Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kenya News Bulletin: Army Crackdown on Militia; Zimbabwe Must Not Be Allowed to Follow Kenya

Army crackdown: 7 arrested in Uganda

Story by KEN OPALA
Publication Date: 3/24/2008

Ugandan authorities have repatriated seven suspected members of the Sabaot Land Defence Force amid reports that the top leaders of the militia may have fled the country just days before the military operation was launched.

Sources in Mt Elgon said that the suspected leader of the militia, 24-year-old Wycliffe Kirui Komon Matakwei, and about 450 of his men, fled the Chemondi Kimama area – where the conflict that has claimed 700 lives and displaced 80,000 people in 18 months of clashes started. The group fled two days ahead of the joint army/police crackdown.

“They left in three squads,” said a source linked to the rebel leader. “Most of the boys escaped with their ammunition. They had been informed of the military plan days before.”

Track down leaders

However, the security personnel leading the Mt Elgon crackdown do not believe this claim. At the weekend, the joint army/police operation media liaison officer, Mr Charles Wahong’o, said: “Whatever it takes, however long, we will track down the (SLDF) leaders. We have to bring them to book.”

One of those on the “wanted list” was elected as a councillor in Mt Elgon during the December elections. He is described as one of the group’s commanders. Although local government authorities said the suspect was not sworn in, other sources claimed he secretly took the oath of office a week after the other councillors.

Ugandan authorities seized the seven suspects on the Lwakhakha side of its border on March 15. The suspects were then handed over to Kenyan authorities immediately.

“We are working closely with Ugandan authorities,” Mt Elgon district commissioner Mohamed Birik said in an interview with the Nation at his Kapsokwony offices.

The hunt is on for a Laiboni (community elder) called Psongoywo who is believed to have escaped into Uganda. He is the alleged architect of the militia and the person believed to have administered an oath on the fighters.

Holed up in caves

The joint army/police operation command said it was aware that word leaked about the impending crackdown against the militias. However, sources in the army said they still believed the group was holed up in caves in areas such as Chemondi, Chebwek, Kimama and near the top of Mt Elgon.

Some militias had offered to surrender to the Cheptais district officer, Mr K. Tirop, at Kapkironga Trading Centre near the foot of the mountain. “We waited but they didn’t appear,” Mr Tirop said at the weekend.

The area’s acting chief, Mr Jamin Chemos, said hundreds of youths were picked up by soldiers to assist in investigations. He said it was true that the militia forcibly conscripted some youths in his area. “They were then given pangas, knives and were trained on how to fight.”

Soldiers and the police mounted an operation at Kapkirongo after rumours that Matakwei, the leader of the militia, was to hold a meeting there.

“The Army was given wrong information. Matakwei was not here,” said Mr Chemos.

A source on Friday said that a David Sichei, who is believed to have trained the youths, surrendered on Thursday. The police also seized 17 guns from him. Sichei is an Israeli-trained former guard attached to the presidential security detail.

“He gave himself up Sunday and gave us valuable information about the whereabouts of his comrades in crime. We know they are here in Mt Elgon and in Uganda,” said the source.

Earlier in the day, the Kapsokwony district officer, Mr Donald Koech, had revealed that security personnel were closing in on Sichei and Matakwei.

Three-quarters of Mt Elgon district is under forest cover, which complicates any military onslaught. The area also has many caves, some extending to the Ugandan side. Among the communities that live in the district are the Sabaots, Bukusu and Teso, whose members are to be found on either side of the Kenya/Uganda border.

The security operation has paralysed many businesses and other activities in the districts. Hundreds of suspects have been arrested but many of them were later freed after interrogation. Some civilians claimed that hundreds of people had been killed in the bombings of the caves and other parts of the forest, allegations denied by security officials who talk about “a dozen or so” but insist they need time to compile the death toll.

