WASHINGTON – At the beginning of last year, Kenya seemed to be descending into madness. Those scenes return as if from a nightmare: children massacred inside burning churches, mobs using machetes at will in city slums, a country on the brink of breakdown. By the time the dust settled, more than 1,500 people had been killed and over 400,000 displaced, following an election that observers dismissed as rigged.
Kenya was saved from the abyss by a shotgun marriage between the country’s ethnic Kikuyu president, Mwai Kibaki, and his Luo challenger, Raila Odinga, who was given the post of prime minister. The power-sharing government, fostered by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Western powers, stabilized the country and gave Kenyans hope in a tough year that has seen food and fuel prices skyrocket and drought plague the north.
But if the government is to succeed and prevent further violence, Kenya must tackle the roots of its election chaos. These include poverty, tribalism, and the failure of the country to live up to the vision of its first president, Jomo Kenyatta.
Speaking in 1952 – prior to independence – Kenyatta said: “It has never been known in history that a country prospers without equality. As long as people are held down, corruption is sure to rise, and the only answer to this is a policy of equality. If we work together as one, we must succeed.”