In response to the recent post-election crisis in Kenya, on Thursday January 10, 2008, the Wilson Center, in collaboration with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, brought together a panel of speakers to assess the current situation in Kenya and discuss options for the international community to respond to the crisis. The panel was comprised of:
Stephen Ndegwa, a visiting Scholar at the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa and the Lead Public Sector Governance Specialist at the World Bank,Washington, DC, Calestous Juma, a professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Joel D. Barkan, a Senior Associate at the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Maina Kiai, the Chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, currently National Intelligence Officer for Africa, served as moderator.
Ambassador Johnnie Carson is a retired career Foreign Service Officer, and currently the National Intelligence Officer for Africa. He was the US Ambassador to Kenya from 1999 - 2003. Ambassador Carson began by introducing the panel and describing Kenya as one of the most important countries in East Africa because of its position as an economic and political hub for the region. He explained that prior to the recent crisis, this was the most stable and democratic state in the region. In the last several years, various successful peace talks for neighboring countries have been held in Kenya while its economy has been growing robustly, making it the 5th largest economy in Africa. Ambassador Carson finished by reminding the audience that Kenya has been a close partner of the U.S.
The first speaker was Joel Barkan, an observer to the recent elections as part of the International Republican Institute. Barkan recounted the events which led up to the post-election violence. Of all the previous multi-party elections held in Kenya, these were by far the freest and fairest. Campaigners were not harassed and each side spent lavishly on its campaign. This was in part due to the increased freedom of the press in the country. Kenya currently has 42 FM radio stations and various private television stations which do not always agree with the head of state. Civil society is therefore very active and this may have unfortunately contributed to a public confidence and expectation that the election process would have been successful and transparent.
Based on earlier polls it appeared that this would be a close race between the chief opposition leader, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki. The elections began on time with each polling station receiving the necessary materials to insure that everyone who wanted to vote was able to do so before the end of the day. The first counts revealed that Odinga was in the lead.
As time progressed, the ECK (Electoral Commission Kenya) gave successive press conferences in which it announced that Odinga's lead was decreasing and eventually, President Kibaki was declared the winner by the ECK. This did not sit well with Odinga's supporters, who at that point felt that the elections had been stolen from ODM. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the head of the ECK later announced that he was not sure who had actually won the elections.
Maina Kiai, provided further details on the events that followed the elections and their effect on future elections in Kenya. He began by stating that "at this point one cannot say who won or who lost" and the situation in Kenya has never been as scary as it is today.
According to Kiai, there have been between 500 and 600 deaths in a week with about 20,000 people currently internally displaced. The disputed election results led to three types of violence: spontaneous disorganized violence, less spontaneous but more organized militia groups, and state violence. The violent outbreaks and the uncertainty about the validity of the elections have hurt Kenyans' belief in their right to vote. The damage done on Kenyans confidence in institutions has been tremendous.
Kiai stated that only when there is hope in negotiations does the violence seem to ease. It is therefore imperative that both sides sit down and dialogue. It is also important to not make hasty use of terms like "genocide," which could cause further schisms. Kiai insisted that the use of such alarmist language is counterproductive at this point and added that "this is not an ethnic conflict; this is a political conflict with ethnic overtones" caused by the lack of transparency in the elections.
Stephen Ndegwa was speaking on his own behalf and not that of the Bank. He presented some insights on what needs to be done now in order to move forward and prevent any further violence. He stated that elections have never been reversed in Africa no matter how much they are contested. Taking into account the amount of time that has already gone by since the elections, Ndegwa believes that a more realistic approach to a solution would involve a restructuring of the political system.
He recalled that, even though the 2002 Kenyan elections were recognized as a relative success, there was little reason to be satisfied because "the fundamental structure of politicking was the same." The state remained imperialist, politics were still wrought with ethnic nuances and corruption was still an issue. These were all flaws that needed to be dealt with in order to have a successful democracy. Ndegwa therefore sees the 2007 incidents as an ongoing failure of the way democratic politics have been historically run in Kenya. He suggested three possible solutions:
1. A settlement of the electoral dispute through a coalition government.
2. The making of a pact between the protagonists, which has been effectively used in Kenya to solve various crises.
3. A constitutional reform process.
Calestous Juma echoed some of Ndegwa's points when he stated that a restructuring of the system is necessary to move forward. He focused more on the possibilities of using economic/business-related solutions.
According to Juma, the constitution no longer addresses the needs of what he referred to as the "new Kenya." Almost 60% of the country's GDP is accounted for by the city of Nairobi alone, which is a huge economic problem. He talked of role models that Kenya could turn to such as Malaysia which used new economic programs to create a more cohesive country. For Kenya, new alliances could be formed based on business communities instead of ethnicity. Kenya also needs to address its issues of youth and employment as well as restructure its educational system.
Juma stated that there are 5 million Kenyans between the ages of 12 and 18. This is a large portion of the population which often heads households and has to make adult decisions on a daily basis. Lowering the voting age would give them voice in the way that their country is run. All these efforts should be part of regional integration since Kenya's issues affect the entire region.
During the discussion portion most of the questions revolved around solutions to the current problems and how to bring about dialogue between the hardliners.
Maina Kiai said that Kenyans could not move forward without some form of audit of the elections process. He felt that there needed to be more platforms for civil society to publicly grieve as well as participate in solutions. He also mentioned the role that the international community could play by placing pressure on politicians on each side. Stephen Ndegwa felt that businesses would not necessarily resolve the conflict since they tended to have the same ethnic compositions as other institutions. Overall, the panelists encouraged a change in Kenya's political system and dialogue between the two contending parties.
Prepared by Medesse R. Sonou, Intern and Mame Khady Diouf, Program Assistant, Africa Program.