(August 8, 2017) AlJazeera Three boats carrying ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar have capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 26 people, according to officials.
The bodies of 15 women and 11 children were recovered in Cox’s Bazar after the vessels, which carried an unknown number of Rohingya, sank in the Naf River on Wednesday, Bangladesh border guard commander Lieutenant Colonel S.M. Ariful Islam said on Thursday.
Rakhine violence pushes more Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.
He added that it was unclear whether anyone was still missing, according to The Associated Press news agency.
The top official in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammad Ali Hossain, said the bodies would be buried because no one had claimed them.
Officials in Bangladesh say growing numbers of Rohingya are trying to cross the Naf river that divides the two countries in rickety boats ill-equipped for the rough waters as they become increasingly desperate to escape the worst outbreak of violence in the restive Rakhine state in years.
Residents and activists have accused soldiers of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children and carrying out arson attacks.
However, authorities in Myanmar say close to 100 people have been killed since Friday when armed men, reportedly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), launched a pre-dawn raid on police outposts in the restive region.
Myanmar authorities say Rohingya “extremist terrorists” have been setting the fires during fighting with government troops, while Rohingya have blamed soldiers who have been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
Thousands flee into Bangladesh
Around 27,400 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since Friday, three UN sources said, according to Reuters news agency.
The violence comes amid reports of Buddhist vigilantes burning Rohingya villages in Myanmar, Reuters said.
Hundreds of people have been stranded in a no man’s land at the countries’ border, the International Organization for Migration said.
Satellite imagery analysed by US-based Human Rights Watch indicated that many homes in northern Rakhine state were set ablaze.
Most of Myanmar’s estimated one million Rohingya Muslims live in northern Rakhine state.
They face severe persecution in the Buddhist-majority country, which refuses to recognise them as a legitimate native ethnic minority, leaving them without citizenship and basic rights.
Longstanding tension between the Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody rioting in 2012. That set off a surge of anti-Muslim feeling throughout the country.
GENEVA (August 21, 2017) Nigerian activist, Rebecca Dalihas won the prestigious Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation Award for her work in re-integrating women and orphans abducted by Boko Haram militants into their home communities.
The award was presented at a ceremony Monday commemorating World Humanitarian Day (August 19) at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva.
It is given every two years in memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a terrorist attack on August 19, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq, along with 21 others. The prize aims to draw world attention to the courageous, often unnoticed, humanitarian work of an individual, group or organization in areas of conflict.
“Rebecca Dali is a very courageous woman in a corner in Africa, in northeastern Nigeria, who is doing work under very difficult circumstances,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld, the chairman of the board of the de Mello Foundation.
He told VOA that some of the women and girls who are liberated want to return to their communities, but their communities and families often do not want them back because they have been raped, have had children, and been subjected to sexual violence by Boko Haram.
“Rebecca Dali did a tremendous job in re-establishing dialogue and reconciliation to get these girls back into their communities, to get them back where they came from and that they can continue with their life again,” Bijleveld said.
Aiding widows, orphans for years Dali was born on October 1, 1960, the same day Nigeria got its independence. She overcame extreme poverty in childhood and a rape at age six to earn a Ph.D in later years in ethics and philosophy.
She got married in 1979 to a man who, she said, “allowed me to do what I like to do.” She has six children. Her fourth, a son, was lost on August 21, 2011 in the aftermath of the Jos crisis, when clashes erupted between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups.
Dali formed her non-profit organization Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative in northern Nigeria in 1989 to aid widows and orphans caught in situations of violence, who often struggle to survive.
She has established three Livelihood Centers that teach women marketable skills, such as sewing, computers, and cosmetology. “When they graduate, we give them seed money so they can start their own business,” she said.
When the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, she turned her attention to the victims of this Islamist radical group. She told VOA tens of thousands of destitute widows and orphans were left behind when their men were killed.
“In our society, women are not dignified. Even if their husbands are killed, then the family usually will take away all the things that they own,” she said. “So, in the Boko Haram, they are double victimized. So, I train these widows in my Livelihood Centers.”
