By JUMA KWAYERA
Western diplomats intervened to defuse the tension that was building up between governing Jubilee Coalition and the Opposition, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) as the country braced for another round of bloody confrontation.
With the Government alleging through its spokesman Eric Kiraithe that Opposition Leader Raila Odinga had hatched a plot with the assistance of neighbouring countries – Tanzania and South Sudan – to militarily oust President Uhuru Kenyatta from power, the potential for a bloodbath looked certain.
Belligerent Cabinet Secretary for Internal Security Joseph Nkaissery stoked further the embers of violence with threats to arrest Cord leaders if they held parallel rallies at Uhuru Park or Nyayo Stadium.
Nkaissery and Kiraithe’s utterances set the alarm bells ringing as Uhuru’s regime set to looking for an excuse to pounce on opponents in a manner similar to the way Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda President Paul Kagame and Robert Mugabe deal with opposition.
The utterances also come at a time East African Community appears to be increasingly isolating Kenya on infrastructure development over fears of election violence. In the past two months, Uganda and Rwanda have made significant decision to re-route their railway line through Tanzania, while South Sudan and Ethiopia that were part of the massive Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor project in Kenya have developed cold feet over its cost and economic returns.
Attempts to get CORD to shed light on what exactly transpired were fruitless after Raila’s office and ODM headquarters failed to respond to inquiries. However, Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar Hassan points out that some of the statements were embarrassing and together with “accumulated pressure” from the Opposition, religious bodies and civil society to disband IEBC, “the President was looking for a way of bursting the bubble.”
“The President is looking for a way to minimise the pressure. Nobody expected the turnaround. It could also be a trick to take the sting out of the Opposition. I hope the spirit of the meeting will be sustained to prevent the country from sliding into chaos,” Omar says.
Meetings between the Government and the Opposition since the 1990s usually take place with the nudging of foreign powers. In recent weeks, there have been consultations between foreign envoys with political actors in Kenya aimed at forestalling a repeat of the 2008 post-election violence.
What is never in doubt is the Jubilee regime has found it difficult to endear itself to the West, which forces it to look more to the East (mostly China) and Middle East for economic support. Runaway graft in government and the reluctance of the President to decisively act on it has tended to dissuade Western powers from fully embracing the governing coalition.
Shunned by key development partners, there has been talk in government that foreign powers were plotting regime change in Kenya, hence Kiraithe and Nkaissery’s utterances about treason and threats to arrest opposition leaders.
The diplomats led by US Ambassador Robert Godec were sucked into the standoff between the President Uhuru Kenyatta and CORD Leader Raila Odinga to soften the two sides that looked headed for bloody confrontation on Independence Day. For more than two months now, Jubilee top leadership – President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto – have scoffed at opposition calls for round-table dialogue to resolve the impasse on the composition of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
The US Embassy, together with Germany, Norway, Denmark, Britain, France, Finland, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy have been pushing for stakeholders’ dialogue to forestall descent into election, which has looked imminent every time either side escalates intransigence.
After the State House visit, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula told the Senate that the Opposition was invited to State House by the President for lunch and to explore ways of kicking off dialogue over the disgraced elections body.
Besides the tension precipitated by the impasse over IEBC, The Kenyan Weekly was informed that Jubilee, which was in Nakuru for Madaraka Day, was wary of CORD holding a rally at Uhuru Park, which is a kilometre away from State House. Jubilee, unknown to them, had been upstaged by the Opposition, which had earlier on the same day successfully petition the High Court to grant them orders to hold a rally at Uhuru Park.
Things changed when High Court Judge George Odunga overturned the police orders that barred CORD from holding their rally on grounds of security threats. It turns out that Jubilee may have been wary of opposition supporters marching to State House.
Fears of the Opposition occupying State House coupled with High Court verdict, says Senator Wetang’ula’s personal assistant, Chris Mandu Mandu, together with pressure from religious leaders, foreign missions in Nairobi and human rights groups forced the government to cave in to pressure.
“You know Uhuru Park is not far away from State House. Jubilee did not know that we had moved to court seeking to quash orders by the police and government spokesman Eric Kiraithe. CORD principals have also held a series of meetings with envoys accredited to Nairobi. There were fears the situation was degenerating rapidly into a bloody confrontation if CORD was not going to be allowed access to Uhuru Park,” revealed Mandu.
For almost a month after Jubilee refused to dialogue with opposition the impartiality of IEBC, CORD has been holding countrywide demonstrations every Monday in attempt force the commissioners out of office. The demonstrations have been bloody after police resorted to using live bullets, water cannons and teargas to disperse the huge crowds that have been turning up.
Two weeks ago the State touched off international outrage when police shot and killed three anti-IEBC protesters in Kisumu and scores were injured in Nairobi. Pictures of demonstrators with blood streaming down their bodies being tear-gassed and bludgeoned by the police were splashed in world’s major leading newspapers, triggering fears imminent election violence.
There was further outrage in the country when Gatundu MP Moses Kuria, a friend of President Kenyatta, said the police should have killed more opposition supporters.
Western envoys have since the beginning of the year expressed concern that Kenya, a regional economic hub that hosts many international bodies, is on a rapid downspin as the 2017 elections draw nearer. Speaking during at a recent luncheon on Media and Elections, Ambassador Godec called for dialogue that involves the State, opposition, religious and civil society organisation to halt imminent descent in violence.
The envoys noted that the collapse of International Criminal Court cases against the President and his deputy had emboldened the governing regime to be more vicious and arrogant when engaging the opposition.
Godec has personally held separate talks with Jubilee and CORD leadership in attempt to smother the embers ethnic hostility. The Church, through National Council of Church of Kenya (NCCK) secretary-general Rev Peter Karanja, which had initially called for the disbandment of IEBC called on the protagonists to cede ground and accept dialogue as proposed by foreign missions.