Mary Walker: Kenya's political drama marches on

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Mary Walker

Editor's note: Clark resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 with funding from the United Nations, and it provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker's updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

The national political situation in Kenya continues to destabilize. Kofi Annan, former head of the United Nations and the arbiter of the coalition government that has ruled Kenya since the post-election ethnic violence of early 2008, has given the government until the middle of September to establish an internal tribunal system to try the several members of parliament who instigated, organized and funded the chaos. If parliament fails to establish an adequate system for these trials, Annan has turned over the list of these men to the International Crime Commission at The Hague, and they will be tried as war criminals.

Of course, the Kenyan parliament feels no urgency to put its own members on trial. The current president and prime minister (a post created for the coalition government and still not official under a new constitution that parliament continues to drag its feet on ratifying) are, in fact, most likely on the list of men to be tried. What everyone in Kenya has resigned themselves to is the very real possibility that only the small-time thugs who were paid, armed and organized by the members of parliament to commit heinous acts of ethnic violence will actually be punished in any way.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was here a couple of weeks ago and apparently called the president and prime minister "into the principal's office" over their apathy, stonewalling and disregard for the process needed to bring Kenya through this terrible chapter in its relatively peaceful and democratic history. The prime minister's response to her was, "We don't need a lecture."

Yet another fuel to the ethnic fire here is the situation in the Mau forest, the major watershed area for a large area of Kenya. Since independence in the mid-1960s, about a million people have inhabited this forest. Today, the forest stands denuded and the water supply for most of Kenya at risk of totally depleting. There is ongoing rhetorical debate about the people living there and whether they should receive financial compensation for being forcibly removed. What is at stake is the creation of one million more internally displaced people in a country that still hasn't re-settled about 500,000 people displaced from their homes after the post-election violence.

Meanwhile, Kenya prepares for a national census to take place on the night of Aug. 24. Amid fears that ethnic violence could spark, the decision still has not been made whether people will be asked their tribal affiliation.

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