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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2552

Kenya’s Rigged Presidential Poll

By Tukojit R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

With a booming economy, a flourishing billion-dollar tourism trade and signs of a healthy democracy taking roots most Kenyans were counting their blessings, living as they do in an otherwise very restive and economically disadvantaged continent. If there was an aberration in the system that ruled them it was corruption, an omnipresent evil of nearly all developing nations.

But the comparatively stable life of Kenyans seems to have come under threat after large-scale ethnic violence hit the African country resulting in the death of over 250 within a period of three days alone in the wake of a controversial election result that saw the 76-year old President Mwai Kibaki sworn in for another five-year term.

Not unexpected in such circumstances, many ‘disinterested’ parties were caught in the crossfire, among them Indians, particularly the prosperous Gujarati trading community in Kenya, though first reports did not mention anything about casualties among them. But the small Indian community shared a sense of insecurity with the various larger ethnic groups in Kenya, including the 22 percent Kikuyu tribe to which the President also belongs.

It was a tragic comedy when at the outbreak of the present trouble in Kenya—the controversial declaration of victory for President Kibaki—the United States rushed with a congratulatory message, only to retrace it as its British and European Union partners raised doubts about the legitimacy of the poll result. The European Union observers said that the poll result did not meet the international standards of fairness.

The trouble started about three days before the President was sworn in for a second term as till then the Opposition candidate, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement was leading in the poll counting. Odinga’s supporters had already started celebrations in anticipation. But when it looked as though Kibaki may actually face defeat the counting was suspended for a while only to be resumed to declare Kibaki’s victory. Odinga’s supporters were furious and refused to acknowledge the poll result. They said Odinga would be sworn in as ‘President’ at a public ceremony.

Matters looked more serious when subsequently the chief of the election commission said that he was hustled into declaring the poll result by the President while four member of the commission were more explicit in pointing to irregularities and said that an independent judicial body should look into the allegations of abused counting.

Suspicions about the fairness of the poll result as also questions about the democratic credentials of Kibaki have been further aroused with government succeeding in imposing a ban on live coverage of poll-related events. The media, particularly the government-controlled one, began to ignore the Opposition voice while relaying everything that the government had to say about the crisis. The Paris-based Reporters Without Frontier said the move to gag the media was ‘dangerous and counter productive’.

The hasty US expression of satisfaction after the Kenyan poll did appear to be the case of another instance of Washington’s myopic look at events in distance lands where the ruler and not the ruled become America’s obsession. President Kibaki has been a strong supporter of the US anti-terror policies, which have received criticism in many parts of the world. But this support brought Kenya hefty US aide for counter-terror operations. The US sees Kibaki as an ally but obviously does not seem to trust Odinga, or has not cared to cultivate him. One reason could be that in his eagerness to garner support from among the substantive Muslim population in the country, Odinga is said to be less vocal in supporting the anti-terror measures of the US.

The personality-based US foreign policy is, of course, old hat. It has been practised in India’s next door for close to 50 years with disastrous results, as can be seen today. In Africa too Washington has never hesitated from embracing leaders who may be controversial and unpopular in their country. After a bitterly disputed election in Ethiopia in 2005, which had led to scores of deaths, the US backed the Prime Minister, Meles Zanawi. More recently, in April 2007, the US did make some noises about the flawed polls in Nigeria but supported President Umaru Yar’Adua who returned the favour by capturing some people for their alleged links to Al Qaeda. Despite that token action Nigeria remains a hotbed of militancy, claiming not only Nigerian victims but also foreigners working to help the oil-rich but still impoverished country.

Some horror stories coming out of Kenya—torching a church with 50 women and children inside--have led some to fear a Rwanda-type genocide in which about one million people were reportedly killed in 1994. In Kenya close to 100,000 members of the dominant Kikuyu tribe are reported to have fled to neighbouring Uganda after the recent trouble. Charges of ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ have been freely traded.

Such fears may well turn out to be exaggerated. The present President had first come to power five years ago to raise hopes of peace, prosperity and restoration of true democracy. Kibaki had displaced through the ballot Daniel Arap Moi who was accused of being dictatorial. Odinga was part of the Kibaki team and his Party of National Unity.

Kenya under Kibaki started to make rapid economic strides. It had become the commercial, banking and transportation hub. It served as a model of development and democracy for the many limping nations in sub-Sahara Africa. Kenya also became the staging ground for aide workers bound for the many conflict zones in the region, from Sudan to Somalia.

All was going well in Kenya except when in 2005, Kibaki proposed that the constitution be amended to give him more powers—a typical symptom of dictatorial inclinations. Odinga led a successful campaign to oppose this move—and converted to a bitter critic of the President. With Kibaki determined to stay on after what he thinks a legitimate victory and Odinga refusing to start negotiations for resolving the present conflict, Kenya seems to be facing an impasse which, if unresolved, can lead to some very serious consequences for the country as well much of Africa.

- Syndicate Features -

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