Friday, January 18, 2008

Kenya - what needs to be done

January 18, 2008

What needs to be done should be done

POLITICIANS never learn, particularly those in power, from history, and if and when they do, then it would be too late for many of their people. The developments in Kenya bear witness to this universal truth.
In Kenya, the government President Mwai Kibaki is determined to stay in power despite monitors' observation that the Dec.27 election was flawed. While the voting itself went without a hitch, the vote counting process was rigged, according to independent observers.
The government has brushed aside the charge and is putting up a show of force and the opposition is hitting back. At least 600 people have been killed in post-election violence linked to demonstrations staged by the opposition, whose leader Raila Odinga insists that he had won the elections. Odinga has offered to call off the protests if the government orders a transparent recount of the votes and if the results show that Kibaki had won. He has also said that he would be prepared to take part in a "transitional coalition government" tasked with organising new elections within six months.
However, the government is unmoved. It is determined to crush opposition protests by the use of force. On Thursday, several people were shot dead in Nairobi suburbs in clashes between opposition supporters and people. On the first day of the renewed protests on Wednesday, at least four people were killed.
That came after the opposition scored a small victory on Tuesday when its candidate was elected speaker of parliament, but that does not count for much in Kenya's political environment.
An overview of the crisis should begin with the final report of its observer team saying the Dec.27 polls "did not meet international standards." As such, it was incumbent on the government to clear the air by ordering a recount of the ballots. Its refusal to do so could be interpreted only as substantiation of the opposition charges that there was something wrong in the counting process.
It cannot be said with absolute accuracy that at stake in Kenya is democracy. The ongoing fight there is not for the sake of democracy as much as for power and the wealth that goes with authority. Odinga loyalists — most of them from his tribe — stand to benefit from him becoming president of the country; they would become ministers and fill the bureaucratic ranks wherever possible — a process that would be reversed if Kibaki emerges the victor in the next elections and names people from his tribe as ministers and replaces the bureaucratic ranks wherever possible with his people.
Businessmen stand to gain from the political gains of their respective tribes in the form of government contracts for goods, services and projects..
This is the political cycle in many countries and it is likely to continue for sometime before the people at large are more educated and start asking questions.
In the meantime, the international community could step in and help the Kenyans solve the crisis. It could start by restraining the opposition from engaging in provocative protests and holding to account the government for its high-handed approach while dealing with people exercising their democratic rights.
The situation in Kenya would only turn worse if the world remained silent and inadvertently encourage the government to continue its present course while also frustrating and the opposition into hardening its position.
Indeed, the US government has warned that it will not conduct "business as usual" with Kenya until there is an accord. The European Union has threatened sanctions, including the suspension of financial assistance. These are good first steps, but they should be followed up with determination and commitment in order to find an end to the suffering of the ordinary people of Kenya and work out a political settlement based on democratic principles. There could be no compromise.