The U.S. has shown important leadership during Kenya's political
crisis, and now it must go further to act as guarantor of the
accord signed between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader
Raila Odinga on February 28. Kenya is an anchor for the region and
for U.S. interests. Its stability is important enough for the U.S.
to dedicate senior diplomatic attention to the newly brokered
power-sharing deal and to level targeted sanctions against spoilers
Kenya's national trauma, which started after Kibaki's swearing
in on December 30, 2007, reflects the damage that winner-take-all
African politics can create. After its initial mistake of
prematurely recognizing the re-election of President Kibaki, the
State Department intervened diplomatically in a sustained and
effective manner that was capped by Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice's visit in mid-February. Africa's leadership also played a
role during the crisis; but while it was heartening to see a
council of elders joining to address peace, stability, and
democracy, it quickly became apparent that they lacked the capacity
to compel solutions. Kenya's future depends on the sincerity of the
dealmakers and, perhaps more realistically, on the need for a
guarantor of the Kibaki-Odinga agreement.
How the Seeds of Political Chaos Were Sown
Kenya's journey into its political quagmire points to the need
for sustained outside intervention throughout the life of the
current compromise agreement. Kenya's elections in 1992 and 1997
alerted the international community to the ethnic tinderbox that
the country had become under President Daniel arap Moi's overlong
stay in power. Ethnic violence reared its head, and those watching
closely saw the potential for downward spiral in a country where
catastrophe could dwarf Rwanda's genocide. Democracy remained a
distant dream as the opposition was divided and the country's very
stability became the foremost priority for the international
The National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), created after President
Moi announced that he would not contest the 2002 elections, opened
a whole new set of possibilities for Kenya's opposition. NARC's
careful balancing of presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu
and Raila Odinga's Luo tribes helped to avert the ethnic violence
that had disturbed the previous two elections. The result was a
solid majority for NARC and President Kibaki. Odinga was a key
figure in that post-Moi coalition, and it was clear to many that
Kibaki and Odinga had reached an agreement for future
It didn't take long for the growing rivalry between Kibaki and
Odinga to escalate. Kibaki's faltering health also opened the door
for factional stalwarts to begin driving a wedge between the two.
By 2003, Odinga had pulled out of the coalition when it became
apparent that Kibaki would not follow the agreed-upon prescription
for constitutional reform. Odinga went on to help defeat the
constitutional referendum in 2005.
The international community should have noticed that these
events were foreshadowing the showdown to come in 2007.
Regrettably, the U.S. and the world took their eye off the ball
after peaceful elections in 2002 and 2005.
As Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement seemed poised to assume
the mantle of leadership, Kibaki was either unable or unwilling to
prevent his side from tampering with the election results. The
violence that erupted after Kibaki's rushed claim of victory has
now left more than 1,000 people dead, including two members of
parliament. The country's economy had been growing steadily and
even posted a robust 6.5 percent gain in 2007. Few outsiders will
invest in Kenya this year, and many are looking for an exit. Kenya,
a country where life expectancy has slipped to 49 years as the
result of HIV/AIDS, was thrown into chaos by the willingness of its
76-year-old president and his 63-year-old opponent to turn their
young supporters loose to perpetrate ethnic violence.
What the U.S. Should Do
President Kibaki and Raila Odinga have shamelessly placed their
political rivalry and their own ambitions ahead of Kenya's peace
and stability, to say nothing of its fledgling status as a
democracy. The U.S. must be pragmatic enough to realize that
without serious efforts to hold Kibaki and Odinga personally
responsible for their actions, the latest grand compromise has only
postponed the crisis.
There is much the U.S. can do to help make sure that the
timeline for reforms is met. The Kenyan parliament must pass four
key pieces of legislation: the National Accord and Reconciliation
Bill, the Constitutional Amendment Bill, the establishment of a
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the creation of the Ethnic
Relations Commission of Kenya. The State Department should quickly
deploy technical assistance to help the parliament complete the
bills in a form that is consistent with the power-sharing
agreement. The U.S. should also anticipate the distribution of
cabinet ministries as a potential stumbling block.
The U.S. has wide-ranging interests in Kenya that both constrain
and create points of leverage for U.S. diplomacy. The U.S. should
be prepared to address violations of the power-sharing agreement,
which would threaten the country's stability. Limits on
intelligence-sharing or military cooperation would be
self-defeating, since cooperation on counter-terrorism is vital.
General aid or trade sanctions often hurt the population and serve
as a very blunt instrument for changing individual behavior.
However, there is a case for ensuring that U.S. non-military
assistance flows primarily through Kenyan civil society rather than
as direct budget support to government ministries. U.S. public
statements can also make clear that future assistance will be
deployed only to the degree that Kenya's political environment is
conducive to achieving development goals.
Kenya has utilized duty-free trade status with the U.S. under
the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Although there are
human rights standards attached to AGOA, withdrawing this trade
benefit would merely undercut the country's broad economic growth
and harm the average Kenyan. A quick change in Kenya's AGOA status
might also discourage foreign direct investment elsewhere in Africa
as companies depend on stable and long-term access to export
U.S. public diplomacy must be prepared to name and shame
obstructionists who would thwart progress on Kenya's post-crisis
recovery. However, the U.S. must be prepared to go further. The
State Department should publicly announce its intention to hold
accountable those leaders who would undermine the power-sharing
accord. U.S. interventions must be swift and clearly aimed at
isolating individuals. Care must be taken to explain that U.S.
actions are not generalized sanctions, but rather are aimed at
individuals blocking progress on the accords.
Individual sanctions should come in the form of U.S. travel
restrictions and freezing of U.S.-based personal assets. The U.S.
Embassy should chair a committee of key donor countries in Nairobi
to ensure prompt united action against individuals who impede
implementation. These decisions should not await African Union (AU)
support, but consultations with the AU should be routine. The
dependents of obstructionists should also be included in U.S. visa
bans, depending on the severity of the offense. Further instigation
of ethnic violence would certainly qualify.
Kenya's post-election ethnic violence demands close
investigation and accountability. Deferring justice will only sow
the seeds for the next round of ethnic clashes. The parliamentary
bills that are part of the power-sharing agreement provide a
framework for, and must be taken seriously as a key part of,
Kenya's return to peace and lasting stability.
Withholding International Military Education and Training from
Kenyan military personnel would hurt U.S. interests more than it
could possibly punish political leaders, and Kenya's cooperation on
counter-terrorism is among the United States' most important
relationships in Africa. However, Kenya's political stability
should be considered when it comes to looking at a regional
platform for the new Africa Command.
U.S. diplomatic leadership in Kenya is essential for the
stability of a regional power, efforts to fight terrorism in East
Africa, and Africa's forward momentum as a democratic continent.
The humanitarian component is an important part of the U.S.
official response in Kenya, but it is nowhere near sufficient. This
is not a call for special envoys or new initiatives, but rather a
hard look at the need for successful implementation of Kenya's new
The AU and the U.N. must support the Kibaki-Odinga deal signed
February 28, but this by itself is a recipe for a certain
unraveling. As Kenya undertakes the long road back to political
stability, the devil will be in the details, from required
parliamentary legislation to cabinet appointments. U.S. Ambassador
to Kenya Michael Ranneberger, Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer,
and Secretary Rice should remain deeply engaged and make clear that
the U.S. will not countenance the use of ethnic violence as a
political tool and will not allow individuals to place their
political ambitions ahead of Kenya's future as a stable, peaceful,
and democratic country.
Tom Woods is Senior Associate Fellow
in African Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at
The Heritage Foundation.