Some residents also claimed that a military aircraft had been dropping the bodies of militiamen at Chesakwa, deep in the Mt Elgon forest, and at Ng’atip Kong, where the militias used to kill and dump their victims. “The bodies are being airlifted and thrown out deep in the forest,” said a community elder.

Sources at Webuye and Bungoma hospitals, the largest referral centres in the region, said the mortuaries had not received any bodies from Mt Elgon since the operation began a fortnight ago. Bungoma and Webuye hospitals had received one and nine bodies of victims before the military operation began.

Mt Elgon district commissioner Mohamed Birik said the security personnel had seized 30 firearms and hundreds of grenades. Human rights activists, including Job Bwonya of the Western Kenya Human Rights Watch, said the security chiefs could do better. “That there were close to 3,000 militias in the forests and caves out there, we tend to think the SLDF had something like 1,500 guns at their disposal,” said the organisation’s executive director.

The security team is looking for Matakwei’s father and Psongoywo, who is said to have administered oaths on the boys, making them believe they could not be felled by police bullets.

In the early days of the operation, an unknown number of militias were bombed in a cave after they defied an order to surrender, said a highly placed source in the provincial administration in Western Province.

The military has vowed to track down the militia that has killed about 700 people in Mt Elgon and the larger Trans Nzoia districts since August 2006. The figure of the death toll was compiled by the Western Kenya Human Rights Watch, an NGO. Of those victims, about 200 died in the past three months, raising the possibility that the insurgents may have taken advantage of the post-election violence to escalate their attacks.

Some of the bodies are lying unclaimed at the Webuye mortuary, said hospital sources. Security sources said the operation had discovered mass graves at Ng’atip Kong and at Meza.

The Mt Elgon conflict was sparked by a dispute over land allocation in the district. Corruption riddled the Chebyuk Settlement Scheme Phase Three allocations after some squatters who had lived on the land were evicted after they allegedly failed to acquire the plots.

Missed out

Among those who missed out on the allocation was one community elder identified as Psongoywo and a Matakwei, father of the militia’s leader, Wycliffe Matakwei. The two owned 200 acres each which they then subdivided among their sons. “When they were evicted by the provincial administration, the area erupted in violence and their sons went to the bush to fight,” said a source.

But Mr Wahong’o, the security operations press officer, said the conflict had moved from land clashes to the targeting of innocent people in Mt Elgon, Trans Nzoia and Bungoma districts. “The crisis was in Chebyuk but the killings are being done outside. These are criminals,” he said.

He urged the displaced families to return. “We call upon those who are innocent to go back home. Everything is all right.”

US declares Kenya a safe destination

Publication Date: 3/24/2008

Threats of violence in Kenya “have dramatically receded following the widely accepted power-sharing agreement” signed last month, the US State Department declares in a newly-revised travel warning.

The March 21 announcement will be welcomed by Kenya’s tourism industry, which can now expect more Americans to book safaris and beach holidays.

A departure order covering the Kisumu area has been rescinded for US government employees and their families, enabling them to return there, the updated notice says. The recent statement supercedes a February 8 warning to Americans to defer all travel to Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces.

The temporary suspension of the Peace Corps programme in Kenya is under review, the State Department adds, indicating that volunteers may return to the country “in the near future”.

More than 100 Peace Corps workers were withdrawn from Kenya as violence spread and intensified in January. Some had been teaching sign language in the Rift Valley to deaf Kenyans who had contracted the Aids virus.

“We hope to return soon with gradual volunteer inputs, eventually growing the programme back to its previous size,” Peace Corps spokeswoman Josie Duckett told the Nation.

The State Department continues to advise travellers to Kenya to be wary of possible criminal and terrorist violence. “In the short-term,” the new posting warns, “the displacement of thousands of people by the recent civil unrest combined with endemic poverty and the availability of weapons could result in an increase in crime, both petty and violent.”

Kibaki and Raila set to meet over new Cabinet

Story by NATION Team
Publication Date: 3/24/2008

President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga will meet Tuesday to decide on the sharing of ministries in the expanded government.

