Weighing International Aid for Kenya

John Holmes, under-secretary general of the U.N. for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, talks with Scott Simon about Kenya's post-election violence and what the rest of the world might do about it.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up the two coaches who'll take their teams into the Super Bowl. But first, negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, his rival in Kenya's December disputed election, agreed to a framework for talks aimed at ending Kenya's violence. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced the agreement yesterday just hours after Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Annan's successor, met with negotiators for both sides. The agreement is a breakthrough, but the violence that so far has left 850 people dead and 300,000 refugees continues. John Holmes is Undersecretary General of the United Nations for Humanitarian Affairs and emergency relief coordinator. He's in Washington DC to meet with Bush Administration officials and joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us Ambassador Holmes.

Mr. JOHN HOLMES (Undersecretary General, United Nations for Humanitarian Affairs): A pleasure.

SIMON: And can you share with us the Secretary General's reaction.

Mr. HOLMES: I think like everybody else he's horrified by what we've seen happening in Kenya over the last month. Kenya was an apparently stable and prosperous country doing well economically, holding elections regularly, not a perfect democracy but doing well. And now we see after this disputed election, the country descending into the kind of cycle and spiral of violence, counter reprisal, often on an ethnic basis, which we've seen elsewhere, including in Europe by the way, which looks as if it's very hard to stop.

SIMON: Mr. Holmes to in no way denigrate the importance of political leaders, is it your impression that they are entirely responsible for if not what's happening now at least responsible for stopping it? Does it have a life of its own?

Ambassador HOLMES: The danger is that it takes on a life of its own. I think there's some signs of that already, but I think the politicians have a responsibility to stop it. They have a responsibility to look after the welfare of their own citizens, particularly the government but also the opposition as well. If they reach a solution, that takes away the immediate pretext for this violence.

SIMON: Kofi Annan has been leading the mediation effort, and I think he surprised some people, maybe I'm just speaking for myself, when he spoke this week of how a solution could take a year.

Mr. HOLMES: I think he was talking about a solution to some of the longer term problems. In other words, the economic disparities and the inequalities which have been there. And also some of the constitutional issues which lie behind the electoral problems. He also talked about finding a solution to the immediate political problems, in other words the disputes left over from the election, much more rapidly than that. I think he talked about four weeks.

SIMON: Mr. Holmes, people have already been using the term ethnic cleansing. I wonder how you feel about that.

Mr. HOLMES: Well, I think we need to be careful about bandying around these terms like ethnic cleansing or even some people have used the word genocide. It's clear that if you're on the receiving end of some of these dreadful acts of brutality, people being hacked to death, people being driven from their homes on a tribal, ethnic basis, it would feel pretty much like ethnic cleansing to you. On the other hand, using the term ethnic cleansing does imply a certain degree of systematic policy, systematic direction by on part or the other. It's not clear to me that that's there at the moment. But that's why it's so important to stop it now before it becomes much more of a directive, systematic thing on both sides perhaps.

SIMON: Is there a direct role for the United States to play that you might be trying to urge on them.

Mr. HOLMES: What's clear is that if there is going to be the quick kind of political solution there needs to be, there needs to be serious international pressure on both sides in this dispute to find that solution. And of course, the American administration plays a huge part in that. They have already been playing that role. I think it can be stepped up further. Not just from Washington, but from London and Paris and other key capitals of the world to make sure that pressure is there and is felt very clearly on the ground by the participants.

SIMON: And the African Union, of course, is demanding a resolution. What role for them?

Mr. HOLMES: I think it's very important that where you can find an African solution, we have an African mediator in the shape of Kofi Annan the former UN Secretary General. I think that's more acceptable locally, more likely to be successful than purely outside intervention from outside Africa. But I think that's where the AU, the African Union, and the UN and the international community can play a good complementary role with the Africans leading the mediation, and the international community making sure that everybody knows that the pressure is there. And people will not really accept that Kenya, an example of stability and prosperity, should descend into the kind of chaos we've seen in countries roundabout.

SIMON: John Holmes, who's UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and emergency relief coordinator, thanks very much.

Mr. HOLMES: Thank you.

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