News 2008


Rescue mission in Kenya

Mon Feb 11 2008

Kenya has long conjured up images of colonial rule (cue the movies White Mischief and Out of Africa). It was also a rarity for Africa, a country where the end of that rule Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963 wasn't followed by violence and corrupt dictatorships. Until now.

Like the tropical storms that break without warning from Kenya's clear blue skies, the nation has experienced horrific tribal violence in the past few weeks. A quarter of a million people have been displaced. About a thousand have died. The situation threatens to deteriorate to rival the killing fields of Rwanda 14 years ago, or Sudan's Darfur more recently.

Kenya is important to U.S. foreign policy in ways that extend beyond humanitarian concerns. It is a hub for growing U.S. interests in Africa; President Bush is traveling to the continent (though not to Kenya) later this week. Kenya, a nation of 37 million people, has been a relative African success story. It can't be allowed to become a haven for terrorists, like neighboring Somalia.

Setting aside party differences in this country, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama (whose father was from Kenya) have appealed for calm and urged Kenyan leaders to protect their democracy.

The recent violence in Kenya was sparked by December elections of dubious validity. President Mwai Kibaki claims he won a second term. His rival, Raila Odinga, also claims victory. Outside observers say it's unclear who prevailed.

The immediate hope is that a peacemaking mission by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan will pull the country back from the brink. Annan is making headway on a power-sharing deal. He's helped by threats of sanctions by the international community against individual politicians who have carried out or incited violence.

Those threatened sanctions are important. Much of the violence has been organized in ways reminiscent of other countries Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq where thugs have set groups against one another. In Kenya, they've revived ethnic divisions over land, wealth and power sown during colonial rule and stoked by politicians ever since.

Kenya can produce the kind of politician needed to heal divisions people such as Mugabe Were, who mediated and organized a peace march. Tragically, last month, he was gunned down.

Bush, Rice, Obama and others of influence need to keep pressing Kenya's leaders to emulate Were. His murder shouldn't become the symbol for the country's future.