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The Kenyan conundrum

Kenya is in real danger of going over the brink as the politically and ethnically charged violence there threatens to spiral out of control.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2008 20:37 IST

Kenya is in real danger of going over the brink as the politically and ethnically charged violence there threatens to spiral out of control. Nearly a thousand people have been killed and more than a quarter of a million forced to flee their homes in the east African country’s worst crisis since independence from Britain 25 years ago. The victims include hundreds of protestors who, opposition leaders say, were gunned down by the police. To recall: the immediate trigger for the conflict was last December’s elections when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over opposition leader, Raila Odinga. With international election observers declaring the vote flawed and impossible to say who actually won, Mr Odinga accused Mr Kibaki of stealing the election. This touched off the widespread protests.

The efforts of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is mediating between the two sides, are clearly lacking and the international community should lose no more time in getting involved. The EU and other countries seem keen on cutting aid to Kibaki’s government if he does not reach a compromise with the opposition. But sanctions and aid cut-offs would only further damage the crippled Kenyan economy and increase the misery of the country’s poor. Which, in turn, would fuel more violence. And possibly even splinter Kenya along ethnic lines. Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu-dominated government would then control the wealthy centre of the country up to the north-western suburbs of Nairobi, with the opposition dominating the west and much of the north.

So the immediate effort should be to ensure the emergence of an interim structure of some sort — one that could stem the barbaric violence and restore a semblance of order. Maybe it is not a bad idea to push for a recount of the vote. Regardless of whether the polls were rigged or not, once it is made clear that there was no clear winner — as international observers insist — both sides could well decide to share power. And at worst, they would go in for another election — which would be a safety valve for the exploding ethnic tensions in Kenya.