Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Kenya: The next Darfur

A month after what many African countries would regard as an accomplishment, Kenya’s future keeps looking bleaker by the day.

In the wake of incumbent-fixed general elections, Kenya is on the verge of genocide not unlike that which took (or “takes,” depending on whom you ask) place in Darfur.

On Dec. 27, Kenyans went to the polls to advance a 15-year tradition that further emphasized their long-term commitment to democracy. Since 1992, the year of Kenya’s first multiparty general elections following the precedent set forth by their founding father Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya has enjoyed three relatively successful elections.

These elections, however, came with their own caveats. Heaps of controversial killings and spadefuls of political corruption allegations diluted the success of the first two Kenyan general elections.

The last, held in 2002, was the most uncontaminated of the three. It finally put Kenya on the map in terms of successful African democracies. Then, President Mwai Kibaki focused his campaign on improving three items applicable to all of Africa: education, economics and anti-corruption.

Yet campaign promises almost always follow the same trajectory into oblivion; ones that are kept are few and far between. Mr. Kibaki’s are no exception. As evidenced by the latest election: and, in fact, by his blissful ignorance of the issue during the entirety of his term: President Kibaki has all but failed miserably on his third item.

Mr. Kibaki promised the Kenyan people that he was committed to maintaining a transparent democracy and ridding Kenya of extremist tyranny. While vice president, he candidly said that “there is no room for communists in Kenya.” I can’t help but dream of what Kenya would look like today had Mr. Kibaki spent as much time fervently fighting corruption as he did communism, like he promised.

By rigging the general elections, Mr. Kibaki is fomenting the cliché that is the duplicity of African leaders to preach democratic values to a fault and then abandon them in one fell swoop once they obtain power. It is a sad vogue that needs to be pulled from the political shelves.

Not yet three days after the polls had opened, Kenyans realized that their democracy might soon be imperiled by the likes of a cocky, high-class, African cabal they once held in esteem.

Former President Bill Clinton once rightly praised Mr. Kibaki for his government’s “decision to abolish school fees for primary education.” This laudable policy led to the subsequent enrollment of 1.7 million more school-aged Kenyans. It is too bad that Mr. Kibaki did not follow suit on the anti-corruption front.

Like in Nigeria last April, Congo D.R. last year or Ethiopia the year before that, opposition supporters reacted to the fixed elections with violence.

Soon-to-be 1,000 deaths and 350,000 displaced people later, Kenyans are ethnically torn by a blood-spilling government-versus-tribe debacle.

In Darfur, the violence between the government-financed Janjaweed coup and the opposition forces stemmed from deep-seated religious, ethnic and cultural differences. It was a tragic case of the oppressed, the S.L.M. and J.E.M. and others, calling out the oppressor, the Muslim-led government.

In Kenya the violence is between the Kikuyus, the home tribe of Mr. Kibaki; the Luo, the home tribe of opposition leader Raila Odinga; and Kalenjin tribes, those who initiated the outcries of corruption: another tragic case of the oppressed calling out the oppressor.

This was Kenya’s calling. It was their calling to continue the example they had begun to set with free elections over the last decade and a half. And after the last election, which was a success by any measure, we thought it was a given that Mr. Kibaki and his government would get it right again.

Well, we were all wrong. Not only did Mr. Kibaki and his coup of political elitists slight the Kenyan people but they slighted Africa as a whole: extinguishing hope for up and coming African democracies in Mauritania, Malawi, Zambia and Namibia, among others.

Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary-general and mediator of this conflict, made progress the other day when he convinced Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to speak to one another. Soon, the African Union will preside over a conference of African leaders that will attempt to harness the Kenyan issue. Though this is a long way from resolution, it is something.

For now, however, the fighting continues. Mr. Annan has speculated that Kenya could be without a government for at least several months if not a year or longer. Jendayi Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat to Africa, stopped vowels short last Wednesday of calling the situation in Kenya “genocide.”

Let’s not make the same mistake we made with Darfur. The fighting will not wait for political reconciliation.

But with no signs of slowing down so far, Kenya is on course to ethnic divide.

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