Dali’s husband, Reverend Samuel Dali, was president of the Church of the Brethren, which was attended by most of the 276 Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014.
The government has taken charge of the Chibok girls who have been released, so Dali said her group is focusing on helping the many other women and children who were abducted by Boko Haram. She said those who managed to escape have been treated as pariahs by their communities.
“They are stigmatized. People rejected them. Their husbands rejected them. The society rejected them. Their parents sometimes reject them,” she said.
Dali said her organization has provided the victims with food and shelter and paid for children’s schooling. She added that the women and girls received trauma care and were encouraged to tell their distressing stories.
“Then, we go and lobby in the society among the local people, so that they will allow them to stay in the society,” she said.
The award carries a cash prize of about $5,000, which Bijleveld terms “a symbolic amount.” She may also win more support from the publicity.
Dali said she is heartened by the recognition she and her organization have received from the de Mello Foundation. “The award came to me as a miracle from God,” she said. “So, it will urge me to do more. It is really going to help me,” she said.
By Oyun Sanjaasuren IPS News Oyun Sanjaasuren is Chair of Global Water Partnership (GWP)
STOCKHOLM, Aug 28 2017 (IPS) – This week people gather from around the globe at the annual Stockholm World Week. If previous years are anything to go by, the “Water is life” cliché will be repeated endlessly. But the phrase is useful shorthand for this simple fact: water is the cornerstone of human health and economic development.If managed poorly, water is an obstacle to development; if managed well, it brings prosperity and peace.
Going from economic growth to sustainable development is the political imperative of our time. To do that, leaders have to deliver on water security. What does it take?
Everyone at the table
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an “all-of-society engagement and partnership” to bring about the large scale transformational change needed to address the world’s challenges. This is particularly important in solving water problems, most of which stem from demands of competing users. Water is everywhere – in food, health, energy, migration, jobs, poverty, climate, disaster relief. Business as usual – a fragmented approach with each sector acting unilaterally – means we’ll need three planets worth of water!
GWP cheered when the 2030 Agenda adopted a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water: SDG 6 – “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” – and included a specific target for the implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM). That target on the integrated approach (working across sectors) is now a global political commitment. A water secure world requires all users around the table, a multi-stakeholder approach of the kind urged by the last of the 17 SDGs: revitalizing a “global partnership for sustainable development.”
Money, money, money
“Water crises” is among the top-ranked global risks for the past several years in the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report. The 2017 report said, “…changing weather patterns or water crises can trigger or exacerbate geopolitical and societal risks, such as domestic or regional conflict and involuntary migration, particularly in geopolitically fragile areas.” Even though the Paris climate agreement did not make an explicit connection between climate breakdown and water, the link is a no-brainer. Which probably explains why water is the most-cited priority sector in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris agreement.
The New Climate Economy report estimates that to prevent the worst impacts of climate breakdown, net additional investment of $4 trillion will be needed (270 billion per year, a mere $36 per person). The UN Environment Programme’s 2016 Adaptation Finance Gap report suggests that annual adaptation needs are in the range of $140–300 billion by 2030, rising to $280–500 billion by 2050.
We know that not all this money is going to come from public funding. Fortunately, CEOs from a range of industries have stepped up their efforts to address climate breakdown, making commitments to decrease carbon footprints and engage in sustainable resource management.
The communities most in need of financing also need support in identifying and preparing projects for investment, especially adaptation. The challenge is to ensure that the notion of “bankability” is encompassing enough to include the poorest of the poor. For example, since 2014, GWP helped secure EUR 19.5 million in climate financing for vulnerable communities in Africa. The implementation of the resulting investment plans has the potential to protect nearly 74 million people from water crises.
With its new programme to meet the water-related SDGs, GWP is extending its support to develop investment plans to finance implementation of NDC roadmaps. To close the water adaptation financing gap, countries will be assisted in preparing proposals for submission to international climate funds such as the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund.
