Reform or bust: 2010 crucial for Kenya's future peace

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Michael Logan, dpa

Nairobi_(dpa) _ Almost two years have passed since Kenya erupted in an orgy of tribal violence sparked by disputed presidential elections, denting its reputation as one of Africa's most stable nations.

Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan quickly brokered a peace deal that was supposed to usher in a new era of reform, but progress has been painfully slow.

Now Annan is warning that time is running short for the Kenyan government to implement the reforms that analysts and observers say are crucial to avoid an even bloodier explosion at the next elections, due in 2012.

At least 1,300 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced during almost three months of violence following the December 2007 poll, which supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki's party of rigging.

Many of those who died were protestors shot by trigger-happy police. Hundreds were however killed as militias and gangs of youths - allegedly directed by politicians - targeted rival communities, burning their homes and businesses and slaughtering them with machetes, clubs and bows and arrows.

Two independent commissions recommended a raft of reforms in the wake of the violence, but the power-sharing government - with Odinga installed as premier - has spent more time bickering than acting.

Annan - who said he initially thought all reforms could be carried out within 18 months - now believes that next year it is reform or bust.

"If you go beyond 2010, and basic reforms are not in place, the election in 2012 will cast such a long shadow, there will such heavy politicking, that I don't think you are going to get anybody to focus on reform," Annan said at the end of visit to Nairobi in December.

2009 saw some developments: the government published a draft constitution, land reform is being discussed and a report on police reform has been completed.

Little concrete has been achieved, however, and the government has damningly avoided setting up a local tribunal to try those accused of orchestrating the violence.

The former UN chief is "concerned the government had not taken the necessary action" to set up local courts, but there is at least the prospect of some high-level prosecutions.

International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in December asked the court to open an investigation, which he says will target a handful of high-profile suspects.

Moreno-Ocampo has vowed to act quickly once he has been given the go-ahead, and during a recent visit to Kenya promised to gather the evidence and begin prosecutions next year.

An investigation by the ICC has huge public backing in Kenya, where many believe that local trials would see the rich and powerful escape unpunished.

Justice for the victims of the post-election violence victims is seen one of the key elements required to prevent more bloodshed in 2012.

Christine Ndinda Mbithi, who fled her home town of Narok after her store was burned to the ground and her life threatened during the violence, believes only the ICC can prevent more violence.

"It will happen again if the offenders aren't taken to The Hague," she told the German Press Agency dpa.

Analysts also see ICC prosecutions as key to not only ending a culture of impunity for the rich and powerful, but to speeding up reform.

"Prosecutions are bound to have a lot of fallout and will probably trigger a greater momentum for reforms," Nairobi-based analyst Robert Shaw told dpa. "It's an external factor they (the government) cannot control."

However, Annan believes some politicians are returning to tribal politics and that the population can easily be sucked into old ethnic hatreds, damaging any progress that may be made.

"After the 2008 crisis, everyone became very aware of dangers of ethnicity ... but public memory is very short," he said. "When you see ... the moves of some of politicians and their supporters, it is as if 2007 and 2008 never occurred."

"If we are going to have a peaceful Kenya, this attitude has to be nipped in the bud," he added.

For Graca Machel, a member of the Annan-chaired Panel of Eminent African Personalities and former South African first lady, the cost of failure is so high it cannot be considered.

"We should not contemplate failure ... because the consequences can be worse than 2007," she said. "It (reform) just has to happen."

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