Feature

Can democracy work in Kenya?

An American diplomat said violence that broke out after Kenya's disputed election was "clear ethnic cleansing." The country could "collapse," said Makau Mutua in The Boston Globe, unless the rival sides can "accommodate each other

What happenedAn American diplomat said on Tuesday that the ethnic clashes that have killed hundreds of people since Kenya’s disputed presidential election fell short of genocide, although a campaign in the Rift Valley to chase out members of the Kikuyu tribe loyal to President Mwai Kibaki amounted to “clear ethnic cleansing.” Mediator Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, urged Kibaki’s government to take “extraordinary measures” to protect the public after an opposition lawmaker was shot to death outside his home. (CNN)

What the commentators said“Kenya stands at the brink of collapse,” said Makau Mutua in The Boston Globe (free registration). Since independence in 1964, no one has figured out how build a nation in Kenya “out of disparate, previously independent groups.” Now, unless Kibaki and rival Raila Odinga—who says Kibaki stole the election—“can accommodate each other” through a recount, a new election, or a power-sharing agreement, a country that once stood as “a beacon of hope and stability in a turbulent region” will dissolve into “genocidal” chaos.

This has happend “hundreds of times, in dozens of countries,” said Ralph Peters in the New York Post (free registration). The West simply can’t impose its model of democracy on countries where an “alpha tribe” has the numbers to “dominate at the polls,” and “lord it over everybody else.” So we share the blame: “Until we see the world as it is, rather than as we wish it to be, elections will tear tribal societies apart—as in Kenya today.”

It’s true that there is “no solution in sight,” said the AP’s Michelle Faul via Google. But it took “deep-rooted problems” to turn “anger over the election” into “murderous hate between neighbors of decades.” Some of the violence was fueled by the “pent-up anger” of the marginalized majority in Nairobi’s slums, and some was a delayed reaction to an earlier government’s decision to give Kikuyu tribe members land that British colonizers had seized from Kalenjin and Masai people. It’s politicians who human rights groups say have manipulated simmering anger for their own purposes.

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