Investments in water security are uniquely catalytic: a leverage point to alleviate poverty, improve access to clean water and sanitation, protect ecosystems, and enhance climate resilience for fragile communities in a way that is gender and socially inclusive.
Conditions for change Water problems are usually problems of management or governance: water policies, legal frameworks, and institutions. Even if all water problems are local, the solutions are similar: cross-sector cooperation, informed people, reliable information, competent institutions, fair decision-making, benefit-sharing, and, of course, technical expertise and financial resources. These governance solutions are called the “enabling environment.” Financing the enabling environment and all that constitutes sound water management is a good insurance policy for speeding up the achievement of a water secure world.
Strengthening institutions and actors to solve water problems not only creates an enabling environment for investments, but also provides a safe space for businesses to sustain their water management strategies and value chains. Investments in water security are uniquely catalytic: a leverage point to alleviate poverty, improve access to clean water and sanitation, protect ecosystems, and enhance climate resilience for fragile communities in a way that is gender and socially inclusive. After all, water is the cornerstone of human health and economic development or… water is life!
SANTIAGO, Aug 29 2017 (IPS) – “There are 33 million rural dwellers in Latin America who are still living in extreme poverty and can’t afford a good diet, clothes or education, and we are not going to help them move out of poverty if we use the same strategies that worked 20 years ago,” FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.
Since 1990, rural poverty in the region was reduced from 65 per cent to 46 per cent, while extreme poverty fell from 40 per cent to below 27 per cent.
But while the proportion of rural extreme poor decreased by 1 percentage point a year between 1997 and 2007, the rate of decrease was only 0.2 per cent a year between 2007 and 2014.
To break that pattern in the most vulnerable rural group, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are launching this last week of August in Santiago, Chile the “Alliance to end rural poverty in Latin America.”
“There is a strong deceleration in the reduction of poverty, five times slower than before, only just 0.2 per cent per year,” noted with concern Berdegué, who attributed the phenomenon, among other causes, to a regional economic slowdown which has had an impact on employment and incomes.
“The strong, sustainable, solid solution to rural poverty is economic development in rural areas. Quality jobs, better wages: that is the best strategy to reduce rural poverty,” said Berdegué, who is also FAO deputy director-general, in the body’s regional office in the Chilean capital.
For Berdegué, “social policies compensate for the effects of economic development, but what we want is for people to stop being poor because they have better jobs and not because of good social programmes…that is a second best option.”
In his interview with IPS, the Mexican senior U.N. official said the region has already done a great deal to reduce poverty and extreme poverty and what remains is to eradicate the most difficult part of poverty, harder to combat because it is structural.
He cited the example of Chile, where less than three per cent of the rural population suffer from extreme poverty, but the people affected are indigenous women in remote areas, which makes the task of rescuing them from deep poverty especially complicated.
According to Berdegué, the policies and programmes created and implemented in Latin America to eradicate poverty successfully served their purpose ,“but not necessarily the same strategies and same programmes are the ones that will work for us in the final push” of putting an end to hard-core, entrenched poverty.
Luiz Carlos Beduschi, a Brazilian academic and policy officer in the FAO regional office,pointed out to IPS that one of the most significant programmes to combat poverty in Nicaragua consisted of giving extremely poor people chickens, pigs or pregnant cows along with technical assistance.
Specific policies for women
“The same policies that help rural men move out of poverty don’t work for rural women,” said Julio Berdegué, who stressed that in the region “we have a generation of women with levels of education that their mothers never dreamed of.”
“We must soon achieve labour policies that allow these women to fully accede to formal employment. They are all working a lot, but on their farms or in unpaid, informal work,” he explained.
“These young rural women under 35 are going to stay on their farms producing food, but many of them are going to be employed in manufacturing and services, in nearby cities or in the rural communities themselves,” he added.
The FAO senior official stressed that “economic empowerment and autonomy are key, absolutely key, and this requires policies designed with a gender perspective. Without this, we are not going anywhere.”
