Professor Maathai, who won the Africa Prize for Leadership in 1991, and is renowned for her campaigns for the environment and peasant farmers, has been criticised by President Daniel arap Moi. He has accused her and the churches in Kenya of stirring up violence in the Rift Valley.
It is the first such incident since Kenya's election in December and may herald a return to the repressive politics of the one-party state era. Before the advent of multi- party democracy last year abductions and detentions of political dissidents were commonplace.
In an open letter to the Attorney-General, Amos Wako, last week Professor Maathai wrote: 'President Moi made false accusation from a privileged public platform to the effect that the National Christian Councils of Kenya and I are responsible for the tribal (political) clashes which have ravaged part of the Rift valley and Western Kenya for over a year.'
She offered to meet the President and present evidence to challenge his assertions. She has also accused state security police of abducting her colleague, John Makanga, from a Nairobi hotel. Armed and hooded men seized Mr Makanga last Saturday and dragged him to a car. He appeared in court on Tuesday charged with sedition. Mr Makanga is now in hospital recovering from injuries inflicted in the attack. The professor cited Mr Makanga's abduction as one of the reasons she fears for her life.
One of the documents he was charged with possessing was a pamphlet, signed by Professor Maathai, about the Rift Valley incidents, that is critical of the government's handling of the fighting. In parts of the Rift Valley Province people from the President's Kalenjin group have clashed with those from other ethnic groups, mainly Kikuyu, who support the oppositon. The government was accused of encouraging its supporters to drive non- Kalenjin out of the area in the run-up to the December election. Many of those who fled are now trying to return to their homes, a move encouraged by a committee set up by Professor Maathai. During a visit to the region last weekend the President said the Kenya Council of Churches and the committee were supporting violence.
This return to the use of violent language against his opponents - which has frequently resulted in violence - was also evident in President Moi's attack on Smith Hempstone, the retiring US ambassador last week. At a farewell lunch the President broke diplomatic norms by accusing him of bias and partisanship, which he said had led to tribalism and violence.
Mr Hempstone ended his four- year tour with a typical outspoken attack on the government. He said: 'The President either doesn't understand or accept the spirit of multi-party elections . . . the system is so presidential that power is concentrated in State House, not parliament.'
Many democrats were dismayed when President Moi prorogued parliament the day after it assembled in January. Yesterday he announced that it would meet again on 23 March.
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