- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent her top African envoy, Jendayi Frazer, to Kenya, where she hopes to facilitate a diplomatic solution to the violent chaos triggered by the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

Mr. Kibaki’s main opponent, Raila Odienga, has accused his rival of obtaining victory through a fraudulent tallying process, sparking violent mobs that have killed more than 300 people. Mr. Kibaki was sworn into his second term less than an hour after the surprising election results were announced; early tallies had suggested Mr. Odienga was winning, but Mr. Kibaki surged ahead in the 11th hour and won by 200,000 votes, with at least 48,000 of those in dispute.

A report from the European Union concluded the voting lacked transparency and was riddled with irregularities that cast doubts on the legitimacy of the results and called for an external audit. This directive is fully warranted and must be completed as soon as possible to return a sense of stability. In a country that has shown such progress since de-colonization in 1963, Kenya has been a pillar of stability, serving as East Africa’s largest economy. This stability is vital to ensuring the region’s progress.

Soon after Mr. Kibaki was named the winner, Kenyan Internal Security Minister John Michuki announced that all live news broadcasts were indefinitely banned “in the interest of public safety and tranquillity,” since apparently “In the prevailing environment, some people are using the media to call for violence and to incite members of the public to engage in violence.”

The watchdog group Reporters Without Borders expressed dismay, saying the ban “imposes a climate of intimidation and plunges the country into confusion.” Indeed, such an authoritarian move on the part of Kenya’s leaders is troubling and must be reversed if Kenya is to continue its recent history of stability and prosperity.

Amid the chaos, Mr. Odienga’s supporters have formed roving gangs that are committing violence against members of Mr. Kibaki’s ethnic group, the Kikuyu. On Monday night an estimated 50 Kikuyus were burned alive inside a Kenya Assemblies of God church, where they had fled to escape the wrath of the rioters. Thousands of Kenyans have gone into hiding or are hoping to evacuate the country. The ethnic clashes bear a chilling resemblance to the start of the 1994 Hutu and Tutsi violence in Rwanda.

These tumultuous events could indicate a looming threat to Kenya’s democracy. Fortunately, the international community has made efforts to facilitate peaceful talks between Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odienga. We hope the talks are fruitful — with both sides willing to compromise on behalf of the Kenyan people and democrats in Africa and elsewhere.

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