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Globe Editorial

Keeping Kenya democratic

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January 3, 2008

MAYBE, JUST maybe, Mwai Kibaki legitimately won reelection to the presidency of Kenya last week. Enough doubts have arisen, however, to require a thorough reexamination by the Kenyan parliament and courts, with assistance from dispassionate outsiders. The African Union, the United States, and the European Union need to pressure Kibaki and his supporters to allow this recount to proceed without the corruption and tribalism that have marked Kenyan politics since independence in 1963.

The alternative to an honest reassessment is evident in the horrors that have engulfed Kenya in areas where members of the Kikuyu group, the largest in Kenya, rub shoulders with the Luo and Kalenjin peoples. Kibaki is a Kikuyu. Raila Odinga, the candidate opposing him, is a Luo, and some of his strongest supporters are Kalenjin. They think Odinga won, and many of his followers are determined to reverse the Kibaki victory, decreed by the Electoral Commission, in the streets.

While ethnic groups have clashed sporadically before, Kenya has never known the internal conflicts that have devastated other African nations. Even though the country is an amalgam of 20 or more peoples forced together by the British in the 19th century, Kenyans have learned to coexist even when jammed into shanty towns. They should not be set against one another by one man's determination to remain in power.

Kibaki has presided over five years of peaceful economic growth, stabilized government finances, and helped the United States in the war on terrorism. But he is only the third president of Kenya since independence and, like his predecessors, he has been unable or unwilling to rid the government of deeply embedded corruption. Democracy can function well only if there are frequent and assured rotations in the highest offices.

There is no doubt that the election result is at least tainted. Samuel Kivuitu, chairman of the Electoral Commission, said Tuesday that he was pressured by both sides to announce a winner prematurely. Observers from the European Union reported many irregularities, chiefly in Kikuyu districts. Kibaki's reelection should not stand without a recount, or if that is impossible, a new election.

Kenya, the economic hub of East Africa, has been regarded in recent years as an exemplar of stability. Democracy is fragile in Africa, and for the sake of their own future development, the continent's other freely elected governments need to intervene to help Kibaki devise a solution. They ought to be seconded by nations in the developed world, including the United States. A visit to Nairobi by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might be in order. Kenya's friends need to pull it back from the abyss and help give its 36 million people a president they all can say was fairly elected.

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