In Africa the true test of how mature and vibrant democracy is comes during and shortly after election. The cardinal rule in a democracy is that everyone that participates in an election must play by the rules. Election must be seen to be free and fair. Where a free and fair election is thrown into the dustbin, it would tear apart the fabric that united the ethnic composition of any country. Often it would threaten the basic co-existence of various groups.
The recent presidential election in Kenya is not an exception. Following the declaration of President Mwai Kibaki as the winner, tempers flared up. Before the actual announcement, it was widely reported that President Kibaki’s main challenger, Raila Odinga, was coast home to victory. Immediately the result was announced, supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement alleged wide-scale fraud and chaos reigned.
The election that ought to have given Kenyans a new lease of life resulted into an explosion of violence in which more than 600 people have been killed and over 260,000 displaced.
Since 1963, ethnic division has been a threat to politics in Kenya. There has been a fierce contest among the ethnic make up with respect to who occupies the number one seat. Who gets plum jobs or contracts largely depends on ethnicity of the ruling president and his ministers.
Already, the crisis has had its effects on the economy. Kenya's tourism industry which brings in $900 million yearly and attracts more than one million visitors was affected in the four days of rioting and ethnic clashes. Most tourists in Kenya returned home. Those who remain are unwilling to venture out of their hotels as uncertainty still pervades the entire country.
If both sides do not halt further violence and destruction of property, Kenya’s once thriving horticulture and agriculture sector which represents a quarter of the country's gross domestic product could be in jeopardy. With the roadblocks mounted by rampaging youths, it is likely there would be disruption in the transport of these products through ports and major cities. This disruption no doubt would be very costly for suppliers of perishable goods such as cut flowers of which Kenya is the main supplier to Europe.
Kenya is regarded as the ‘most developed’ country in East Africa. Economic disruption in Kenya would ultimately affect other countries in the region. Already, countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo have felt the impact of the violence. These countries rely on essential imports from Kenya especially fuel. Following the eruption of chaos in Eldoret town where the refinery is located, the supply of fuel is extremely difficult. This in turn has triggered artificial scarcity which is now felt in the entire region.
Private investment has been behind Kenya's thriving economy. It has averaged GDP growth of 5% since 2002 and the economy is expected to expand by 7% in the next few years. While the crisis persists, the Kenyan currency has plummeted by 7% and has recorded low in the shares and bonds in the capital market.
Further escalation of the crisis is capable of unleashing on entire Kenya a monumental damage with dangerous consequences for the development of Kenya. It is incumbent on all parties to the dispute to sheathe their swords and embrace constructive dialogue.
At the height of the violence when many were killed and maimed, President Kibaki went ahead to announce members of his cabinet. While that might be seen as a way to consolidate the new government whose victory at the poll is still being disputed, it is reprehensible in the face of massive killings and displacements that President Kibaki could embark on such rash and unguarded actions. Implicitly, he foreclosed shifting of ground. It further portrays him as someone who is desperately willing to cling onto power at all costs.
The African Union mediation team led by President Kufor of Ghana ended in failure. The opposition allege that the talks failed after President Kibaki refused to sign a document agreed by both sides and approved by the World Bank Country Director Colin Bruce. More disturbing is the recent call by Orange Democratic Movement urging its supporters nationwide to commence on three days of protest to dispute the presidential election results. While a peaceful protest is a basic ingredient of democracy, it can be hijacked by miscreants and turned into another harvest of deaths.
As things stand, both sides must be prepared to shift ground. Politics is about compromise. Both Kibaki and Odinga should go back to the discussion table to iron whatever issues might be at stake. Kenyans are anxiously waiting to see both leaders embracing and hugging each other. That is what Kenyans want and not more body counts.
Above all, although the international community mediation is welcome, it must not aggravate the current situation by taking sides. Kenya must not be allowed to become another slaughters’ slab as witnessed in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo, and Angola.