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Hundreds Dead as Election Riots Flare in Kenya

December 31, 2007 at 6:35 PM EST
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Mwai Kibaki was sworn in Sunday as Kenya's president after three days of violent riots following last week's controversial elections. A Kenyan elections observer and an official from the National Democratic Institute provide insight on the conflict.
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RAY SUAREZ: A flawed election and a violent outcome in one of Africa’s largest and richest countries, the East African nation of Kenya, a former British colony of 34 million people. President Mwai Kibaki has claimed victory, but backers of opposition leader Raila Odinga charge the vote-counting was rigged.

We start with a report narrated by Neil Connery of Independent Television News.

NEIL CONNERY, ITV News Correspondent: On the streets of Nairobi and across Kenya, the violence continues to spread. Thousands of demonstrators protesting against what they say was a rigged presidential election.

Those caught are shown no mercy by the security forces.

Riot police use live rounds and tear gas to try to restore order. In the chaos unfolding in the capital’s slums, looters try to take advantage, but are soon dealt with.

In the western town of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, more than 40 bodies have been discovered after a night of violence. Eyewitnesses claim police opened fire on demonstrators.

Across the country, more than 100 people have been killed so far.

President Mwai Kibaki’s declaration of victory and immediate swearing-in for a second term has been condemned by the opposition leader as a fraud.

RAILA ODINGA, Opposition Leader: We are not intimidated with the prospect of arrests, prosecution or detention. Democracy is expensive, and we are prepared to pay the ultimate price.

NEIL CONNERY: Some have already had to, and anger across Kenya is growing. Independent observers, including the European Union, have condemned the election.

ALEXANDER GRAF LAMBSDORFF, E.U. Election Observer Team: We have encountered some serious problems. Our observers, for example, were present in the Molo constituency when the results were announced there. And when the same results where announced here in Nairobi, the result for Mr. Kibaki was significantly higher. This is an inconsistency that we would like to see addressed.

NEIL CONNERY: The opposition leader has demanded a recount and is calling his supporters to join a rally on Thursday, where he expects more than a million people.

The importance Kenya's election

Joel Barkan
CSIS
Kenya has been one of those countries that has struggled for the last 15 years to become a democracy. It's just on the cusp. This was the fourth multiparty election since 1992.

RAY SUAREZ: For more, we talk to Joel Barkan, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and professor emeritus at the University of Iowa. He returned last night from serving as a Kenya election observer.

And Chris Fomunyoh, a senior associate of Africa programs at the National Democratic Institute, a nonpartisan organization that monitors elections and promotes democracy worldwide. He is a citizen of Cameroon.

And, Professor Barkan, explain why, in a continent of more than 50 countries -- some with stable democracies, some authoritarian regimes, some hardly exist as countries at all -- the Kenyan election in particular is so important.

JOEL BARKAN, University of Iowa: Well, Ray, the Kenyan election is very important because, as you just noted, there is an array of regimes in Africa.

And Kenya has been one of those countries that has struggled for the last 15 years to become a democracy. It's just on the cusp. This was the fourth multiparty election since 1992. Each was progressively better, and the hope here was this would put Kenya over the top and consolidate democracy.

RAY SUAREZ: When you say each was progressively better, you're counting the one that just passed?

JOEL BARKAN: Until this one. And sadly, this one, there was backsliding of a significant nature. Things went very well through election day and through the counts.

I watched the counts in a primary school under a gas lamp on Thursday night. It was very moving, totally transparent. The problem occurred in reporting the results back to the electoral commission in Nairobi, where the results were held up.

And now, nearly three days later, there has not been a complete reporting of the election results.

Kibaki's positive impact

Chris Fomunyoh
National Democratic Institute
But in the last five years, also his administration had showed a lot of shortcomings, in terms of issues pertaining to corruption and accountability. And in some ways, many Kenyans interpreted this election as a referendum on Kibaki's governance.

RAY SUAREZ: Chris Fomunyoh, wasn't Mwai Kibaki part of the change, part of the positive change that was seen by the rest of the world in Kenyan democracy?

CHRIS FOMUNYOH, National Democratic Institute: Well, to some extent, yes, because five years ago, when Kibaki was elected president, he was actually part of a broad coalition that had come together to challenge the KANU, the former ruling party that had ruled the country since independence.

And so, in some ways, five years ago he had been seen as part of the change movement. But in the last five years, also his administration had showed a lot of shortcomings, in terms of issues pertaining to corruption and accountability. And in some ways, many Kenyans interpreted this election as a referendum on Kibaki's governance.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there a mechanism for challenging this election, Professor?

JOEL BARKAN: Well, there is the legal mechanism of going to the courts, but the fact of the matter is there's not much confidence in that. Elections have been overturned in Kenya in the past at the parliamentary level -- that is, individual constituencies -- but not a presidential election.