Another thing that is essential, he added, is access to financing because “a poor woman farmer goes to ask for a loan and a poor male farmer goes, and the chances that the woman and the man get it are very different.”
“In all elements that are necessary for the development of family agriculture: access to markets, to technical assistance, land, etc, we need to multiply them by two, three or four in order to guarantee women equal opportunities,” he concluded.
“A woman from District 7, in the periurban area of Managua, discovered a dormant entrepreneurial potential. She was given a cow, and today, eight years later, she has 17 cows. Her oldest daughter left to study and graduated as a dentist. The woman sold three cows to finance a clinic (for her daughter) in the neighbourhood. She is now involved in the economic and social fabric of that area,” Beduschi said. Her second daughter is now studying medicine.
He added that the beneficiaries of this programme do not so much need advice as other elements such as credit at an interest rate lower than the 20 to 30 per cent offered by local creditors.
“We have to design a new plan for new times,” he concluded.
Launching the new Alliance
More than 25 experts, researchers and decision-makers are meeting Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 in Santiago, summoned by FAO and IFAD to seek new strategies and instruments to combat rural poverty.
In this new Alliance Launch Workshop, the participants are identifying and disseminating a politically viable and technically feasible package of proposals to be implemented by Latin American governments, for each country to face the challenge of ending rural poverty from an innovative perspective.
The activities of this initiative will be carried out from now until July 2019, and will count on FAO resources for the initial phase.
Berdegué said the first successful result of the Alliance was bringing together this group of experts with the commitment of “putting their shoulders to the wheel” in seeking innovative solutions to put an end to rural poverty.
“We want to release the 1.0 version of a proposal that we are going to offer to the countries. Not more of the same, because that has us at a five times slower rate. And we want to produce the first ideas, the best that we can, but we don’t want to spend the next six months writing documents. The best that we can, the sooner we can, and with those instruments we will go to the countries,” he said.
“The meeting will be a successful one if we come out of it with a very concrete working plan, detailed in such a way that the following week we can be going to the countries, as we have already started to do in Ecuador and Nicaragua,” he told IPS.
“We have a specific work agenda for collaboration to put these ideas into practice, with public programmes and policies,” he added.
Among the new tools that are being discussed in the world and in Latin America, Berdegué pointed out the concept of a universal basic income, which has its pros and cons, and is hotly debated.
There is also the issue of rural labour markets “which are in general in a state of true disaster, with high levels of informality and very low female participation rates, among them young women who have received 10 to 12 years of schooling and have no job offers in line with this human capital they have acquired.”
And a crucial issue in the new agenda, not taken into account in the past decades, is inequality.
“Many of these 33 million poor are poor because they are first victims of inequality. A rural indigenous woman, in a less developed area, is victim of more than four inequalities: gender, ethnicity, rural and territorial. Besides, economic inequality, on grounds of social class,” Berdegué said.
“Good quality employment, better wages, that is the best strategy for reducing rural poverty. And we have an accumulation of inequalities that, if we do not solve them, it will be very hard to return to the rate of one percentage point of reduction of rural extreme poverty,” he concluded.
Academics, as well as government officials and representatives of social organisations are taking part in the FAO and IFAD meeting, joining forces to think about how to keep on combating rural poverty with the goal of eradicating it.
(August 21, 2017) Yuba, South Sudan — Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale is not a man to mince words and he didn’t mince words earlier this year when he discussed South Sudan’s descent into a worsening, seemingly never-ending civil war.
“The government is the orchestrator of the war, and the people are suffering as a result,” he told NCR from his office in the capital of Juba in late May, citing numerous examples of the afflictions South Sudanese are experiencing: rape, looting and displacement.
“They are being brutally mistreated,” the auxiliary bishop of the capital of Juba said of those who are the victims of violence — victims who have, at the moment, “no resource to justice. It’s a big mess.”
He acknowledges that his critics — in the government and even some, privately, within the church — wonder if his criticisms are fair, smart or wise.
