Among those following developments in Kenya is Professor Joel Barkan of the University of Iowa, who is also an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether a political solution to the Kenyan crisis is possible, considering the strong ethnic rivalries.
“A political solution is always possible, particularly when the crisis is the result of a very close election between two protagonists, who know each other well and should be able to work out a deal,” he says.
But is that solution a government of national unity? Barkan says, “I think at this point the issue has actually gone beyond the formation of a government of national unity. Kenyan governments, since the return of multi-party elections in 1992, have always resulted in some form of government of national unity, in that it’s drawn in representatives of various regions around the country and therefore representatives of and leaders of Kenya’s various ethnic groups. That’s not really the issue this time. It’s part of the issue. But the bigger and really deeper issue is addressing the imbalance or the perceived imbalance in Kenya between the country’s largest and most prosperous economic ethnic group, the Kikuyu, who have 22 percent of the population, and the rest of the population, who have done less well in the 40 years since independence, particularly during the last five years, when Kenya has seen a resurgence of economic growth.”
Barkan says dealing with that issue will most likely require a change in Kenya’s constitution. “That is to say, there will not only need to be a government of national unity, there will need to be a change in the basic framework of Kenyan politics and the rules of the game of Kenyan politics. What the opposition that has lost the disputed election is demanding is some form of federalism that both devolves power to the various groups across Kenya and also in the process, assures them a certain revenue flow in the form of block grants to various regional or district level governments.”
Professor Barkan says the United States other countries may need to put pressure on “hardliners on both sides, who are obstructing negotiations. We have ways of putting pressure on individuals and they should know who they are. My hope is that these people surrounding President Kibaki and Raila Odinga would back off. I hope it doesn’t come to this. It could become real hardball.”