The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.
But the window might be closing fast on the international community to help Kenya avoid a repeat of 2007-08, when 1300 died and 300,000 were displaced after a bungled election. According to a report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (yours truly was a research assistant for the commission), evidence suggests that international interventions to encourage reasonably free and fair and peaceful elections are most effective when done well in advance to the polling day. In the Kenyan case, the structural causes of previous rounds of electoral violence were never addressed, and may yet lead to the loss of life this election cycle.
What can now be done to avoid large scale organized violence is to credibly convince the politicians and those who finance youth militia (chinkororo, taliban, mungiki, jeshi la mzee, baghdad boys, etc) that they will be held accountable. So far, as is evident in Tana River and the informal settlements within Nairobi, the lords of violence appear to be operating like it is business as usual.
Kenya remains without a parliament even as violence threatens to shred to pieces this once stable land in East Africa. The president is holed up in State House and is yet to issue a statement on the way forward, besides the chest thumping rhetoric about the ability of the security forces to deal with the post-election violence that has led to more than 300 deaths and displacement of more than 100,000 Kenyans (According to the Kenyan Red Cross).
As things stand, there is no avenue for dialogue between the government and the main opposition party that believes it wont the election but was denied victory by the government through rigging. This situation calls for the immediate swearing in of the new members of parliament in order to provide an arena for debate and dialogue on the way forward for Kenya.
The opposition should strongly consider using parliament to oust the president, if indeed they cannot stand his presidency for another five years. With 45% of the votes in parliament, and with cracks beginning to show within the president’s party, the opposition might be able to garner the more than 50% of votes needed to vote the government out of power in a vote of no confidence.
Parliamentary debate will also create the impression that something is being done about the situation and therefore lower tension in the country. Right now there seems to be an impasse and this is contributing to the rising tension all over the country.
It is very saddening that Kibaki and Raila remain obstinate and hell bent on plunging Kenya into an abyss of violence and barbarism. Kenyans should see these two leaders for who they really are – power hungry men with not much love for their country. Why are they still setting pre-conditions for dialogue when the country is flirting with the possibility of an all out civil war? Why haven’t they issued a joint statement condemning the violence and destruction of property?
As ordinary poor Kenyans die and lose their property, the real culprits – those who stole the election and those that are not willing to compromise for the country’s sake – continue to live near to normal lives without the food and fuel shortages that are beginning to further exacerbate Kenyans’ misery. This madness has to stop.