But Doggale brushes aside those criticisms, saying, “I’m not afraid.”
“My life doesn’t matter. I’ve suffered, too. I’ve lost members of my family. But when brutality is the order of the day, someone has to speak up, especially when you see that the flock is living in fear. This makes me angry.”
Doggale’s outspoken stance represents one wing of the church — a faction that believes that the church needs to be firm in its prophetic stance not only for the larger cause of peace in South Sudan but also in calling out the current government for policies and actions some believe are the cause of the current war.
But in a predominately impoverished, Christian nation where the church has an outsized role in providing education, social services and even basic necessities like food, the church’s place in society also has a practical side.
“The Catholic Church has a strong, strong footprint here,” said Fr. Pau Vidal, a Jesuit priest and a project director for Jesuit Refugee Service in the northern city of Maban. Another humanitarian agrees. “The churches have credibility here in South Sudan,” said Jerry Farrell, the country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. “In fact, they’re the only institutions that do have credibility, as they touch on so many parts of life: spirituality, health care, housing, education, food.”
Financial figures about the church’s role are hard to come by, but Catholic Relief Services alone has provided assistance of some sort to more than 1 million South Sudanese, the agency said, and works in partnership with local dioceses, parishes and religious congregations of both women and men.
Famine remains a serious problem and 6 million of country’s 12 million people face some kind of food insecurity — the lack of access to food — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Church-based groups have initiated programs to improve the humanitarian situation within the country. As just one example, the Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or DMI Sisters, is working on local initiatives to assist small communities in agricultural projects.
Grave problems persist in the country and whether stated in public, like Doggale, or in private, among numerous Catholics, they revolve around the current government in power.
The criticisms center on several fronts — that the government has either not been able to control factions of the government military forces known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which is predominately made of members of the ethnic or tribal group known as the Dinkas, or has been purposely targeting non-Dinkas and populations the government believes oppose it.
Ethnic tensions have been put to use for political purposes, as Human Rights Watch said in its report on the ongoing conflict, noting that it began in 2013 when “soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, fought in the capital following months of growing political tensions.”
In its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said that government troops have “killed, raped, and tortured civilians as well as destroying and pillaging civilian property during counterinsurgency operations in the southern and western parts of the country,” while acknowledging that both sides of the conflict “have committed abuses against civilians in and around Juba and other areas.” Some 2.4 million South Sudanese have been displaced, Human Rights Watch noted.
For its part, the South Sudanese government claims its troops are trying to battle an anti-government rebellion. It has blamed the civil war — which began in late 2013 — on anti-government rebels. And it has said it is committed to finding a peaceful solution to South Sudan’s war with those who oppose the government.
Some within the church, such as Fr. Moses Peter, a diocesan coordinator for Caritas in the city of Wau — which has faced a serious crisis, with thousands seeking refuge on the ground of the Catholic cathedral there — are, like Doggale, government critics. Peter said, “Nobody trusts the SPLA,” and notes that the government has accused the Catholic Church of being “pro-rebel,” a charge he strongly rejects. (President Kiir is a Roman Catholic.)
Yet the prophetic often mixes with the practical — Peter says in his humanitarian work, he works cordially with local officials among the thousands displaced in Wau by the conflict. And the church has a long history in Wau of involvement with peace efforts among all parties and factions to help diffuse local tensions.
Everyone in the church is tired of the conflict and is eager to resume some sense of hope and nation-building that ushered in the creation of the world’s newest nation after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Many relish memories from that time, their first taste of independence, coming after years of war.
“It was a beautiful moment — an independent people felt they could start afresh,” said Vidal. “But the [current] war has worsened the situation so much and there is no sense of nation unity now.”
Some say there is still enough political and humanitarian space to do needed pastoral work.
“It is certainly better now than in the 1960s when our people were under Arab rule,” Sr. Mary Faida, a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a South Sudanese congregation, said of life under the rule of neighboring Sudan, which is predominately Muslim. She said the work now of the church and of religious congregations — whether in education or in health care — is “giving hope to the people.”
