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January 5, 2008

A Way Out For Kenya?

After a week of rioting and murder, Kenya's Mwai Kibaki has apparently decided that his re-election cannot stand any longer. He has suddenly offered a power-sharing arrangement with his opposition, Rail Odinga, following charges of genocide on both sides over the violence that has wracked this East African nation. No one knows exactly what Kibaki has in mind, but the step comes after the US intervened with Kibaki:

Kenya's president is ready to form "a government of national unity" to help resolve disputed elections that caused deadly riots, a government statement said Saturday without explaining what such a power-sharing arrangement might involve.

President Mwai Kibaki made the statement to Jendayi Frazer, the leading U.S. diplomatic for Africa, according to the director of the presidential news service, Isaiya Kabira.

Kabira said he could not say whether that was a formal offer to opposition leader Raila Odinga, who accuses Kibaki of stealing the Dec. 27 elections that international observers say had a deeply flawed vote count.

The conflict in Kenya went beyond just the disputed election. It opened up fractures in Kenya's social system between its various tribes, as the Luo and Kikuyu began a series of tit-for-tat attacks in support of Odinga and Kibaki. The beleaguered president tried to cast the civil and tribal conflict as a genocide, but no one bought into that convenient accusation.

Ambassador Frazer's intercession appears to have made clear that the world would not recognize Kibaki's re-election. Earlier, Kibaki had insisted that he would only order new elections if Kenya's Supreme Court ordered it, but the panel consists mainly of Kibaki allies and would not likely overturn his election. Instead, after meeting with Frazer, Kibaki abruptly reversed himself, indicating that the US had a strong and rather unpleasant message for Kibaki.

Frazer may have saved hundreds of lives in the short run with this successful diplomatic intervention. Kenya needs an honest election and a return to the rule of law, rather than political lawlessness. Kibaki's offer provides his nation a step in the right direction; let's hope it succeeds.


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