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“Never Again” in Kenya?

NAIROBI – As Kenya approaches its general election on March 4, memories of the bloodshed that marred the controversial 2007 presidential election remain fresh. The vote ended in a standoff between the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, who declared himself the winner, and the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, who dismissed the vote as rigged. The ensuing ethnic clashes claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people, and displaced another 250,000.

The violence ended only after former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped to broker a power-sharing agreement in which Kibaki retained the presidency and Odinga became Prime Minister. When the agreement was signed, many Kenyans declared that such politically charged ethnic violence would “never again” consume Kenya. But, less than three months before the next election, few remain confident that such violence will not recur – especially given that Kenya’s government has taken no measures to prevent it.

This is not surprising, given Kenya’s poor record of prosecuting war crimes. In the run-up to Kenya’s first multi-party election in 1992, ethnic clashes caused hundreds of deaths, and displaced an estimated 300,000 people. Ethnic violence marred the 1997 election as well. Yet, while few dispute that politicians incited and even coordinated the violence, none was ever brought to justice.

The 2007 violence was unique in the sense that it did not begin in smaller cities, towns, or rural areas, but in the capital, Nairobi, bringing Kenya to a standstill and turning it into a focus of international attention. The United States sent then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer to intervene – the first time a high-ranking American officer was sent to mediate in an African conflict.