Yet there are still deep worries about the church and its future. Interviewed in May, Doggale said even with all of its problems, he did not believe that the national government was engaging in systematic harassment of the church. But he did say some government officials were probably behind threats to individuals, including him.
“Is it government policy? No,” he said, but added he had received several threatening anonymous calls recently, including one in which a man told him, “Your days are numbered.”
There have been other troubling signs, too: a group of government troops threatened employees of a church bookstore in Juba in February of this year and took books off of the shelves they declared were written by government critics.
Since May, the bishop has become increasingly pessimistic. South Sudan-based Radio Tamazuj reported in July that Doggale called the current government’s national dialogue strategy “a waste of time.” He said, “The problem is political and it has to be solved by the political leaders,” including Kiir and Machar.
“The ordinary citizens have not yet created any problem, that’s why our faithful citizens are able to stay for three months without salaries and they don’t even demonstrate. They still go to work, you will never see this in any country in the world,” he said.
In emails earlier this month, Doggale told NCR that the current situation is “getting worse day by day. People are living in the uncertainty, rampant insecurity, hunger and diseases. In one word. It is limbo.”
In a later email, the bishop said, “The intimidation is of all South Sudanese by their own government. The ruling elite don’t care who you are, they just do what they want and when they want it.” He said there is there is no rule of law and repeated his belief that the country is in limbo.
“In South Sudan everybody is under intimidation, and so fear is instilled into people. It is the church that tries to give some voice, and so they (the government) are not comfortable about that and that is why they also get frustrated when the voice of the church continues in many ways to be aloud and strong on the suffering of the people.”
Others who agree with the bishop say privately the church has to be careful — that it is dealing now with what some call a military dictatorship and that the church is clearly in the government’s crosshairs.
“This is not a joke, what is happening now,” said one member of a religious order, who said the Kiir government has made a number of false allegations about the church, including that it has called “for regime change.”
“The stakes are now going up for the church,” the member said.
“The blood of the tribe is thicker than the water of Baptism,” Doggale said. “Our government is Catholic. They read the Bible. They go to church. But how much do they put into practice?”
Others also point out that in such an intense, confusing environment it is probably no surprise that four dioceses in the country are without bishops now.
“The Catholic Church is trying to finds its way now. But in keeping quiet, and not speaking out against human rights, we are taking sides and protecting our own projects,” said one cleric who did not want to be identified.
“How much injustice will we continue to see? There is so much that the religious here are witnessing,” the cleric said. “When you speak out [it is assumed], you are speaking out against the government. How can you do that in a way that is constructive?”
[Chris Herlinger is international correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Brazil’s government has abolished a vast national reserve in the Amazon to open up the area to mining.
The area, covering 46,000 sq km (17,800 sq miles), straddles the northern states of Amapa and Para, and is thought to be rich in gold, and other minerals.
The government said nine conservation and indigenous land areas within it would continue to be legally protected.
But activists have voiced concern that these areas could be badly compromised.
A decree from President Michel Temer abolished a protected area known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca).
Its size is larger than Denmark and about 30% of it will be open to mining.
The mining and energy ministry says protected forest areas and indigenous reserves will not be affected.
“The objective of the measure is to attract new investments, generating wealth for the country and employment and income for society, always based on the precepts of sustainability,” the ministry said in a statement.
But opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues denounced the move as “the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years,” O Globo newspaper reported (in Portuguese).
Maurício Voivodic, head of the conservation body WWF in Brazil, warned last month that mining in the area would lead to “demographic explosion, deforestation, the destruction of water resources, the loss of biodiversity and the creation of land conflict.”
According to the WWF report, the main area of interest for copper and gold exploration is in one of the protected areas, the Biological Reserve of Maicuru.
There is also said to be gold in the Para State forest, which lies within the area.
The WWF says there is potential for conflict too in two indigenous reserves that are home to various ethnic communities living in relative isolation.
