Nobel Laureate Explains Kenya's Battle for Peace Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai talks about ongoing political unrest in Kenya. Violence erupted there nearly three weeks ago after the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki. Maathai, a former Kenyan parliamentarian and member of Kibaki's cabinet, discusses what steps need to be taken to solve the situation.
NPR logo

Nobel Laureate Explains Kenya's Battle for Peace

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18181674/18181669" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Nobel Laureate Explains Kenya's Battle for Peace

Nobel Laureate Explains Kenya's Battle for Peace

Nobel Laureate Explains Kenya's Battle for Peace

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18181674/18181669" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai talks about ongoing political unrest in Kenya. Violence erupted there nearly three weeks ago after the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki. Maathai, a former Kenyan parliamentarian and member of Kibaki's cabinet, discusses what steps need to be taken to solve the situation.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Libya seeks to remake its image on the world stage. We hear from the country's U.N. ambassador and a veteran human rights observer. That's in just a few minutes.

But first, it's almost three weeks since violence erupted in Kenya after disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki. The opposition party claims the election was rigged and had demanded an official recount. Since then, more than 600 people have died and a quarter million displaced as a result of fighting. Some of which may had been fueled along simmering ethnic tensions. This week, opposition protesters clashed violently with police in the streets of Nairobi and around the country.

To talk more about the situation in Kenya, I'm joined by Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai. She served for two years in President Kibaki's cabinet as assistant minister for the environment and natural resources. We spoke with her last year when she was touring the U.S. She's speaking with us now on the phone from Nairobi.

Welcome back. Thanks for speaking with us.

Dr. WANGARI MAATHAI (Nobel Laureate): Thank you very much. It's my privilege.

MARTIN: When you heard the election results announced, and as you point out in an opinion piece that you wrote in the Wall Street Journal today, that the press were all ushered out of the room - the international press, the local press - and the results were only announced on state-run broadcasting. When you saw this, were you worried?

Dr. MAATHAI: Oh, very worried because there had been demonstrations of tension and actually, it was very unnerving but nobody would have foreseen the repercussions of that event.

MARTIN: Now, you've been a member of the Kenyan parliament. And I understand that you just lost your seat in the recent voting. Do you believe that you lost fairly?

Dr. MAATHAI: I believe that out what we are experiencing is the reason that I lost the seat. Since the year 2003, I've been trying to tell our side of the government that it is very important to accommodate Raila Odinga and his team, who at that time, were part of the government.

But we have agreed in a written memorandum of understanding that we would share a power a certain way. And that we did not do when we formed the government. And that was actually the beginning of this problem - that many other issues have happened in between. And for me, because I've been raising my voice and been telling the government that we need to listen to what the people are saying, we need to pay attention to the public opinion led by Raila and his team, I was perceived it to be anti-President Kibaki. I was projected as an anti-Kibaki person in the media that is dominantly supporting President Kibaki. And so I was punished for really trying to tell the people that we need to avoid the kind of crisis we are now in.

MARTIN: Now, you know Mr. Kibaki personally - having served in his government. And, of course, you remember, when he was elected in 2002, his victory was seen as a symbol of hope both for Kenya and for the international community. It was seen as a sign of kind of democratic change in the country and on the continent. What happened? Do you think that Mr. Kibaki has somehow lost respect for democratic tradition?

Dr. MAATHAI: Well, what I think has happened is that, in this country, there are very many issues that have been a concern to us. And we have raised our voices about them. One of them is corruption. And unfortunately, we are not able to stop it even when we took up power.

The other one is a willingness to be perceived to be distributing resources equitably and to also have fairness and justice. Because you see, if these things are not so perceived, it's very easy for politicians to pick on them and to mobilize people against the government.

So I think that's partly because of the president but also partly because of the people who are close to him, especially the ministers. He lost sight of the spirit that had brought us together. And especially, he'd showed not honoring a gentleman's agreement. That, in fact, I think, has come to haunt him to the very end.

MARTIN: You mentioned this memorandum of understanding that was agreement for power-sharing. There are some on Mr. Kibaki's side who is saying that that never existed. As a former member of the government, are you saying that, in fact, did - that there was, in fact, a power-sharing agreement?