The defining session at State House comes as MPs in PNU, ODM and ODM- Kenya keep their fingers crossed on whether they will be part of the new administration.

Head of the Presidential Press Services Isaiah Kabira confirmed the scheduling of the meeting that was postponed twice last week.

The sensitive issue of portfolio balance in the new Cabinet is likely to be the major item in the consultations.
The national accord that brought PNU and ODM together in a grand coalition stated that balance of high profile ministries was a key element the parties must consider.

Coalition chief whip Jakoyo Midiwo said the two sides were now entering into negotiations on how to share the high profile ministries, some of which are being held by key leaders in PNU and ODM-K.

“The negotiations on portfolio balance will take place this week and I hope our principals will not disagree on the issue,” said Mr Jakoyo in a telephone interview.

Cabinet ministers Martha Karua and Noah Wekesa said the decision on the balancing of powerful ministries was in the hands of President Kibaki and Mr Odinga.

Said Ms Karua, the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister: “We are going to wait for the two leaders to make their move. It is a matter that some of us have no authority over and cannot therefore comment on.”

Ministerial slots

Dr Wekesa, the Science and Technology minister, said: “The portfolio balance should not necessarily be tied to communities but be guided by the quality of MPs that can hold them,” he said.

The high profile ministries are: Internal Security, Finance, Constitutional Affairs, Local Government, Foreign Affairs, Roads and Public Works, Information and Communications and Transport.

Others are Agriculture, Health, Trade and Industry, Planning, Defence, Education, Water and Irrigation, Energy and Lands.

“Until the President and Prime Minister-designate have considered the matter of portfolio balance, which is more complicated than what most people think, the Cabinet may not be named,” said ODM’s secretary-general Anyang Nyong’o.

Anxiety has been building up among MPs since the two Bills that created the coalition government and the positions of Prime Minister and two deputies were speedily passed last week by Parliament.

There are reports that the size of the Cabinet could be expanded to give the President and Mr Odinga room to meet some of the demands from different quarters of their MPs. The pressure to expand the Cabinet is said to be driven by some PNU members who want to be recognised for their role in the elections.

But Dr Wekesa called for a lean Cabinet and urged the two principals to ignore MPs who were behind the idea of a bigger Cabinet.

Mr Midiwo, the Gem MP, said it was impossible for all MPs to be named ministers and urged his colleagues to play their roles to develop the country.

Appoint ministers

The Constitution gives powers to President Kibaki to appoint ministers from among MPs without consulting any other person. However, the national accord obliges him to consult Mr Odinga over ODM MPs who have to be appointed ministers and assistant ministers.

In a sign of the hurdles facing the naming of the new Cabinet, Roads and Public Works minister John Michuki has asked ODM not to make unrealistic demands.

He said: “Our ODM partners should not be like the proverbial camel which was allowed to put its head into a hut only to later push the whole body in, displacing even the occupant in the process.”

Mr Michuki said he supported the formation of the coalition government but President Kibaki should not relinquish more powers than was necessary since he was elected by Kenyans.

He said ODM should not dictate how many or which positions they should be allocated in the Government.

Mr Michuki is seen as one of the hardliners in the Kibaki regime uncomfortable with the power-sharing deal.

He was speaking in his Kangema constituency during the burial of Dr Mwangi Njire, who died in the US aged 76.

In Mombasa, Archbishop Boniface Lele Sunday asked President Kibaki and Mr Odinga not to be blinded by sharing positions but to ensure every Kenyan benefited from the new political arrangement.

Speaking at Holy Ghost Catholic Cathedral, Bishop Lele said the leaders should not forget the pain people endured soon after presidential election results were announced.

In Kisumu, two Anglican clerics cast doubts on the power-sharing deal as a lasting solution to the problems bedevilling Kenya.

Bishops Francis Abiero Mwai (Maseno South) and Joseph Otieno Wasonga (Maseno West) said comprehensive land and constitutional reforms were key to lasting peace.

