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African Analysts Closely Following Kenya Crisis


Africans across the continent have been watching events in Kenya following controversial elections last month that led to a wave of violence. Correspondent Scott Bobb spoke with several political analysts and has this report from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

Political observers across Africa say they are disappointed by the outcome of the Kenyan elections and shocked over the violence that followed.

The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa sent observers to the vote. Executive-Director Denis Kadima says besides the death and destruction, a major casualty of the elections has been loss of confidence in the process on the part of Kenya's people.

"It will only contribute to people having doubts about the possibility to affect change, if that is what they want, through the ballot. That is very dangerous," said Kadima. "It will open the possibility for violent means of accessing power or even keeping power."

Kadima says the balloting was essentially transparent, but tabulation of the vote was not. The sudden inauguration of incumbent Mwai Kibaki, whose party suffered a major defeat in the parliamentary vote, caused a wave of violence that killed more than 500 people and made another one-quarter million homeless.

A researcher at South Africa's Institution for Strategic Studies, Nelson Alusala, says democratic elections on the continent are facing a major challenge.

"It has become almost a normal thing on the African platform that elections come," said Alusala. "You contest. You actually end up taking guns, and going on the street or disputing the whole thing and turning the country into chaos."

The director of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, Paul Graham, says Kenya was particularly vulnerable because its leaders had not completed electoral reforms that began following successful elections in 2002.

"Unresolved constitutional-reform processes leaving them at the mercy of a very weak and contested constitution means that when the crisis happens they have got nothing to fall back on," Graham stated.

He says Kenya's leaders failed to resolve issues such as the division of power between the parliament and president and the role of other institutions such as the courts. He hopes that, when the crisis has passed, these weaknesses will be addressed.

Nevertheless Graham says there are positive aspects to the Kenyan crisis.

"In some ways, it is a step forward, said Graham. "In some ways, it demonstrates, in this case, the fragility of the electoral commission. But the fact that people are willing to blow the whistle on the election results has been important."

Alusala agrees, saying that even in failure there are lessons to be learned.

"It does not mean this conflict is a collapse of democracy," said Alusala. "It might be a process that Kenya has to undergo to mature democratically. It is a difficult process. But if it ends up into (with) a good result, then it is a positive example to other countries."

Some African governments have publicly expressed concern over the elections. Only a few have offered the traditional congratulations to the winner.

A dozen donor governments have threatened to withhold direct aid to Kenya's government if it weakens its commitment to good governance, democracy, and the rule of law.

Civic groups have called for either a recount of the ballots, a new presidential election or negotiations on a power-sharing arrangement.

Graham says a negotiated settlement is the least desirable option.

"Merely trying to have peace talks between parties as though you can seal a deal on what appears to be an illegitimate election outcome is really not helpful," said Graham.

The Electoral Institute's Kadima says the ballots have been so tainted by irregularities that a recount is not a solution either.

"What we need is fresh presidential elections so that the will of the people can be the only basis for putting the government in place. So that is what we are calling for," Kadima said.

But other experts say Kenyans are traumatized by the violence and fear the economic effects of a prolonged confrontation. As a result they say negotiations are the best way to resolve the crisis.

Some observers have reacted by saying the elections are yet another sign that western-style democracy is not the most suitable form of government for Africa. Graham dismisses this.

"We are holding elections in Africa all the time," said Graham. "In the last electoral cycle, something like 40 or 50 elections have been held, presidential and parliamentary. That is to say nothing of local elections, school board elections, all sorts of elections. Africans know what they want and it is elections."

He says African countries, like other parts of the world, experience success and failure. But he concludes that overall there have been more electoral successes on the continent than failures.

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