L. Muthoni Wanyeki, executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, recently spoke to AllAfrica about a wide range of aspects of the crisis that erupted over Kenya’s disputed presidential election. Excerpts:
On the elections:
The position of my organization, and the coalition we've been working in, has been that the anomalies, malpractices, and illegalities witnessed with respect to the counting and tallying of the presidential vote were substantial enough to alter the outcomes... You have to understand that Kibaki may not be in office legitimately or legally.
On forms of violence:
It’s important to understand this violence not in the way it’s being presented, as though it's... people resorting to deeply-felt innate feelings of tribal hatred and resentment. Actually, the violence has taken very specific forms, the worst of which are highly organized. We've said consistently that we initially saw three, then four forms of violence, the first two of which have mutated and intensified.
The first form was disorganized, spontaneous protest at the announcement of the result – or the supposed result – across the country. That has largely died off or been suppressed. The second form was organized militia activity, beginning in the Rift Valley but then spreading out from Central [Province] in particular. In the Rift it took the form of deaths, destruction of property, displacement of people and so on, but has been responded to by the reactivation of existing militia organizations – like Mungiki – that are now moving out from Central trying to recapture territory that they believe has been lost or ceded, given the displacements that have happened.
Mungiki is an organized militia organization. It began really as a sort of genuine social movement out of internally displaced people from the politically-instigated clashes in the early 1990s. It was very quickly co-opted however by [former President Daniel arap] Moi, by different elements within the regime, to act during times of elections and political organizing. The problem is what you do with a group that's armed, that's trained, once you no longer need them for political purposes. They then took on the form of a protection racquet or mafia within low-income areas of Nairobi and other cities, basically providing protection to citizens and business people within these areas for a fee.
The third form of violence that we saw was the really extraordinary use of force... in trying to contain the protests... largely in Nyanza Province, where most of the deaths that have occurred have been through extra-judicial killings. There's been a very uneven pattern of police response [to protest]... a very heavy deployment around Nairobi in Uhuru Park, where they were trying to prevent ODM [the opposition Orange Democratic Movement] from mobilizing their rallies. Very insufficient security was provided to IDPs [internally displaced persons] and... extreme [police] presence in the stronghold of ODM.
The fourth form of violence is more recent and it has to do with a kind of communal response to the return of IDPs - people hearing their stories, then getting incensed and organizing revenge or retributive attacks on minority communities in the Central and Nairobi areas.
On economic sabotage:
Now the militia that was active in the Rift seems to really have shifted its activity to economic sabotage. They’ve blown up bridges that would connect the transit trade from the [coast] into Uganda; they've blocked the border. They’re allowing people but not goods, services, [or] oil to get through. And obviously the Rift valley is our agricultural breadbasket and the harvest has totally been lost.
Meanwhile, the militia coming out from Central to meet this group are not just carrying out revenge cleansing, they are also... as you leave ethnically homogeneous groups behind, resorting to protection activities. The Kikuyu, for instance, in Central, who have tried to harbor people from other communities, are being forced to pay protection fees for that. But [now] even if they're not harboring anyone, they are having to pay protection fees. So there's an upsurge of that kind of criminality, now outside of the low income areas where it used to be contained.
On police harassment:
With respect to the extraordinary use of force by the police, that seems to have shifted to harassment of human rights defenders, so far... intimidation more than anything else. But there's clearly cooperation between them and a higher level of organized activity or professional activity among the militia.
It’s a very complicated kind of situation, but it is for the most part organized and that's the important point to get across. Most Kenyans, left to their own devices, even though they may be upset and polarized over the election results, would not resort to hacking their neighbors to death. We’ve heard too many stories of people from across communities either providing security or trying to organizing safe passage [for those under threat] to allow us to buy into the myth that Kenyans have ended up descending into our primal ethnic selves.
There are very high levels of organized propaganda, to which people are, I think, responding out of a genuine fear and alarm, not realizing that they are playing into ideas that are being created about this myth of descent into civil war. [It] could happen, but if it did happen it wouldn't be because we descended into it of our own accord, it would be because [some forces] intended to do that.
On the international mediation of the crisis:
The mediation is extremely critical... We hold to our position about [Mwai] Kibaki being in office illegitimately and illegally, not so much at this point in time [to say] that Raila [Odinga] should come in but just... [for Kibaki] to recognize [his]... illegitimacy... and... that even were he legitimate, we have a country that is politically divided 50-50.
In terms of effective governance, in the sense of control over territory, PNU (Kibaki’s Party of National Unity] essentially controls Nairobi and Central province, ODM (Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement] controls everything from Nairobi to the coast, including our port, and everything from Nakuru West, right up to the border. ODM also controls parliament, despite the killings of two of their parliamentarians recently.
