Kenya?s main opposition party is criticizing President Mwai Kibaki for trying to undermine mediation efforts aimed at resolving the country?s political crisis. The Orange Democratic Movement, led by Raila Odinga, says it rejects Mr. Kibaki?s statement that he is the duly elected president of Kenya. He made the statement after what appeared to be a breakthrough meeting with Mr. Odinga and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Nairobi. Kenya has been mired in turmoil and violence since the election of December 27, in which the incumbent president was declared the winner. Mr. Odinga and his supporters accuse the government of rigging the polls to ensure a Kibaki victory. International observers also say the election was serious flawed.
Earlier attempts at outside mediation failed, and many analysts are skeptical that Mr. Annan will ultimately be successful, according to Richard Cockett, Africa editor for The Economist magazine. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now?s International Press Club, Mr. Cockett notes that previous attempts at mediation by several high-level dignitaries, including the head of the African Union and a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, proved disappointing.
But Kenyan journalist Tom Mshindi, managing editor of The Monitor, says that the outcome of Kofi Annan?s visit is extremely difficult to predict, and he points out that Mr. Annan is held in ?very high regard? by both the Kenyan government and the opposition. Nonetheless, VOA Nairobi correspondent Alisha Ryu says she is skeptical about the chances for success. She observes that people on all sides are worried because having so much turmoil in Kenya is ?very destabilizing? for the entire region. For example, Kenya is a major transit country for goods coming from the port of Mombassa into Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo.
Nearly 700 people in Kenya are now dead, 250,000 are displaced, and the economy is now imperiled in what had been East Africa?s fastest growing economy. There are reports of machete-wielding mobs hacking people to death and burning women and children alive. Much of the bloodshed, Alisha Ryu notes, has been between the Kikuyu and Luo tribes. Mr. Kibaki is Kikuyu, while Mr. Odinga is Luo. She says a lot of the ethnic problems going on in western Kenya today are the result of the land redistribution that Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya?s first president, made after independence from Britain 45 years ago.
Tom Mshindi of The Monitor says that the United States and Britain find themselves in a particularly delicate situation. Both countries have much at stake in Kenya and have actively encouraged both sides to the negotiating table. He says the opposition would like to see the U.S. government ?demand? that the Kenyan government either have a rerun or another tally of the vote, or agree to share power.
But Washington needs to have a good relationship with Kenya because of its strategic position in the region, and as Alisha Ryu notes, Mr. Kibaki?s government has been a ?prominent partner? in the war against terror in the region, especially in neighboring Somalia. U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger says that, despite the rocky start of the Kibaki-Odinga talks, he remains ?hopeful? that Kofi Annan can bring the two sides together. However, a new flare up of violence has killed more people as ethnic clashes broke out in central Kenya, just hours after Mr. Annan held the first direct talks between the two principals.
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