Dr. MAATHAI: There was indeed such an arrangement. Otherwise, that team would not have joined us. That team was actually with the ruling parties. One has to go a little farther back to see what happened before they came to us. They were a part of Mwai's package and they disagreed with President Mwai. And when they disagreed with President Mwai, they decided to come and join us. And they were a reason why we won in the year 2002. So in order for them to join us, we have to agree that we will share power as it can wait. Now, the details are on and on to the very close people who signed the memorandum. But all of us in the government knew that we were going to share power.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Nobel Laureate and former Kenyan parliamentarian Dr. Wangari Maathai about the political turmoil and violence that's gripped Kenya since the election results at the end of last year.

What is your take on the reason that this violence is occurring? It's been reported that there are tribal tensions that, sort of, were always under the surface that have now surfaced because of the election. Do you think that's true?

Dr. MAATHAI: Well, I think that we can call them tribal tensions. But perhaps at the political level, we should dare to say that there has always been a tension on how power is shared because the way power is shared determines the way resources are distributed and shared in a country such as ours that has a very large conglomeration of communities or tribes as they are commonly called.

If there is a perception that power is not being equitably shared, and as a result, resources are not being equitably shared either, there will be tension. And, of course, through that tension that are then picked by politicians and they are used to stop people even into violence.

MARTIN: The parliament did elect a member of the opposition party as speaker of parliament on Tuesday. Do you see this as a positive sign? Do you think that each side is showing any willingness to move from its corner?

Dr. MAATHAI: What I've seen today is it good that the parliament is now in session, although it has been prolonged by the president which in our system means that the president will call them up when he sees right. But there is a limit to how long they can be outside the parliament.

On one side it's a hopeful sign that we have a parliament in place that can help us govern the country constitutionally. But on the other hand, as you show on that Tuesday night, it is going to be a battleground because now the opposition which is strong (unintelligible) that it won the elections will try to implement its real agenda and frustrate the agenda of the government.

MARTIN: How are things now in the streets? I mean, it's been, as we've pointed out, been, you know, hundreds of deaths as a result of a violence that the economy is taking a terrible hit because, you know, people aren't free to move about freely. Clearly, you know, tourism would be - which is a major industry -is affected by this. How are things now?

Dr. MAATHAI: Well, at the moment, as you probably know, the opposition has called for three days of demonstrations. It started yesterday. I'm almost sure that they're going to be in the streets again. And so what is really happening is that large numbers of policemen and women are being engaged to contain the opposition and their supporters, especially to protect the property in the capitol.

But that means that people cannot work. Transport is not available. So that's why the economy is being - very badly hit. So it is really a very sad time for us because we can't work and the police, unfortunately, are also sometimes using live bullets to kill. And it's all very sad. We continue to raise the number of those who are dead. I have never fully appreciated why the police use live bullets to shoot these young people in the streets.

MARTIN: In your writings in the Kenyan press and in today's Wall Street Journal, you've called for the international community to continue to put pressure on both leaders - Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga. And as, of course, you know, that, you know, Barack Obama, presidential candidate in this country, has called for talks; and Desmund Tutu, Kofi Annan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Fraser, have all visited in an effort to get talks going.

Are they having any effect that you can see? And what more would you like the international community to do?

Dr. MAATHAI: Well, I think that it is unfortunate that some ministers in the government are pretending that they do not need any help because everybody can see we need help. Because if we cannot come to the negotiating table and their position is causing havoc, we cannot continue to pretend that we do not have a problem when our country is moving life and property at the (unintelligible) we are losing.

And therefore, I want to commend the minister of foreign affairs, Honorable Wetangula, who has come out to say, yes, the government is reaching out and that they are embracing the concepts of eminent (unintelligible) within Africa.

But I also have seen that because many of the countries in the West are our friends, and they don't want to see us waste our resources in conflict, it's very important to put pressure on the government.

It is President Kibaki who should really pick up the phone and invite Honorable Raila Odinga to the negotiating table. There is nothing that is more precious within the power structure that we cannot lose to save lives. And I think that politicians must be told even if it is what they are calling for has been called for functions, if that is what's going to take, let it be. We must make our president engage the opposition. Otherwise, we are really running down this country.

MARTIN: Nobel Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai. She's a former member of the Kenyan parliament. She formerly held a seat in President Kibaki's Cabinet. She has an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal today. She spoke with us on the phone from Nairobi.

Dr. Maathai, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Dr. MAATHAI: Thank you very much for your concern.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.