drive from one lynching to another, from burnt churches to dispersed rallies, like children chasing marbles.

It takes a fair amount of cynicism to fly around the world just to watch people’s lives fall apart.

I spoke with one photographer, for instance, moments after he’d returned from a riot in Mathare; he was heart-broken, not by what he saw, but because he had put his camera on the wrong setting and none of the bodies he had photographed turned out well.

My introduction to the circus came about an hour after Mr Samuel Kivuitu declared that Mr Mwai Kibaki had won the presidential election, late last Sunday afternoon.

One of the first thoughts on many people’s minds was Kibera – they had already been rioting for two days, and it was painfully obvious that the slum would now explode. I volunteered to check it out along with a colleague who had grown up in Kibera, and spoke the right language to be there.

Twenty minutes later, Chris and I were standing on Makina road at the entrance to the slum. It was dusk, and the orange-glowing smoke of countless bonfires already hung over the brown rooftops ahead.

Thousands of hoots and ululations mingled and echoed forth in a single high pitch from the mobs we couldn’t yet see, and we stood there contemplating the disaster among crews from BBC, Reuters, AP and the like.

While we muttered and stalled, a steady stream of ragged young men marched past us en route to the flames.

One after another of the news teams got calls from their head offices ordering them to leave. I later learned that most news crews, when they do enter such scenes, work as a team, walking two ahead and two behind wherever possible and always identifying escape routes.

But when Chris and I went forward, my only thought was to stay glued to his side and let him do the talking.

It was dark by then. Just as we began, an enormous fireball mushroomed brilliantly into the sky far ahead – Patrick Njiru’s famous gas station had exploded. The volume around us went up a notch. Young men and women dragged their machetes on the gravel, shouting “No Raila! No Peace!” and when they saw the mzungu reporter in their midst added “Tell them!”

We kept a good pace all the way to Olympic primary school, where we finally paused to chain-smoke a few cigarettes. Stopping meant being surrounded by angry children, most of them drunk and spitting in your face as they declared that none of this was their fault.

That’s probably the last nighttime stroll I’ll take through Kibera, at least for the next few weeks, but the trip epitomised everything the West finds fascinating about Kenya’s situation.

There is a certain helplessness motivating the destroyers of public property and innocent lives, as though they just can’t keep the demons inside them at bay. On the surface, it’s about taking the only available avenue of protest against what they see as a stolen election.

But once those forces are unleashed, politics fly out the window and a delighted sort of rage takes over. You can see in many of their faces that some of these rioters are having the times of their lives.

Given their upbringing, that’s pretty understandable. But the outsider, whose own life is untouched by someone else’s tragedy, is mostly interested in the spectacle; he sees it as a movie.

Wow, he thinks, these people really know how to blow up. What passion! What anger! It’s 21st century Shakespeare, written in the ghettos and produced by CNN, best watched with a bucket of popcorn.

But to be fair, there are plenty of viewers and readers, not to mention journalists, who are watching this through a more sophisticated lens.

When crimes like the ones now proliferating throughout the country happen in isolation, the counterbalance of shame is hard to kick in. By recording these events, we put not just the looters on trial, but also the politicians who know very well they could put a stop to the madness any time they liked.

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