By Njoroge Wachai
Amid the ongoing post-election bloodbath in Kenya, peace troubleshooters have descended on Nairobi. They’re from all walks of life: sitting and former presidents, career diplomats and religious leaders. They all have one mission: to bring President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to talk to each other and to encourage them to stop the spiral of violence, which a recent Associated Press report claims has killed close to 800 people and left some parts of the country in ruins.
The Kenyan crisis is of monumental magnitude, necessitating outside mediation, but I detest the free-for-all diplomatic theatric that’s slowly unraveling in Nairobi. Even Libya’s strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, a tyrant dictator to the core, has, according to the Office of Kenya’s government spokesman, dispatched his minister for African Union Affairs, Ali Tirku, to encourage President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to share power. How can a dictator who grabbed power by the barrel of a gun 39 years ago, and has since never shared it with anybody, encourage others to do so? Libya has never held a democratic election. Until two years ago, it was a pariah state for its support of terrorism and abuse of human rights. A campaign strategy document for Mr. Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party (ODM) (which Human Rights Watch accused last week of systematic killing of members of one ethnic tribe in Western Kenya) shows that Saif al-Islam al-Gadaffi, Gaddafi’s son, offered material support to the opposition. In light of these reports, it’s preposterous for Libya to think it can mediate in the current crisis.
Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, another authoritarian leader and a perpetrator of the violence in Darfur that has killed close to 200,000 people, also wants to chip in. Mr. al-Bashir is a cruel, petty dictator whom Kenya must shun.
Then there are Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) former Tanzanian head Benjamin Mkapa. Their governance credentials disqualify them from sitting at a mediation table. There are well-documented records of their suppression of human rights and electoral rigging of bigger magnitude than what happened in Kenya.
Memories are still fresh of how Mr. Mkapa, for instance, in January 2001, violently suppressed demonstrations in Zanzibar and Pemba, organized by the opposition party Civic United Front (CUF), to protest his party’s, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) alleged rigging of the 2000 presidential election.
I was in Dar-es-Salaam then, and I recall watching the CUF chairman, Ibrahim Lipumba, and fifteen other members of his party being beaten up and then dragged into court, where they were charged with trumped-up charges of illegal assembly. Isn’t that what’s happening in Kenya?
Tanzanian police, according to a Human Rights Watch report, allegedly used helicopters to attack boats full of CUF supporters fleeing to Kenya. It’s estimated that 30 people, mainly opposition supporters, died from police brutality. With all this blood in his hands, Mr. Mkapa, virtually, has nothing to offer a peace negotiation. What can Mr. Mkapa tell Mr. Odinga, whose supporters’ rights to assembly and expression have been severely inhibited? I see Mkapa egging on President Kibaki to sustain his ruthless clampdown of opposition gatherings to the chagrin of Mr. Odinga.
If, indeed, it’s true President Kibaki is the “typical African dictator,” keen to deny citizens the enjoyment of constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms, then Uganda’s President Museveni epitomizes something yet worse, as experiences in two past multi-party elections in his country attest.
Museveni’s intolerance to political competition first emerged after the country’s first multiparty election in 2001. Soon after Museveni was declared the winner, Dr. Kizza Besigye, his main opponent, contested the election results. Instead of allowing courts to do their work, President Museveni embarked on a campaign to harass Dr. Besigye. His movements were closely monitored and his family subjected to all forms of intimidation. Unable to withstand the pressure, Besigye went into exile in South Africa where he lived until 2005.
Besigye’s attempts to challenge Museveni’s stranglehold on power during the 2006 election were similarly thwarted through trumped-up charges of treason and adultery. Wary of independent-minded judges, Museveni hauled Dr. Besigye to Kangaroo military courts.
Museveni, through his military police and armed militias, thwarted every effort by Besigye’s supporters to protest mistreatment of their leader. Museveni’s mediation efforts in Nairobi are, therefore, phony.
Museveni doesn’t believe in political reconciliation. He has never invited Dr. Besigye to Nakasero State House for even a cup of tea. By purporting to help Kenya come out of the political imbroglio it’s in, Museveni is shamelessly preaching milk while he continues to drink wine.
The Musevenis, al-Bashirs, Gadaffis and Mkapa of this world have no business being in Nairobi. This mediation mission should be left to Mr. Annan, who’s a well-respected diplomat. Mr. Annan and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, are up to the job. They don’t require help from folks with dubious governance records.
The writer is a former Kenyan journalist currently based in the United States.
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