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Kenya president sworn-in as police block rival opposition meeting



REUTERS — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn-in for a second five-year term in front of a rapturous crowd on Tuesday as riot police sealed off an area where the opposition planned a rival gathering and teargassed people trying to reach it.

Kenyatta won a repeat presidential election on Oct. 26 that was boycotted by opposition leader Raila Odinga, who said it would not be free and fair.

The Supreme Court nullified the first presidential election, in August, over irregularities.

The extended election season has divided Kenya, a Western ally in a volatile region, and blunted growth in East Africa’s richest economy.

Odinga’s supporters, many drawn from poorer parts of the country, feel locked out of power and the patronage it brings.

Political arguments often have ethnic undercurrents, with Odinga’s supporters pointing out that three of the country’s four presidents have come from one ethnic group, although the country has 44 recognised groups.

But such arguments seemed far from the happy crowds at the celebration, who cheered wildly as Kenyatta was sworn into office and as he received a 21-gun salute.

“I … do swear … that I will always truly and diligently serve the people of the Republic of Kenya,” Kenyatta said, his hand resting on a Bible.

Before he arrived, a military band in gold and blue uniforms serenaded heads of state from Somalia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Zambia and other nations as they arrived at the stadium where the ceremony took place.

More than 60,000 Kenyatta supporters, many clad in the red and yellow Jubilee party colours and carrying Kenyan flags, filled the stadium benches.

Thousands of others waited outside. Some, chafing at the restrictions, overwhelmed police and streamed in. Officers were forced to fire teargas to control them.


Supporters of Kenyatta – who won with 98 percent of the vote after Odinga’s boycott – was the opposition to engage in talks and move on.

“I’m sure Uhuru will be able to bring people together and unite them so we can all work for the country,” said Eunice Jerobon, a trader who travelled overnight from the Rift Valley town of Kapsabet for the inauguration, before the disturbance.

But Odinga supporters say such talk of unity is tantamount to surrender. They accuse the ruling party of stealing the election, rampant corruption, directing abuse by the security forces and neglecting vast swathes of the country, including Odinga’s heartland in the west.

“A return to the political backwardness of our past is more than unacceptable. It is intolerable … This divide cannot be bridged by dialogue and compromise,” Odinga’s National Super Alliance opposition alliance said in a statement.

The opposition planned to hold a prayer meeting in the capital on Tuesday, saying it wanted to commemorate the lives of Odinga supporters killed during confrontations with the security forces over the election period.

More than 70 people have been killed in political violence this election season, mostly by the police. Such killings are rarely investigated.

A Reuters team at the scene of the planned rally said the area had been sealed off by seven truck loads of police in riot gear. Two water cannons were standing by and a helicopter hovered overhead.

Police began firing teargas in nearby residential areas two hours before the rally was due to start, apparently attempting to prevent opposition supporters from gathering.

Several roads were blocked by burning tyres, rocks, glass and uprooted billboards. Police shot in the air to disperse anyone trying to gather.

But Dennis Onyango, a spokesman for Odinga, told Reuters on Tuesday morning they were still planning to hold the rally.


Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga agree to unite Kenyans



DAILY NATION — President Kenyatta on Friday morning held a surprise meeting with his political arch-rival and National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila Odinga at Harambee House in Nairobi.

It was the first time the two were meeting face-to-face since their fallout following the hotly contested August 8, 2017 General Election and October 26, 2017 repeat presidential poll that Mr Odinga boycotted.


The agenda of the meeting centred on how to unite and heal Kenya following a divisive General Election in 2017.

In a joint statement, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga promised to work together to halt the country’s descent into the abyss following a divisive 2017 General Election.

They expressed their desire to aside their differences and reconstruct a nation that is responsive to the urgent need for prosperity, fairness and dignity for all Kenyans.

“There are changes in our system of governance for us to succeed and we have been in the process of reform to deal with them for the last 20 years,” Mr Odinga, who read the joint statement, said.

“Despite all the reforms, we continue to have a deep and bitter disagreement. Ethnic antagonism and divisive political competition have become a way of life.”


The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader said the political differences that have divided more than four Kenyan generations “must now come to an end”.

The Odinga and Kenyatta families have been fighting over the leadership of Kenya since independence.

On his part, Mr Kenyatta said they had agreed to put the interests of Kenya and Kenyans first.

They agreed to roll out a programme to effect their shared objectives revolving around war on corruption, ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution and divisive elections.

To implement the programme, the two formed a taskforce, co-chaired by lawyer Paul Mwangi and Ambassador Martin Kimani.

The two leaders urged Kenyans to overcome negative ethnicity “by acting on the understanding that elections on their own are not solution to our national challenges.”

All Kenyans, they said, should faithfully adhere to the Constitution and rule of law, and halt antagonism and tribal profiling.

