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Kofi Annan Warns of Return to Violence in Kenya

  • Mike Sunderland

Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who mediated an end to Kenya's 2008 post-election violence, attends a press conference on 08 Dec 2009 in Nairobi,

Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who mediated an end to Kenya's 2008 post-election violence, attends a press conference on 08 Dec 2009 in Nairobi,

Former UN Chief says ethnic political and social divisions could revive the sort of violence Kenya witnessed early last year following the disputed presidential election

Former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan ended a visit to Kenya, warning that tribal politics was on the rise in the east African country. Annan was in Kenya to judge the government's progress on implementing key reforms.

Former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan warned Tuesday that ethnic divisions in politics and society could bring about a return to the sort of violence Kenya witnessed early last year following the disputed presidential election.

"Immediately after the 2008 crisis, everyone became very aware of the dangers of ethnicity and how it can be manipulated for us to turn on each other. The moves of some of the politicians and their supporters, it is as if 2007, 2008 never occurred, and I think if we are going to have a peaceful Kenya as we move towards 2012 this attitude has to be nipped in the bud."

At least 1,300 Kenyans died in ethnic violence following the election in December 2007. Annan mediated the talks that ended the fighting and led to the formation of a coalition government, headed by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Annan also called on Kenya to fulfill its commitment to set up a local tribunal to try suspects of violent crimes committed immediately after the election. The former U.N. chief praised President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga for agreeing to cooperate with the International Criminal Court during a recent visit by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Annan also stressed the importance of police reforms and called on the government to implement a new Witness Protection Act. He expressed concerns about accusations that some witnesses due to testify before the International Criminal Court had become the targets of further violence.

This is the second time in two months Annan has warned Kenyan politicians the longer they take to implement key reforms, the more likely they will be to face renewed violence before the national election in 2012. During a visit in October, he said the country had less than 18 months to implement political, police and judicial reforms if it was to avoid a return to violence.

The BBC has reported that some youths in the Rift Valley, the region that witnessed the worst of the election violence, are arming themselves in preparation for the next election.

The former U.N chief said he has seen no evidence to support the claim, but warned against a return to bloodshed.

"Indeed if it is happening in Kenya, it is very, very bad news for the country. We know what happened last time without weapons. If this time people have their hands on guns and they are allowed to continue to acquire them, then we are headed for a very, very dangerous and serious situation," he said.

Kenya has been under renewed pressure from America and the international community to speed up reforms. The U.S. recently imposed a travel ban on a top Kenyan official. Attorney General Amos Wako was accused of deliberately slowing the pace of reforms.

Last month, the government released a new draft constitution, which is being reviewed by the Kenyan public. Annan says the time has come for East Africa's biggest economy to have a constitution that is "workable and effective, and that can stand the test of time.

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