Human Rights Official Testifies on Kenyan Violence
MICHELE MARTIN, host:
I'm Michele Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Just ahead, we're going to talk with experts on African affairs about the ways conflicts on the Continent are described. When is it tribal unrest and when is it something else? And does it make a difference?
But first, we want to turn our attention to Kenya, which has been gripped by violence since the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki in December. Observers say the election returning Kibaki to power for a second five-year term was seriously flawed. The fighting has killed more than 1,000 people, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The U.N. Security Council has raised concerns about the humanitarian situation, and a Congressional subcommittee has just heard testimony about the situation.
Joining us to talk about all of this is Maina Kiai. He is chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and he was on Capitol Hill yesterday. Welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. MAINA KIAI (Kenya National Commission on Human Rights): Thank you very much.
MARTIN: You were one of the witnesses testifying before the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, and I notice that you - first of all, I have to mention that your testimony was quite detailed. We're going to try to post it on our Web site, because we don't have time to go into all of the details now. I think it's quite important. But you point out that the groundwork for the fraud had been laid well before the election. Why do you say that and why are you so convinced of that?
Mr. KIAI: Well, this is one of the things that you see when you look back with the benefit of hindsight and you look at different things that were there. And we see a strategy that seemed to have been moving the prophesies and the arrangements for the election so that a result that was pre-determined could occur. And I raise things about - for example, I think the most important one really was the ignoring or the discarding of a gentleman's agreement that had been there from 1997 that allowed all the parties to nominate commissioners to the electoral commission, which is the body charged with conducting elections, and this was abrogated unilaterally by the president in 2007 so that everybody there on the commission now became his appointees alone.
And of course when that happens, then there's a sense of a duty, of loyalty that they owe to the person who appointed them. And you start seeing different moves now being done internally to change tradition, change practice, that suggests that maybe there was a plan. You know, we don't - of course we don't have the evidence, although I've been talking to people who are staff members of the electoral commission. I've talked to people who have been working closely with the electoral commission. And they all come up with evidence and information that suggests that this was pre-determined. They had no other result they wanted but Mwai Kibaki to be announced the president.
There's one other thing that I didn't mention in the testimony that I think is important. Kenyan law says that upon the declaration of a person, a winner in an election, the other party has got 24 hours to make a written complaint to the electoral commission, and then the electoral commission has 72 hours to respond to that complaint.
So you've got 48 hours. So you've got a window of 72 hours before somebody is actually sworn in. But what we had in Nairobi on December 29th was the announcement at 5:30 p.m. and at 6:00 p.m. Kibaki's been sworn in. So you see again that sense of the law that's been ignored, procedure being ignored, and you kind of think that, hey, there was a plan in this thing, entirely.
MARTIN: You have said that this is a constitutional moment, that this is like the United States right at the time of the Civil War, where Kenya will either disintegrate or could actually become stronger, that the sense of the rule of law could be even greater than before. Why do you say that?
Mr. KIAI: Because I think every nation has a chance in life in its history to do the right thing and become better. And while I use the analogy of the Civil War moment in the United States in 1861 - the U.S. could have decided to completely secede and not have war, or they went to war. And Abraham Lincoln decided to go to war to keep the Union together. In a sense what we're trying to say is that we have a moment to keep the country together or segregate. And it's up to us now to choose it, without - and hopefully without having to go to war.
I mean we don't have to do what the Americans did and go to fight and fight and lose even more blood than we have shed. So we hope that we can avoid that. But this is the moment where common sense should apply, and if people are smart about it, then we will move and become a better country. The United States became greater, clearly, after the Civil War, and became - in fact the moments of democracy and development started churning out after the Civil War in 1865.
MARTIN: But I do think it speaks to your sense of a great peril that the country is in.
Mr. KIAI: Absolutely.
MARTIN: To that point, our assistant secretary of state, Ambassador Jendayi Frazer, called the violence ethnic cleansing. You say that this is not ethnic cleansing, and it's not genocide either. What is it? What is motivating the violence.
Mr. KIAI: This is a political crisis with ethnic overtones, ethnic expression, ethnic manifestation. The issues at stake are political issues. They're not ethnic. You know, there's a sense sometimes when people look at Africa to think that whenever people fight, they're looking for those differences. Yes, there are cleavages. Yes, there are differences. But people just don't wake up one day and decide, oh, I don't like the ethnic group so I'm going to kill you, or been planning to kill the ethnic group for the last 20 years, 15 years. It's not about that.
The crisis in Kenya is the failure of peaceful resolution of differences, and as long as the right to vote has been abused and violated, which is a serious part in solving the differences and pushing an agenda in a peaceful way, once that goes, then necessarily human being often go to other things, other means that they think they have got, which is when violence becomes unfortunately an option to many people. But it's not necessarily - we're trying to say that this - this is not - yes, there are cleavages that are ethnic, but the trigger is political. And if you look back at Kenya's history, all the violence has been triggered by political issues, and the failure of peaceful means to resolve the differences that exist in society, that exist in every society. In America there are differences. But people deal with them in a peaceful manner.
MARTIN: Maina Kiai, I'd like you to stay with us. Maina Kiai is the chairman of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. We want to talk more about sort of the roots of this violence. I want to keep you with us, because we do want to keep a couple minutes at the end talking about what is your vision for a way forward here. You do have some concrete steps that I want to ask you to tell us about.
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