Observers working under the aegis of the non-governmental Washington-based International Republican Institute pointed specifically to “the slowness of the vote count, the absence of returning officers with the vote tallies and the media’s exclusion from the announcement of the results.” US government officials, on the other hand, have consistently refrained from criticising the Electoral Commission’s performance. The Bush administration has also not called for an independent review of the vote tabulation. American officials do acknowledge, however, that the election was marred by “irregularities.”
The Bush administration has likewise expressed worry that Kenya’s economic and political advances of recent years could be reversed if the violence continues. At the same time, however, the White House has refused to rule out a possible stop in Kenya by President George W. Bush as part of his planned visit to unspecified African countries later this year. Washington is clearly trying to help stabilise Kenya by refusing to take sides in the dispute between the parties and groups backing Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga respectively. And that approach leaves the US in the contradictory position of endorsing the electoral status quo even as it voices misgivings about the fairness of the vote.
“The Kenyan political process has unfolded as it will,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a press briefing on January 2. “It is not for us to play a role of supra-electoral commission or to try to play a judicial role in this particular matter. We are where we are.” Mr McCormack resisted reporters’ requests for comments on whether the United States views President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election as legitimate. The spokesman instead responded by repeatedly calling for an end to the violence and for the opening of dialogue between President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
“I am not going to in any way from this podium say anything that might possibly play into the hands of anybody who wants to try to obstruct a political reconciliation between these two parties,” Mr McCormack declared. “So that’s the reason why I’m not going to say any more than I have at this point. What’s important is that there be action from leaders in Kenya to stop the killing.” A leading Kenyan academic living in the US is arguing, however, that such pleas for reconciliation do not constitute an adequate response on the part of the US government.
Dr Makau Mutua, director of the Human Rights Centre at a branch of the State University of New York, suggested that the Bush administration should support an independent review of the presidential vote process. Dr Mutua, a delegate to Kenya’s National Constitutional Conference, further argued that both Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga should consent to such a review because “neither has won a mandate from the Kenyan people.”
Prof Ali Mazrui, an internationally respected Kenyan scholar also teaching in the US, meanwhile proposed three options for resolving the crisis. He also characterised the post-election violence as posing the gravest threat to Kenya’s national unity since the 1969 assassination of Tom Mboya.
Votes for president could be recounted in the provinces where the posted results have proved most controversial, Prof Mazrui said. Another possibility, he added, would be to hold a new presidential election involving the three top contenders, including Kalonzo Musyoka. Noting that the parliamentary election results appear to be widely accepted as valid, Prof Mazrui offered a third alternative of having the new parliament take up as its first order of business a constitutional amendment creating the post of prime minister. This figure — who would almost certainly be Mr Odinga, Prof Mazrui observed — would be answerable to parliament and not to the president.
Prof Mazrui expressed confidence that President Kibaki and a Prime Minister Odinga would be able to work co-operatively for the benefit of Kenya despite the hatred that has erupted in recent days. “Africans have a comparatively short retention of hate,” Dr Mazrui said. He contrasted the reconciliation that has taken place in South Africa with the decades-long animosity that has endured in the case of the Turkish-Armenian genocide.
This potentially hopeful outlook was not shared by Dr Mutua. He warned that “the Kenyan state is not irreversible.” The country could descend into the sort of murderous chaos that has rendered Somalia and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo ungovernable, Dr Mutua said. The two Kenyan intellectuals and activists also differed in their separate assessments of the conduct of the election campaign. Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement employed the “brilliant tactic” of forming a coalition that spanned tribal divisions, Prof Mazrui suggested, while noting that he enjoys “excellent relations” with both the government and the opposition.
In Dr Mutua’s view, however, the ODM had waged an “anti-Kikuyu campaign.” Scores of Kenyans have taken part in demonstrations in Washington denouncing the declaration of Mr Kibaki’s election victory. Protests have taken place outside the Kenyan embassy as well as near the State Department and White House. Nearly all the Kenyans taking part in these actions argue that Mr Odinga was the actual winner of the December 27 vote. International institutions based in the United States are meanwhile focusing on the negative regional consequences of the growing crisis in Kenya.
United Nations officials in New York noted that relief and peacekeeping operations in Southern Sudan, Uganda and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are being impeded by disruptions in the supply chain stretching across Kenya from the Port of Mombasa. The UN Office in Nairobi also highlighted reports of sexual assault on women and children in parts of Kenya. The country’s role as a regional economic hub was emphasised in a statement endorsed by several development agencies, including the World Bank. It noted that, “Kenya is the transit point for one quarter of the GDP of Uganda and Rwanda, and one third of the GDP of Burundi. This includes the supply of many essential commodities. Hence, the regional impact of the situation in Kenya could be significant.”
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, similarly noted that “supply disruptions emanating from the developments in Kenya are affecting other countries in the region.” The IMF chief also expressed hope that Kenya will be able to resume its economic progress. “The Fund will stand ready to support Kenya in its economic reform efforts,” he added.