Hopes Dim for Deal to End Violence in Kenya

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Hopes for a political settlement in Kenya once again appear dimmed. In a sharp turnaround Saturday, opposition leader Raila Odinga again demanded that President Mwai Kibaki step down or that a re-election be held. Just days ago, it seemed that the two rivals were on the verge of a power-sharing agreement brokered by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.


In Kenya, hopes have been raised that a political settlement may be in the offing that would bring a halt to the violence that's killed more than 1000 people since late December. That's what Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki claimed victory in an election, which outside observers agree, was marked by fraud. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us from Nairobi. Well, Ofeibea, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And of course, former Secretary General Kofi Annan has been mediating the talks. What are - what reasons for hope are there right now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, he did sound pretty optimistic when he spoke to us yesterday, although he warned journalists and urged us not to listen to speculation and rumors. He said that the two sides are getting together and are talking about the political nitty-gritty issues. And of course, that is the first sign of a return to peace and an end to the violence. We're hearing that both sides, the negotiators for President Mwai Kibaki and those for Raila Odinga are finessing, if I can put it that way, a political deal that will include power sharing. But I think it's the details of this that need to be worked out. Kofi Annan says he hopes for progress and for an announcement early next week.

SIMON: It seems that Kenya has been a little quieter this week, and does that give us a chance to kind of step back and take a look at what issues concern Kenyans the most?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think it certainly allows Kenyans to do that. The fact that they can stop to breathe and that they've been able to come up for air, means that they are now looking at this horrific month that they have lived through, the ethnic violence, the fact that rival gangs from different tribes have used machetes, bows and arrows, apangas as they call them here, they've used clubs to kill more than 1,000 people, as well as, of course, the police brutality as it's being called. And Kenyans are saying, how did we get to this point? And they're looking back and they're saying this dates back so many years, that a disputed election was just the catalyst, that we need to address things like ethnicity, power, privilege, equality - these are the deep-seated problems that Kenya has to deal with. Kofi Annan, who's mediating, says it will take at least a year to deal with these issues, but a political settlement must be reached first.

SIMON: I'm curious, Ofeibea, has some of the new technology, communications technology with which we're all familiar, enabled some people with, if I might put it this way, some very low aspirations to reach more people than ever before?

QUIST-ARCTON: Scott, you can't believe it. The hate texts, the e-mails, the poisonous radio, the poison pen letters, all these things have been swirling around and everything has had a tribal tinge. But Kenyans are saying, this has got to stop. We have got to rise above this tribal turmoil that has almost destroyed our country. And they're looking at what has been destroyed, the economy. Kenya is a tourist hub. I mean the white sands of the Indian Ocean, Mombasa, the wildlife - tourists are not here. Kenyans realize that they have a problem. People are out of a job now. They want their political leaders to reach accord, to reach peace, and to bring this country back to normalcy.

SIMON: NPR'S Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Nairobi. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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