In that kind of situation it's ridiculous to try and hold on to power at all costs. Some sort of power sharing agreement has to be reached, but not power-sharing in the sense that PNU has presented it. They have presented it as if they are legitimate, they are in charge, and if they give power-sharing it will be a matter of one or two cabinet seats. That can't work. It can't work in the sense of long-term preparations for [the] 2012 [election].
But it also can't work in terms of the economy. We all know what it was like to go through the period of 1997 to 2002 where, with the threat of the Moi succession hanging over our head, nothing happened... We went into decline.
What we need is an interim power-sharing transitional arrangement in which several things get done. First, obviously, electoral reform, based on what we have called for - an independent audit and investigation into the counting and tallying of the presidential vote to let the whole country see what happened and regardless of the outcome, just to lay that matter to rest except in the sense that it would inform revision of our electoral process.
Second is constitutional reform, particularly around powers of the presidency.
Third would be the beginning of real processes of addressing historical grievances and inequalities and so on.
Fourth would be resettlement and re-enfranchisement of the IDPs.
We think that all of that can happen in a maximum of two years and we need a re-run [election]... The real sticking point is the PNU accepting that there was a problem with electoral fraud. We think that everything that can be done to keep PNU at the table should be done and that would include continually questioning their legitimacy and legality.
On threats to human rights defenders:
Several things have happened. First we received information from four different sources within the police and within intelligence that all of us involved in this coalition that is stressing electoral truth as well as justice around violence were targeted in one way or another and particularly Maina Kiai [chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights]... We all took precautions... Whatever is done will obviously be made to look like ordinary criminality so [we are] careful driving alone, being alone, especially at night, [and with] security in our houses, that sort of thing.
Secondly, when we were releasing our electoral findings, which was meant to be to a closed media briefing... the meeting kept getting flooded by all these young men [from the Kibaki camp], which was a bit intimidating because we did not know what would happen. We alerted hotel security, but then hotel security as it turned out had already been alerted by the police. The place was surrounded by police – it was just an intimidation effort basically. There were people supposedly from the IDP camps protesting outside, you know, calling Maina Kiai, “msaliti, msaliti,” which means “traitor, traitor” because he happens to be Kikuyu, the same ethnicity as the president. The hotel we were at is only a few meters from Uhuru Park, where people weren't allowed to demonstrate but [here] other people clearly were.
Then when we were leaving, there was this heavy [police] presence checking every car supposedly for guns. It was ridiculous, as if any of us would carry arms. Then some of us felt we had been followed. So that was alarming but again it seemed to be an overt kind of intimidation rather than anything else.
[Thirdly] a list was released of supposedly Kikuyu traitors that included many of us, saying we should be targeted in the way Mau Mau targeted traitors during the independence struggle. The implication was that we have not been concerned about the violence – about our own people bearing the brunt of the initial militia attacks – and we are targeting this man who is supposedly our president and representative of our interests. That was scary because we were named and these groups operate outside the law. So that was probably the most disturbing thing.
[Most recently] somebody, purportedly from the General Services Unit, which is a paramilitary unit used for riot control, called the office, asking for a list of names of everyone who had ever provided training for the police and the GSU – supposedly to give us back-paid benefits. Of course the deputy director refused to give the list, and said if they wanted the list they could check their own visitors’ book. They insisted, referred him to someone who was supposedly higher up, and he still refused. Ten minutes later a policeman in uniform on a motorbike was at the office to collect the list.
None of the other organizations that provide human rights training to the police force had this request made of them. Also, in Kenya, the only people who use motorbikes are the traffic police and the presidential escort, so we actually believe this wasn't from the GSU, it was from presidential security somehow.
That is very alarming because in situations like this when security services are polarized, you don't know who is commanding what and what is coming through what kind of controls. Our belief is that NCIS, the intelligence service, knows exactly what we're doing. There is nothing illegal or threatening or seditious about what we're doing. It's what we always do. But it's doubtful whether NCIS's intelligence is being used to inform decisions that are being taken around a situation that is so highly polarized.
On what concerned outsiders can do:
Raise questions with your own governments about non-recognition of the Kibaki government, about travel bans for people, particularly on the PNU side, about asset freezes, on both sides but particularly on the PNU side, mainly to keep people at the table. People have to realize this is serious, it's not going to die away, and for us this mediation has to work.
Also make it very clear to protagonists within the state, not just in the political parties but in relevant ministries, that the protection of people is critical: from IDPs to human rights monitors on the ground, to leadership of the human rights movement and of the media. You can't have people being exterminated or intimidated just because they are doing their work in a legal fashion.