Chaos as Annan begins talks
Published on January 24, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
Police lobbed teargas canisters at what was a peaceful mass funeral service for those killed in post-election violence, even as a series of meetings aimed at finding a solution to the political crisis began.
Intriguingly, the prayers at Ligi Ndogo grounds on Nairobi’s Ngong Road had been authorised by the Government.
The turn of events came shortly before former UN secretary-general, Mr Kofi Annan, launched his bid to help find a solution to the current political crisis.
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Mr Raila Odinga and members of the Pentagon were buried under a cloud of teargas as chaos reined.
The Orange party described the attack by police as “outrageous and completely unprovoked”.
Thereafter, scenes of violence that underlined the gravity of the problem facing the country were enacted on Ngong Road as youths — who were battling police officers after being tear gassed — vented their anger on the Ngong Road Telkom Exchange building, setting it on fire.
The gathering was disrupted just as Raila led the mourners in a freedom song before he concluded his speech.
It was in this background that Annan began the arduous task of bringing the Government and the ODM sides to the table, the most serious bid yet since the talks stalled in the hands of African Union chairman and Ghanaian President Mr John Kufuor.
Raila and the Pentagon members, still smarting from the effects of the police attack, met Annan after the former UN chief held a meeting with National Assembly Speaker, Mr Kenneth Marende.
It was expected that he would later hold a meeting with President Kibaki.
Marende said he was optimistic Annan and his team would find a solution to the crisis.
“The discussions with Annan and his team were useful and very friendly as we canvassed on the pertinent issues facing our country,” Marende added.
Annan’s assignment involves bridging the gap between President Kibaki — who was declared the winner of the disputed polls — and Raila, who claims he was the victor but this was stolen from him.
Later, ODM announced its team for talks with President Kibaki’s side.
Mr Musalia Mudavadi will be the deputy leader of the team that includes Pentagon members; Mr William Ruto, Mr Joseph Nyagah, Mr Najib Balala and Mrs Charity Ngilu.
The rest are ODM chairman Mr Henry Kosgei, Secretary-General Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and Dr Sally Kosgei. Mr Salim Lone, Ms Sarah Elderkin and Mr Caroli Omondi were named joint secretaries.
On Wednesday, it was back and forth movements between Serena Hotel, State House and the Hotel Inter-Continental — where Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is booked — as the talks started.
Museveni was driven to State House and later to the Serena midmorning to meet Annan. He then left the hotel but returned later in the afternoon for consultations with Raila and his Pentagon members.
Annan spent almost the entire day holding consultations and could not honour a 3.30pm State House appointment.
Former South Africa First Lady, Mrs Graca Machel, and former Tanzanian President, Mr Benjamin Mkapa, have joined Annan to midwife the delicate process.
On arrival on Tuesday night, Annan emphasised the need for dialogue, saying: “We appeal for good faith and genuine dialogue. We want peace and co-operation”.
Trouble on Ngong Road started when a lorry-load of police officers tried to disperse a group of youths who had taken control of a section of the busy road, harassing motorists and later barricading the road.
Part of the crowd had earlier chased away a contingent of GSU personnel from the scene, saying they were not needed at the funeral service.
However, a reinforcement of regular police, which arrived later, could not entertain the same treatment and responded by firing teargas and live bullets in the air.
Raila was by the time leading mourners in chanting a freedom song with the lines: “Nifungwe pingu, niwekwe jela, nipigwe risasi, nipigwe teke, sitarudi nyuma (Even if I am subjected to arrests, jail, shot at or kicked, I shall not relent)”
But he was cut short when several teargas canisters landed on the main dais, sending the Pentagon team members scampering in different directions.
The funeral service was conducted by Rev J. Godia of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, for 17 victims killed by police bullets during post-election violence.
Coffins bearing their remains had earlier been removed from the City Mortuary and lay under a tent next to the dais where the leaders sat.
Some of the canisters landed on the coffins, which were abandoned by the mourners as they fled. But some elderly women remained rooted next to the coffins of their loved ones wailing as they choked in teargas.
For about 10 minutes, the Ligi Ndogo ground in Woodley was a battle zone as police chased youths.
At one time, the vehicles of the Pentagon team circled the ground as the drivers sought an exit route away from the main gate, which was temporarily impassable due to teargas fumes.
In the ensuing melee, cars carrying Raila, Mudavadi, Ruto, Balala, Ngilu and Nyagah managed to get out of the ground onto Ngong Road.
As the fracas intensified, police retreated and the irate youth turned their anger on the nearby Ngong Road Telkom Exchange facility, torching it.
Also burnt were the exchange’s CDMA base station, a store and two cars after the youth brought down the perimeter wall.
About 15 employees of Telkom Kenya, who were trapped in the building, were rescued unhurt by police.
Earlier, Raila had urged ODM supporters to exercise restraint and shun violence and destruction of property.
“Let us not fight each other. Our war is between a small clique of bloodthirsty politicians around Kibaki who want to maintain the status quo and the large mass who are agents of change. Do not burn a poor man’s property. He never stole the election at KICC,” Raila beseeched as he urged Kenyans to embrace peace.
During the mass, the ODM leadership vowed never to relent in their quest for justice over the disputed presidential election.
Raila, who started his speech by singing the National Anthem, reiterated his call on Kibaki to resign before he can engage with the President in dialogue.
“Kibaki must accept that he was beaten and we go to the field for a fresh election. We are ready for a re-run,” he said.
Human rights violation
Raila said ODM would not be cowed by the unjust system, saying the liberation struggle would succeed despite Kibaki’s use of brute force.
“There can be no peace without justice. Peace that is not founded on justice is like a house built on quicksand. Peace by the gun will crumble,” said the ODM leader.
He accused Kibaki of practising exclusionism and unleashing terror on innocent people to galvanise his disputed leadership.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights condemned the killings and dispatched a team to Geneva, Switzerland, to brief the UN on the human rights violation in Kenya.
Representing the commission, Mr Hassan Omar Hassan said the body was committed to the truth and shall hold the Government agents engaged in mass killings accountable.
Mudavadi accused the police of engaging in bloodletting and said the movement will not retreat in its struggle.
“You cannot burn the truth. Kibaki imagined that the post-election crisis was a small problem that will go away within two days. Kenyans have shown that the theft of an election is not a joke and they will not tire until they have their rights back,” he said.
Ruto said ODM would not engage in blame-games with the Government, saying the party was committed to international efforts aimed at resolving the standoff.
“We want the issue resolved expeditiously. We will not relent and we will move forward until justice is done. It is not business as usual because many Kenyans are living in fear,” he said.
Ngilu challenged the international mediators to stick to the truth as they search for a solution.
Said she: “I appeal to mediators to stand by what is just and true. We will not entertain public relations exercise in the country”.
Nyagah called on Kenyans to unite and urged the communities to live as brothers and sisters.
“Do not allow anybody to lead you down the drain. Some politicians, in Government are using the youth to unleash terror,” he said.
Balala assured that the party leadership would be in the frontline in the fight for justice.
Present were ODM chairman Mr Henry Kosgey, secretary-general Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, Treasurer Mr Omingo Magara and a host of ODM MPs.
— Reportage by Abiya Ochola, Peter Opiyo and Morton Saulo