The difference about this election is, is that it was very close from the start. Opinion polls made this election too close to call. And that is why it was so important to have a transparent counting of the vote so that the losers would accept the decision. And, sadly, that has not been the case.

The future for Raila Odinga

Joel Barkan
CSIS
Mwai Kibaki is going to find it very difficult to govern, given the nature of this election, given the fact that he faces an opposition that is angry about this election.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, just a few minutes ago, we saw the main opponent, Raila Odinga -- and for people who don't follow African politics, he's political aristocracy in Kenya. His father was a leader of the independence movement.

Is there enough of a civil society in Kenya for him to become a leader of the opposition without holding a post, enough of an organizational architecture so that he can be the change without being in office?

CHRIS FOMUNYOH: Well, it's fair to say that Raila, I think, has earned the respect of a lot of Kenyans. And in the last five years, he has been very instrumental in terms of bringing about democratic change and improvement over the elections, as Joel just referred to.

He was part of that coalition that rallied around Kibaki five years ago to win the election. And also, two years ago, he masterminded the effort to vote "no" on a referendum that Kibaki tried to push through, which referendum would have increased presidential powers.

And so he has a rallying around him, which could be very determinate, in terms of the future of Kenya.

RAY SUAREZ: So where does that energy go?

JOEL BARKAN: Well, the problem here is that Raila is a master campaigner. He basically has organized the entire country, except the central province heartland, on his behalf.

He won the election for Kibaki, but, quite frankly, Kibaki did not live up to a pre-election deal in 2002, and that led to Raila breaking from Kibaki, creating this opposition party.

Where does it all lead? One of the results that has come out are the parliamentary results, and Raila Odinga's party holds, by my count, at least 107 seats in the parliament. So he has a parliamentary majority.

And Mwai Kibaki is going to find it very difficult to govern, given the nature of this election, given the fact that he faces an opposition that is angry about this election.

RAY SUAREZ: When you look at Kenya on a map, Chris Fomunyoh, three of the countries that border Kenya are in one form of civil war or another, in Somalia, Uganda, Sudan. Kenya has been relatively stable by comparison, hasn't it?

CHRIS FOMUNYOH: Kenya has been relatively stable, but I think that also underscores the importance of these elections and why, for the American audience, it's important to pay attention to what's happening in Kenya.

Lest we forget, Kenya has been a strong ally in the fight against terrorism. We cannot forget the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

Kenya also a bulwark, is an anchor state to the south of Somalia, but also to the southwest of Sudan. And it's not very far from the Great Lakes region, which is also a very turbulent region.

And I think it's important that whoever gets to govern Kenya be a leader whose legitimacy is supported by the overwhelmingly majority of Kenyans.

Religious division in Kenya

Chris Fomunyoh
National Democratic Institute
Obviously, when the situation begins to degenerate, then there's a tendency for people to fall back to their basic instincts, which would be ethnic protection or resulting to ethnic support.

RAY SUAREZ: Has Kenya been infected by some of the problems that surround it? Has there been, for instance, an effort to organize Islamic radicals in a state that's divided among the religions?

JOEL BARKAN: There has been some attempt to organize Islamic radicals along the Kenyan coast in the madrassas, but on the whole Kenya politics has been largely insulated, that is to say, it's insulated itself.

Kenya's political elite is, if anything, more pre-occupied with itself, and should perhaps devote greater attention to the surrounding states. So that's really not the problem.

The problem is, going back to Chris' point, is that Kenya is the anchor state, by virtue of its geography, by virtue of the fact that, under Kibaki -- and he must be given points for this -- you had a complete turnaround in the economy, compared to what was there prior to 2002. That has a ripple effect across the region.

But if Kenya were to fall into a chaotic situation, it's going to be a very bad situation for Uganda, which is landlocked, for the emergence of a stable economy and government in southern Sudan, et cetera.

RAY SUAREZ: Has the violence, Chris Fomunyoh, broken down along ethnic lines, because the two candidates represent two different ethnic groups?

CHRIS FOMUNYOH: I think it would be very simplistic to kind of define this along ethnic lines, because I think every time that Africans are given an opportunity to make rational political choices, they do make those choices based on reasons that may not solely be dependent on their ethnic affiliation.

For example, Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate, is from the Luo ethnic group, which is a small minority in Kenya. And yet he was able to garner this amount of support, even by the government's account, accomplishing 44 percent of the vote, which means that somewhere there are people from other ethnic groups that have rallied around him and supported the platform of his party.

Obviously, when the situation begins to degenerate, then there's a tendency for people to fall back to their basic instincts, which would be ethnic protection or resulting to ethnic support.

RAY SUAREZ: Chris Fomunyoh, Joel Barkan, thank you both.

JOEL BARKAN: Thank you.

CHRIS FOMUNYOH: Thank you.