WWF’s report said that a “gold rush in the region could create irreversible damage to these cultures.”
“If the government insisted on opening up these areas for mining without discussing environmental safeguards it will have to deal with an international outcry.”
August 16 at 10:30 AM | NAIROBI — Kenya’s opposition leader doubled down Wednesday on his claim that this month’s presidential election was rigged in favor of President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying he would take his allegations of fraud to the country’s supreme court.
Raila Odinga, 72, lost to his longtime rival Kenyatta in the Aug. 8 vote, according to the official results, but Odinga has refused to concede after his fourth electoral loss. His followers took to the streets in the wake of the official announcement, and more than 20 people have been killed in clashes with police.
Odinga amplified his charges Wednesday, saying that the country’s election commission carried out widespread fraud bigger than in “any democratic election, anywhere in the world.” He told his supporters that he would take his case to Kenya’s supreme court.
“For the third time in a decade, the candidate who lost the election has been declared the president,” Odinga said. He has not shown any evidence of fraud.
Odinga said his supporters “won’t accept it until they have answers to the disturbing questions that have been raised.”
In a news conference, Odinga encouraged continued opposition to the election results and Kenyatta’s presidency, saying those who accept the outcome are “prepared to live under autocracy.”
Kenya is the wealthiest country in East Africa and has emerged as a pillar of stability in a fragile region, which includes war-torn neighbors Somalia and South Sudan. But Kenya remains riven by tribal rivalries that come to a head in every election cycle, largely between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and Odinga’s fellow Luos.
That rift predates the country’s independence in 1963, and some worry that Odinga’s refusal to concede will further complicate reconciliation efforts. In his reelection speech, Kenyatta urged the nation to “remember that we are brothers and sisters.”
But in the wake of the 2007 elections, the International Criminal Court accused Kenyatta of fostering the wave of ethnic violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. Those charges were later dropped for lack of evidence. In his first term, however, Kenyatta did little to assuage tribal tensions, leaving many of Odinga’s supporters feeling excluded and angry.
When Kenyatta was declared the winner last Friday, some young men set fire to tires in the streets of Nairobi slums and threw rocks at police. The Kenya National Human Rights Commission accused security forces of using “excessive force which is unlawful and unacceptable” against demonstrators.
Although international election monitors said last week that they saw no sign of rigging or manipulation, Kenya’s election commission has not published the official result forms online, fueling speculation among Odinga’s supporters that the panel is covering up some form of fraud.
On Wednesday, the European Union called for the release of those forms, saying in a statement that they “would enable all stakeholders to examine the accuracy of the announced results and point to any possible anomalies.”
Meanwhile, Kenyan tax authorities attempted to raid the office of the Africa Center for Open Governance, a nongovernment group that was critical of election preparations. Officials had said that the open governance organization and the Kenya National Human Rights Commission were being suspended for not formally registering with the government. But within hours, the Interior Ministry reversed that suspension.
In a letter, the ministry said it would give the two groups 90 days to resolve “any outstanding noncompliance issues,” without specifying what those issues were.
Michelle Kagari, deputy director of Amnesty International for the region including Kenya, called the suspensions “a cynical attempt to discredit human rights organizations.”
But after a week of paralysis, with businesses closed and streets empty, Nairobi had come back to life. On television, tourism officials said reservations were steady. Traffic jams had returned to the city center. Even in Kibera, the sprawling slum where much of last week’s violence occurred, Odinga supporters said they were ready to move on. Packed minibuses streaked through the slum’s main arteries.
“We just want our lives to go back to normal,” said David Kinara, 60, an Odinga supporter and a Kibera resident. “There is nothing much we can do.”
“Life has to go on because if it does not, everyone is vulnerable,” said Owino Kotieno, another Odinga supporter and Kibera resident. “You are vulnerable from police brutality and hooligans.”
In 2013, Odinga also claimed that the election was rigged and took his case to the supreme court. After several months, he lost his case.