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Western Allies Have ‘Muted’ Response to Kenya’s Presidential Election

March 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
For more on the local and global fallout from the latest presidential election in Kenya -- a key ally of the United States -- Gwen Ifill talks with Jendayi Frazer, former U.S. assistant secretary of State for African Affairs.

GWEN IFILL: Joining me now to talk about the local and the global fallout from the Kenyan election is Jendayi Frazer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She’s now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


JENDAYI FRAZER, Former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: First off, why is the outcome of the presidential election in Kenya important in the U.S.?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, Kenya is a strategic partner to the United States. As was stated earlier, it is a key ally in our fight against terrorism in the region.

Many will remember that our embassies were bombed in 1998 by terrorists coming out of Somalia. And now Kenyan forces are in Somalia fighting against those very same terrorist organizations. It also is an economic hub in East Africa, so many American businesses like Ford and others are based there, General Electric.

And so it’s key to the region as a whole. And the neighboring countries like South Sudan, which we have played such an important role diplomatically in trying to bring peace there, rely on Kenya and its ports.

GWEN IFILL: Uhuru Kenyatta, you have met him. You know something of him. What do we know about him, other than he’s the son of a very famous leader of the country, a very wealthy man and now is under this cloud?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, he’s also very much a person who respects the West. He was educated in the United States. He’s been pro-Western in his outlook.

He’s been the minister of finance before and the deputy prime minister. He’s always had strong relations with the United States. Now, the case against him is problematic. And as it was stated, it’s falling apart. The co-conspirators have all — that were charged with him are charged with attending a particular meeting at statehouse and in that meeting planning reprisals against the violence that was being meted out against the Kikuyus.

But the key eyewitness has now said that he lied and he’s been changing his testimony and has — and even said that he’s taken bribes. And so the case is falling apart.

GWEN IFILL: And yet the U.S., Britain, Canada, the E.U. all very muted, all very nervous about endorsing his election.

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, they’re a little bit in a bad situation, because prior to the election, they all essentially threatened the Kenyan population, the Kenyan electorate by saying if you elect Uhuru Kenyatta, then we’re going to — there’s going to be consequences, we may put trade sanctions, which was extraordinary, frankly, and was a bit of meddling into the domestic affairs of another country, because the case against Kenyatta isn’t proven, so he’s innocent until proven guilty.

GWEN IFILL: How is this case, for instance, different from what we have seen when another African leader in Sudan has been called before the ICC?

JENDAYI FRAZER: It was very different.

And that person is Bashir of Sudan. And, basically, he’s not cooperating with the court, whereas Uhuru Kenyatta is cooperating. There’s no arrest warrant against Uhuru Kenyatta. There is an international arrest warrant against Omar Bashir of Sudan. And so the cases are extremely different. And in the case of Uhuru, he’s cooperated with the court. The case is unproven. And so he’s innocent until proven guilty. That’s a fundamental right.

GWEN IFILL: After all the violence in 2007 and 2008 after the last presidential election, we were all bracing to see if the same thing would happen this time. And so far it has not. Why do you think that is?


Well, I think the Kenyans learned lessons from 2007. And the civil society very much was guarding their country and guarding against future violence.

They also had this election under entirely new institutions. There’s a brand-new constitution. There’s a de-evolution of power from the center, from the presidency, to governors of 47 counties. There’s county assemblies. And so I think the diffusion of power, the expectations about their new institutions and the lessons learned from 2007 account for the lack of violence this time.

GWEN IFILL: Is it possible also that Western nations do not have the influence in these kinds of elections and these kinds of outcomes as maybe they once had?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, certainly. And that’s — the geostrategic environment has changed entirely, and particularly China.

When you go to Nairobi — and I have been there twice this year — you see all of this infrastructure development, new roads. You know, the refurbishment of the port is — that they’re going to bid on, I’m sure. And so the Chinese have changed the playing field.

If the U.S. and the U.K. and the Europeans don’t want to deal with Uhuru Kenyatta, he has another option. And the Chinese envoy was very much at Kenyatta’s home today welcoming his election, as did the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and named him, you know, as president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta. So the United States is playing a dangerous game and putting itself in a very small diplomatic box.

GWEN IFILL: Have all the tribal rivalries that caused — sparked some of this violence in 2007 and 2008, have they simply gone away? Raila Odinga is a Luo and Kenyatta is Kikuyu, and never the twain shall meet?


The tribal competition is still very much there. And this election was very much based on communities voting for their boys, as they would call them. And so the one Luos probably feel very aggrieved by this election and out of power again because they haven’t won, whereas one of the fault lines of the 2007 violence was between Kalenjin and Kikuyus, particularly in the Rift Valley.

But Raila — I’m sorry — Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, are from those two tribes. So, the need for healing and reconciliation is still very much there in Kenya.

GWEN IFILL: And barring any other actions or recounting, there will be a swearing-in March 26th.

JENDAYI FRAZER: There will be a swearing-in March 26th.

GWEN IFILL: Jendayi Frazer, former assistant secretary of state for African, thank you.

JENDAYI FRAZER: Thank you very much. A pleasure.