The two leaders did not take any questions from journalists.

Conspicuously missing at Harambee House, in the heart of the capital Nairobi, were Mr Odinga’s Nasa co-principals Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula.

It was not immediately clear why they did not attend but cracks started emerging in the alliance recently after the three failed to attend Mr Odinga’s mock presidential oath.

The address and meeting come on the day US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to land in Nairobi on his tour of Africa.


Some Nasa and Jubilee party leaders welcomed the meeting and its resolutions, saying it would help heal Kenya.

Deputy President William Ruto took to Twitter to thank his boss and former boss on their agreement.

“Congratulations Pres Uhuru & Raila for being statesmen. You have risen to the moment for kenya and against hate, negative ethnicity and division,” he tweeted.

“The unity, stability and transformation of Kenya supersedes all other partisan interests. Wangwana mubarikiwe mpaka mshangae (gentlemen, be blessed abundantly).”

Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti said it was encouraging to see Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga bury the hatchet.

“The country will now be in the right shape now that the leaders can sit together despite the long and difficult political period we have had,” he said on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Kisumu.

“On behalf of the people of Homa Bay, I congratulate my party leader for taking this bold decision.

“It is a decision that ordinary people cannot take. We are very encouraged and motivated by this because it will open our country to better things. This is a welcome gesture.”


Mr Odinga and his co-principals in Nasa have been pushing for talks with Mr Kenyatta on electoral justice and reforms.

President Kenyatta had rejected their calls, saying he is only ready for dialogue on development and how to take Kenya forward.

Mr Odinga, who had vowed not recognise Mr Kenyatta’s election win and presidency, had threatened to lead a resistance movement against the Jubilee administration.

The Nasa leader, in a protest move and an open show of defiance, took a mock oath of office as the people’s president on January 30.

He insists he won the August 8, 2017 presidential poll but the figures were manipulated in Mr Kenyatta’s favour.

The president and the electoral commission dismissed his claims.

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Kenyan police seek to recover cache of arms after Al-Shabaab attack



MANDERA — Kenyan police have stepped up search for the Somali extremists who attacked two camps in northeast Mandera county and stole a huge cache of arms after the two raids in which five police officers were killed.

A police report released on Sunday said the terrorists blamed for sporadic attacks along Somalia border also looted the armory during the attacks, escaping with 16 G3 rifles, 26 AK47 rifles, 5 FN rifles, one F3 rifle, one M60 machine gun, one commando mortar 60mm and one base plate mortar 60mm.

The police report which was released two days after the raid by the Al-Shabaab militants says unknown number of ammunitions were also looted in the incident that left 12 police officers injured.

The police said on Friday they have launched a major manhunt for Al-Shabaab group leader that attacked two police camps in Mandera County.

Police spokesman Charles Owino said Jamaa Nuh Abdille, who fled to Somalia with others after the Friday dawn attack in Fino, was behind the killing of five police officers.

“We have since identified the leader of the group that carried out the attack as Jamaa Nuh Abdille who fled with others after the attack to Somalia and we are hot on their trail,” Owino said.
According to police report, the terrorists also destroyed a communication mast in the area affecting communication in general. Preliminary findings show the terrorists used Improvised Explosive Devises and other forms of explosives in the attack.

Northeastern Regional Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said they are pursuing various leads into the attack in efforts to recover the stolen ammunition.

“We have mobilized to ensure the area is safe,” Saleh said on Sunday. On Wednesday, security agents repulsed Al-Shabaab terrorists who tried to attack two police stations in Wajir.

Three suspects were arrested after they were chased by security forces from Ijara camps in the failed incident.

Police on the ground said the group had fired into the camps before officers there fired back in an exchange that lasted almost 20 minutes.

The area has been experiencing a rise of terror related attacks in the past months in which almost a dozen communication masts. Xinhua

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Somali refugees in Kenya between rock and hard place



NAIROBI, Kenya- Around half-a-million refugees stranded in Kenya face an impossible choice: either go home to al-Shabaab-wrecked Somalia under a controversial UNHCR “voluntary repatriation” program or stay and face massive debts accumulated due to food shortages at camps.

The dire situation can be witnessed firsthand at the Dadaab Refugee Complex in North Eastern province where over 486,460 refugees have taken asylum, according to figures released in January by The UN Refugee Agency.

Somalis living at the complex, which hosts thousands of makeshift refugee shelters, told Anadolu Agency the only reason they came to Kenya was because they were forced to flee the civil war back home and the threat of al-Shabaab militants who have killed many in the Horn of Africa region.

Dadaab is located 474 kilometers (294 miles) from capital Nairobi. It is an arid place with no paved roads but just swathes and swathes of barren fuscous-golden brown sand. Usually there is no sign of life en route to the camp except for lizards skittering across the sand. But sometimes people appear out of nowhere who can be seen herding camels. They are locals of the area who are mostly nomadic pastoralists and are always on the move.

