The news from Nairobi is promising. The two sides in Africa’s most urgent political dispute are talking, and Kofi Annan — the chief mediator — claims to see “light at the end of the tunnel.” Some kind of power-sharing agreement is being discussed, hopefully one that gives Odinga and his followers real power in a national government whose nominal leader, Kabaki, has lost virtually all of his internatiional standing because of the post-election violence in Kenya.
That violence could well erupt again, if a political settlement is not reached soon. The International Crisis Group, in a new report on Kenya, finds “armed groups are still mobilising on both sides.” As we have seen in Nigeria, which is to West Africa’s economy what Kenya is to East Africa’s, once groups arm the restoration of order becomes exceedingly difficult not the least because men with guns decide it is more profitable to use them than to give them up.
The ICG, a respected analyst of crises around the world, concludes that “international pressure” remains critical to achieving a workable compromise in Kenya. Part of the compromise includes rewritting Kenya’s constitution to spread power more evenly through levels of government — and reduce some of the “winner take all” ramifications of electoral victory in the country. These structural changes are crucial because, even if Kibaki and the dominant Kikuyi tribe manage to hold onto power for another presidential term, ultimately the Kikuyi will lose a national election and become subject to the same logic that the Luo today rebel against. Until “all or nothing” outcomes are avoided, no one is safe in Kenya or at least not for very long.
International observers routinely call for outside pressure to solve domestic disputes, and sometimes they are correct. Kenya is not one of those cases. Kenyans both inside and outside of the country hold the key to a sustainable negotiated settlement. Without an urgent drive for national unity on the part of Kenyans home and away, international pressure may yield only short-term fixes.