The latest US State Department reaction to a sudden shift in results from Kenya’s presidential vote count over the weekend contrasted with Washington’s initial reaction to the election’s outcome. Monday’s comments by Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey reflected the sharp divergence in course that saw incumbent Mwai Kibaki overcome a substantial early lead by challenger Raila Odinga to win reelection. Initial Washington response to Sunday’s declaration of Kibaki as the winner and his hasty swearing-in ceremony was congratulatory. But Monday’s subsequent statement expressed concerns about irregularities in the reporting of results and urged all parties to resolve their disputes promptly and peacefully.
The vote count was put on hold over the weekend and extended for two days as Odinga supporters saw their candidate’s lead dwindle into slightly more than a 230-thousand vote deficit. The Nairobi government also placed a ban on live media coverage of the election and kept Odinga’s supporters in suspense about a mass rally the election rivals are planning to stage in the capital’s Uhuru park on Thursday. Also on Monday, the death toll from violence that flared around Nairobi and in the cities of Mombasa and Kisumu climbed to at least 150.
Kenyans living in the United States are voicing relief at the latest State Department acknowledgment of irregularities. They say they believe that Washington has a constructive role to play in helping lead the international community to get President Kibaki to substantiate the vote count and ensure a fair outcome to last week’s poll. Boniface Owinga is the Kenyan-born chairman of Kenya Midwest, an organization of Kenyans who now reside in the US state of Michigan. He says that a lot is at stake for the future of democracy to prevail.
“We think that the American government can play an important role in helping to solve this crisis. We believe the President of the United States can have a lot of leverage in trying to talk Kibaki into letting democracy prevail,” he said.
Owinga says Kenyans in the United States are hopeful that as international opinion grows more mindful of the voting irregularities, the initial complacency and disbelief will be converted into action to pressure Kenyan leaders to reexamine their conduct of the vote.
“I think initially, a lot of Kenyans were disappointed with the manner in which some actors on the international scene were responding to this rape of democracy in our country. We did not really like the suggestion that Kenyans should accept the blatantly fraudulent results and move on with their lives. Many international community actors have also been very lukewarm in airing their criticism of this process. And so, with the change of the United States’ tune on this, with the UK joining the call for democracy to be left alone to prevail, we are very happy that a lot of international community activists are coming along to see that the election was fraudulent and that there’s need to put pressure on Kibaki to immediately step down and let democracy prevail,” he said.