Reports by Bernard Namunane, Waikwa Maina, Mwakera Mwajefa and Daniel Otieno


Why Zimbabwe mustn’t be allowed to go the Kenya way

Publication Date: 3/24/2008

MANY KENYANS, INCLUDING myself, are shocked to learn that their country is now considered a role model by many Zimbabweans who have been seriously contemplating “doing a Kenya” if the results of the elections this weekend are not to their liking.

I suppose given the state of their economy, and the fact that the country has been ruled by the last of Africa’s Big Men for close to three decades, Zimbabweans are beginning to believe that the only way fundamental changes can be brought about in their country is by breaking into the kind of violence that Kenyans experienced in the weeks following what many believe to be rigged elections.

One argument put to me recently was that a country has to go through violent conflict in order to emerge as a better nation.

Shortly after the violence broke out in many parts of Kenya, I attended a meeting in Dar es Salaam where participants seriously debated whether what was happening in Kenya was a necessary prelude to fundamental reforms needed in society.

At one point, a stunned delegate from Rwanda was even asked whether the genocide in Rwanda had been worth it as it had paved the way for a more democratic and open society that was based on progressive, egalitarian laws.

He responded by saying that the price Rwanda had paid for its peace and democracy was too high, not just in terms of the cost of reconstruction, but because it was written in the blood of hundreds of thousands of his country’s men, women and children.

It is very tempting to believe that had it not been for the violence that engulfed Kenya in the last two months, the two leaders, Mr Raila Odinga and President Kibaki, might never have agreed to form a coalition government dedicated to bringing about much-needed reforms and constitutional changes.

But was it the fact that more than 1,200 people were killed and some 350,000 were internally displaced that melted their hearts, or was it international pressure from Western governments and the international community that forced them to reach a compromise?

Many believe it is the latter. Kenya is strategically important to Western governments for many reasons.

A crisis in Kenya has the potential to spill over to the entire Eastern Africa region and the Horn, as the port of Mombasa serves as a crucial transport link for neighbouring countries and is a strategic gateway to the troubled Middle East.

Moreover, the United States considers Kenya as a useful ally in its war against terror, especially because the country borders Somalia and Sudan, two countries that have been a thorn in the flesh of the US government for more than a decade.

ZIMBABWE, ON THE OTHER HAND, is landlocked, has no significant ally among the world’s most powerful nations, has no oil or other minerals that are of critical importance to the Western world, and is on the brink of economic collapse.

A violent civil war may stir Britain, South Africa or the African Union into action, but it will barely elicit a yawn from the United States or the European Union.

But even if, by some miracle, the world did unite to liberate a strife-torn Zimbabwe, the price the country will have paid will be so great, it will take years to recover.

In Kenya, two months of violence not only cost lives, but hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, property and jobs.

It is estimated that the first week of violence alone cost the country US$1 billion. Tourism, one of the biggest income-earners, dropped dramatically as tourists cancelled bookings or left the country in droves.

Inflation soared as vital road links were cut off, making it difficult for farmers to reach their markets. Seven land-locked neighbouring countries that relied on Kenya’s transport networks for imports suffered severe shortages.

But the real cost of the crisis was borne by the people of Kenya, who are still reeling from the impact of the violence.

Reports indicate that the incidence of rape tripled in the months of January and February, with a majority of victims being under the age of 18.

Lawlessness in various parts of the country, including Nairobi, spawned ethnically-based militia groups who killed or forcibly evicted people from their homes and neighbourhoods. Some of these groups are still operating in parts of the country.

Almost every Kenyan was directly or indirectly affected by the violence. As a nation we are traumatised and it will take us a long time to trust again.

If that is the price of democracy, then it is a price many Kenyans are not ever willing to pay again. Zimbabweans going to the polls this Saturday should take note.

Ms Warah is an editor with the UN. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.(

No comments: