By WANGARI MAATHAI
It's been nearly two weeks since the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner in his bid for a second term. The loser in this closely fought and much disputed election is Raila Odinga, the candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). The declaration threw Kenya into the current crisis -- street protests, wide-spread civil unrest and the threat of violent crackdowns -- which refuses to end.
The commission may have legitimate reasons for ushering out both the local and international press before making its announcement exclusively on the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. There also may be legitimate reasons why the subsequent and much hurried swearing-in ceremony for Mr. Kibaki has already taken place.
But given the messy performance of the electoral commission, many people are wondering whether there was something to hide. Some of its members have admitted to being under tremendous pressure to announce the results even as some found credible reports of irregularities. This has cast doubt over the credibility of the democratic process.
To people conversant with the political games of intrigue and trickery, however, what's happening in Kenya is just another instance of the challenges to real democracy that bedevil this region. In the eyes of some politicians, the misfortune is that the irregularities have come to light. Under "normal circumstances," leaders in Africa don't lose elections they organize.
I have heard it said by some political veterans that if you're not willing to play these games, you have no business being in politics, since you're bound to lose. It is on the altar of this kind of cynicism that values like transparency, honesty and accountability are often sacrificed. Within this worldview, bribing voters, election officials and government officers, as well as theft and manipulation of votes, are considered "political wisdom."
After the very high voter turnout in the Dec. 27 elections among Kenyans rightfully choosing their next government, it's tragic that Kenya -- a country I thought could provide a model of peaceful transfer of power in Africa -- has been plunged into the sort of senseless bloodletting that the outside world all too often associates with my continent. Despite the insistence by some of the protagonists that outside intervention is not required, more public and international pressure is essential if Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga are to seek a lasting solution. Despite the suffering of the Kenyan people, and others in the region that depend on Kenya's functioning infrastructure and economy, moves toward dialogue have been disturbingly slow.
Colonial administrators and the leaders who followed them have used ethnicity as a major strategy to divide their people. In countless conflicts in Africa, the uncompromising positions of such leaders -- refusing to consider mediation or to make any concessions -- have led to unimaginable suffering.
Under this mindset, fellow tribesmen support their respective leaders no matter what -- even when they are the first victims of the leaders' actions, or inaction. Eventually, even these leaders lose control and anarchy takes over, with rival gangs stealing, raping, maiming and punishing civilians.
Mr. Kibaki has now sworn in half of this new government's cabinet, even after being urged not to do so before holding talks with Mr. Odinga on resolving the crisis. Mr. Kibaki's move may lead to another round of ethnically based violence -- which already has taken the lives of hundreds of Kenyans. Both Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga have appealed publicly to those causing the mayhem to stop, but few seem to be heeding the call.
Unfortunately, much of the advice Mr. Kibaki is getting from ministers, and Mr. Odinga from advisers, seems to urge that each maintain his hard-line position. Many of these advisers and ministers are thinking ahead to the privileged positions that they assume they will receive with their candidate in power. This is making it very difficult for men and women of goodwill in Kenya to broker a lasting peace.
For the sake of the people of Kenya, the East African region and indeed Africa in general, I appeal to the international community, including the African Union, the Commonwealth, the European Commission, the United Nations and other friends of Kenya like the United States and Japan, to put strong pressure on Messrs. Kibaki and Odinga -- before this crisis escalates into an even greater tragedy.
The leaders must put the welfare of Kenyans before their own ambitions, and enter immediately into a serious and sustained dialogue for a political and legal settlement.
Ms. Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, was a member of Kenya's Parliament from 2002 to 2007.
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Thursday, January 17, 2008
By WANGARI MAATHAI