As soon as one reaches the refugee complex, the picture of neglect and misery hits in the face as harshly as the scorching heat under which the extremely poor people live there.

Anyone who approaches the K1 block at the camp gets overwhelmed with requests from refugees scrambling over a barbed wire fence, urging for food, water, money or anything that one could spare for them.

Men, women and children can be seen squeezing into any spot that provides them with shade, others stare aimlessly into the distance deep in thought.

Tales of horror are in abundance here. One man said he arrived at the camp after spending three weeks in hiding after his family was killed in Somalia. Many others shared similar graphic realities.

Debts after food cuts

Several people at the camp told Anadolu Agency that after 30 percent food cuts were announced by the World Food Programme (WFP) for refugees living in Dadaab, they were forced to take loans to buy food and ended up accumulating “huge” debts of hundreds of dollars.

Many said it was because of these debts that they were now considering the recently-announced United Nations “Voluntary” repatriation program, which claims “to ensure the exercise of a free and informed choice and to mobilize support for returnees.”

Yassir Zahi said there is nothing voluntary about going back home and added he simply wants to run away from debt like many other refugees like himself at the camp.

“When the food cuts came, we were forced to accumulate debt since October 2017 because even the food was not enough for one person.

“Nothing is voluntary about me going home; I borrowed to buy food on credit and I am not alone; many have done the same, I owe the guy $300.

“All this I did to buy flour for porridge and milk and rice to feed my family; I used to sell flour but I ended up consuming it all with my family; they [money-lenders] came to ask for their money which I didn’t have and they threatened me and my family, especially my 16-year[-old] daughter,” Zahi said.

Through the voluntary repatriation program, the UN has created an avenue for people to clear off their debts “by returning back to my war-torn country,” he added.

In a 2018 report, Not Time to Go Home, Amnesty International also outlined how refugees were being coerced to go back to war at home due to the severe humanitarian crisis.

People left behind

Aamiina Osman, a 75-year-old woman, was found chained to a tree at the camp, attacking anyone who tried to come near her with a handful of sand.

Her adopted grandson Rashid Latif said she used to be happy and jovial but the terrible conditions at the refugee camp had destroyed the old woman.

“Her real family deserted her and went back to Somalia leaving her to fend for herself; they said that because she is too old she would slow them down once they got to war-torn Somalia; being deserted by the six family members made her partially mentally ill,” Latif said.

“On that night [they left], they chained four old women here [to the tree] and their families left; luckily, we found them, otherwise, they would have died; some went back to their homes but I adopted her [Osman] as my grandmother as I am an orphan and I take care of her,” he added.

Lack of funds

UNHCR’s Yvonne Ndege denied that refugees were being coerced to go back home. “The refugees are actually not ‘sent’ — they make a considered and informed decision to return or go to Somalia.

“There is a careful and detailed process that refugees who say they want to return follow before we help them return. That’s accompanied by up to date information from over 30 local organizations on the ground in Somalia constantly updating refugees on the situation back home. There are also what we call ‘go and see’ missions led by refugee leaders who go and see what’s going on in Somalia and come back with info for refugees considering return.”

She also told Anadolu Agency funding had not been adequate to help those wanting to return home.

“75,297 Somalis have voluntarily repatriated to Somalia since 2014, up to Dec 31, 2017; 35,407 returned in 2017 alone.

“There is a funding gap for the whole of Kenya. UNHCR support for refugees is only 32 percent funded, leaving a gap of 68 percent as of the 31st of December, 2017. We need $231.3M but only have $73.1M,” Ndege said.

Marco Lembo from the UNHCR said those who return get a “full package” in Somalia, which consists of conditional and non-conditional cash grants, including one-time payment of up to $1,000 per household and monthly grant of $200. He added that six months of food rations, supported by the WFP, are also given.

Somalia remains dangerous

Somali-based al-Shabaab militants continue to control cities in Somalia amid reports of them terrorizing women, men and children along the Horn of Africa region, which in turn causes massive displacement of people.

Guns have not been silenced in Somalia despite 25 years of conflict in the country. Experts repeatedly warn that going back to Somalia means returning to war and death.

But nonetheless, the Kenyan government has halted any new registration of Somali refugees and recently even disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs, creating an invisible wall to hundreds of thousands who desperately seek asylum. Kenya had also urged the UNHCR to expedite the voluntary return of refugees after shelving a decision to close the camp due to insecurity.

At Dadaab, most refugees who spoke to Anadolu Agency said al-Shabaab had played a major role in their decision to seek asylum in Kenya to begin with, but now things are so bad at their refugee complex they feel they have no option but to take the hard road back home despite the dangers.

Summing up the sentiments of thousands of refugees like himself, Zahi concluded: “Life here is a hellish nightmare, I tell you”.

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