Thursday, January 03, 2008
Kenya's president steals an election, showing utter contempt for democracy and his people
THE mayhem that killed hundreds of people following Kenya's election on December 27th completes a depressing cycle of democratic abuses in Africa's biggest countries. Nigeria held its own mockery of an election last April. Scores were killed and observers pronounced it the most fraudulent poll they had ever witnessed. Congo held a more or less peaceful election in October 2006, since when the main opposition leader has been hounded into exile. And the year before that, flawed elections in Ethiopia resulted in the deaths of 199 protesters. Needless to say, the incumbents all won.
So it is easy to be angry, as well as gloomy, about African leaders' continual betrayal of the democratic values they say they hold so dear. And all the more so in the case of Kenya, which has a strong tradition of holding elections, a vibrant political culture, a relatively free press and a sophisticated economy. Given all these advantages, as we wrote before the election, Kenya had an opportunity to “set an example” to Africa and hold free and fair elections. But the country blew it.
Or, more precisely, the political elite blew it. A small cabal of politicians almost certainly stole the result by fraud (see article).In the parliamentary vote, President Mwai Kibaki's ruling party was routed. Yet in the presidential vote Mr Kibaki emerged victorious at the last moment and had himself sworn in only a few minutes later, forestalling pleas from all sides—even from the head of the election commission he himself had appointed—for a pause to investigate mounting claims of malpractice. The report of the European observers was unusually strong in its condemnation of the count.
As in Nigeria, Kenyans queued quietly to exercise their right to vote, reflecting the enormous appetite for democracy that exists on a continent that was until recently dominated by dictators and “big men”. But for democracy to survive, it is not enough to hold elections. Politicians must accept that they may have to give up office, and thus all the opportunities for self-enrichment that come their way. It is no coincidence that the most corrupt politicians are also those who cling most desperately to power—as in Kenya and Nigeria.
In stealing the election, Mr Kibaki has also invited a dangerous backlash against his Kikuyu tribe, the country's largest. Tense tribal divisions have long threatened to widen as the minority groups, including opposition leader Raila Odinga's Luo, have come to feel marginalised by the concentration of power in Kikuyu hands. If the current violence does evolve into something worse, perhaps even civil war, Mr Kibaki and his henchmen will bear much of the blame.
No time to be nice
Initially, America, which sees Kenya as a front-line ally in a war against Islamist militias in neighbouring Somalia, made the mistake of endorsing the president's re-election. Now Britain, America and the African Union are urging Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki to talk in an effort to stop the bloodletting. That lets Mr Kibaki off the hook far too easily. All the violence should certainly be condemned, but most of the diplomatic pressure should be exerted on Mr Kibaki's supposed new government to annul the results and organise a recount—or a new vote.
If Mr Kibaki will not do this, the rest of the world should suspend direct aid to his regime and impose a travel ban on his officials. That is the least the wretched people of Kenya have a right to expect from their friends abroad.
Source: The Economist, Jan 03, 2007