January 4, 2008 (NAIROBI) — Opposition protests in Kenya subsided on Friday and the government said it was ready to accept a re-run of a disputed election which unleashed a wave of violence if a court ordered it.
The United Nations said it was scrambling to get food to 100,000 terrified people facing starvation in western Kenya after they fled the violence, which included the burning to death of 30 people in a church. As international efforts to end the bloody crisis intensified, a senior U.S. envoy arrived in Kenya and Washington joined a chorus of voices calling for dialogue between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said envoy Jendayi Frazer, who arrived on Friday night, planned to meet both men. “We still don’t yet have a dialogue … which really is what’s needed as a first step,” he said.
Protesters, exhausted after hours of street battles with police on Thursday, failed to carry out a planned protest march on central Nairobi again on Friday.
“We’re tired, we’re not going to march,” said Samuel Muhati, a resident of the Mathare slum. “Let the fighting stop.”
Spokesman Alfred Mutua said Kibaki was ready to re-run the disputed Dec. 27 election for control of East Africa’s biggest economy if this was ordered by a court.
“We would accept even another election as long as the constitution is followed. If the courts decide it, we would accept that,” he said.
Odinga’s opposition Orange Democratic Party (ODM) charges that Kibaki stole the vote and says the courts are packed with Kibaki allies and legal appeals could take years.
At least 300 people have died in the wave of bloodshed that followed Kibaki’s disputed victory.
U.N. human rights investigators condemned the killings and gang rapes they said accompanied the violence. In a statement in Geneva, they also expressed concern over reports that security forces had used excessive force against demonstrators.
South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, trying to mediate an end to the turmoil, said Kibaki was ready for a coalition government if the opposition accepted his terms.
“There is a great deal of hope,” Tutu said.
Although Nairobi returned to some appearance of normality, with more traffic on the streets, police fired teargas in the port of Mombasa to disperse about 500 Muslim anti-government demonstrators after Friday prayers.
France backed the opposition charges of fraud in the strongest foreign criticism yet of the vote.
“Were the elections rigged or not? I think so, many think so, the Americans think so, the British think so, and they know the country well,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
The World Bank said the violence could hurt Kenya’s impressive economic gains and harm neighbouring countries that rely on it as the region’s business and transport hub.
Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are already suffering fuel shortages as the conflict chokes off supplies from Mombasa. The U.N. World Food Programme said its biggest problem in getting food to displaced people was moving trucks to western Kenya.
Currency and share trading restarted on Friday after being halted during Thursday’s street battles. The economic implications of the turmoil began to sink in, causing sharp swings in the Kenyan shilling and pushing the stock index down 2.3 percent.
Kenyans were growing increasingly impatient at Kibaki and Odinga’s failure to hold talks to end the violence.
“Despite the words of concern by both sides about the dangerous situation in Kenya and public statements that they are ready for dialogue, belligerence is still drowning out voices of reason,” said the Daily Nation newspaper.
ODM secretary-general Anyang’ Nyong’o said the party was demanding that Kibaki step down, an internationally recognised body mediate and a “transitional arrangement” — not government — be set up before a new vote within three months.
Kenyans are aghast at the turmoil in a nation popular among tourists for its safaris and Indian Ocean beaches, and which is a major hub for the United Nations, diplomats, journalists, aid workers and others working in turbulent East Africa.