Kenya's electoral crisis is spinning out of control, threatening the country's future, and exacting a terrible toll on thousands of ordinary Kenyans. Hundreds have been killed and thousands more chased out of their homes by mobs made up of former neighbours. The need for a political settlement between Kibaki and Odinga grows more urgent by the day as violence spreads and public anger deepens. But any compromise should address the crime that sparked this crisis to begin with— the rigging of Kenya's Presidential poll.
If today's crisis is defused through a political bargain that seeks only to satisfy the selfish interests of Kenya's politicians and ignore the rights of Kenya's voters, it will damage the prospects for democracy in Kenya and store up potential violence for the future. Kofi Annan’s mediation effort has taken on the daunting task of negotiating a political settlement between an opposition that insists on taking power and a President who has proved unwilling to concede anything at all. Restoring peace is Kenya’s overriding imperative today, but peace without justice is not the answer and is in any case probably impossible.
Faced with today's dire situation, it is easy to forget that just weeks ago voters throughout the country lined up peacefully to participate in what was supposed to be an election to consolidate Kenya's progress towards democracy. Their votes were cast aside in disgraceful acts of fraud. While both sides engaged in electoral malpractice, observers are united in agreeing that government interference was likely the deciding factor in the poll. And it is the government that has ultimate control over the Electoral Commission of Kenya which announced Kibaki as President. The courts and the Electoral Commission are appointed by the President and cannot be expected to impartially resolve the disputed election.
The violence that followed the disastrous election has given rise to a new and terrible set of human rights abuses that must also be dealt with as Kenya moves forward. Police in Kisumu and Nairobi have shot and killed dozens of would-be protesters with no justification, including children and people shot in the back trying to run away. We spoke to villagers around Eldoret in the Rift Valley who openly admitted having burned down their neighbour’s homes and who now threaten to attack the camps where displaced Kikuyus from the President’s ethnic group are seeking refuge. And now there are allegations that Kikuyu militias seeking revenge in Nairobi and Nakuru are being encouraged by senior members of government.
When the dust settles, none of the key players in this crisis will emerge with their integrity intact and those guilty of organizing violence and electoral fraud must be held accountable for their crimes. But none of this is an excuse for ignoring the crime that precipitated all the others.
If the two sides to this post-election standoff are able to come together and agree on an interim government or some other political settlement, the first priority will be restoring calm and attending to the needs of the thousands who have suffered in recent weeks. But any settlement must also spell out some way of ensuring that the rights of Kenya’s voters are ultimately vindicated. Kenya needs an independent inquiry into the result of the Presidential poll that is seen by all sides as being credible. If that inquiry cannot establish who actually won the Presidential poll— the most likely result, given that much of the evidence has apparently been tampered with or destroyed— Kenya should hold a new election as soon as is practicable. This would require legal and administrative reforms and independent monitoring to prevent further rigging.
A political bargain that satisfies only the interests of opposing politicians— would mark a return towards the kind of elite, corrupt, unaccountable politics that Kenya has tried so hard to leave behind. And such a bargain would leave underlying grievances to fester even if it managed to purchase short-term calm. The causes of the anger that has poured into the streets this month have been studiously ignored or actively nurtured by successive Kenyan governments. The bodies piled high in Kenya's mortuaries certainly prove that a better quality of governance and genuine respect for the basic rights of Kenyans is needed to avoid more catastrophes in the future. The right place to start is with a government that was freely and fairly elected and accountable to the public, not bargained into place by the same power brokers that have laid the foundations for this crisis.