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Opinion: Kenya Solutions Threaten to Repeat Historical Mistakes

The proposals put forward by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to stabilize Kenya may focus on cooperation and compromise, but the real roots of the problem are being ignored, said DW guest commentator Allan Duncan.

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A month has passed since the current troubles in Kenya began and some sense of normality is now returning to the country; people are returning to work, schools are reopening and the rush hour traffic jams are coming back.

All this, of course, is mainly within the capital of Nairobi. The rest of the country remains in a state of fear of reprisal killings, police brutality and the overpowering dread that this is not the last time this will happen in this country.

The daily beheadings, burnings and rapes of people caught in the wrong ethnic region of the country have -- as far as reporting is concerned -- almost come to an end.

However, a number of eyewitness stories that I have been told still tell of random killings by both civilian-formed militias as well as by the police themselves. This can only make one fear that the real number of deaths within the country, currently estimated around 1,000, falls extremely short.

Against this backdrop of returning normality and the low-level conflicts and killings pervasive within the rest of the country, outside of Nairobi and Mombassa, the Kofi Annan-sponsored reconciliation talks have been taking place and have made remarkably rapid and relatively painless progress towards resolving the crisis. The real test of this 'almost resolution' is yet to come along with Kenya's greatest ordeal: the challenging of its idea of nationhood, reconciliation and, above all, its humanity.

There is every chance that the Annan discussions will lead to a short-term solution to the electoral crisis of last year and a power-sharing government of national unity, or some other form of interim government, will be formed and posts suitably allocated to the various aggrieved parties.

However, a number of critical issues from the past -- and for the future -- raise fundamental questions about the stability of any potential interim government and the real prospects for peace and stability within the country.

Raila Odinga, the losing presidential candidate from the December elections and main protagonist within the current crisis, has already been in a coalition once before with Mwai Kibaki, the current president of Kenya.

That time the coalition was made through common cause and mutual agreement rather than being resentfully forced through. Even so, the partnership between Odinga and Kibaki lasted only a matter of months prior to Odinga withdrawing from the government over accusations of betrayals of faith on previous agreements on power-sharing.

This shared history does not bode well for the stability of the government to come. And it could be expected that the 10th parliament, which is just forming, will be precarious at best, with various people and parties just biding their time and resources until the next fight for ultimate control.

If any real, lasting peace is to be achieved in Kenya, serious constitutional review will need to take place that allows for a fairer and devolved system of government.

The constitution has been revised several times over the last few decades, most of which applied to the consolidation of power within the presidency and the ruling party. However, a constitutional review was carried out during the last two parliaments, with wide-spread consultations and formal deliberations, which, in the end, came to nothing. As a result, the concentration of power remains with the presidency.

One of the main problems with the previous attempt to revise and reinvigorate the constitution was the insistence that the changes should be open to a public referendum.

Although there was some civic education carried out during this previous process, the time and information required by constituents to make an informed decision on issues as complex as constitutional amendments, when they have been completely and actively excluded from the process of governance for the history of the country, was both immense and very time consuming.

Neither of which was taken into account during the process. The vote in the end became a protest against the sitting government rather than on any real understanding and appreciation of the content of the amendments, much in the same way as the French voted on the EU constitution.

The Balkanization of the country stemming from the post-election violence will only exacerbate this issue, with a growing body of people rejecting their Kenyan identity in favor of tribal allegiances and support for the politicians that represent that tribe.

A growing number of middle-class families are taking their children out of the boarding schools around Nairobi and moving them back to their home areas, where protection is more assured when things go wrong.

This, along with middle-class houses in Nairobi being threatened during the previous riots in the city because they were owned by the "wrong tribe" as perceived by the passing hordes as they streamed out of the slums deep inside the city, only accentuates this perception of an "us and them" mentality within the country.

The Annan process and the coalition government have talked about the need for constitutional reform again as part of the longer-term assurance of stability within the country.

If these issues of the growing fractionalization and tribalism of the country, combined with the poor civic education process on the core issues of the constitutional reform process, are not resolved, then any voting in a referendum can only be, at best, based on what their political leaders tell them is best or worst for their tribe alone.

This can only be exacerbated by the inherent instability of the upcoming interim government as tribal priorities and past resentments form the major part of the daily operations of the parliament.

So what are the prospects for peace in Kenya? Slim at best. The next year will be the defining period, where the country either finds its purpose again to come out of this as a stronger more cohesive nation or it slips further into the quagmire of tribal chauvinism and towards a dictatorship or a failed state.

I hope for the former, but I'm not holding my breath.

Allan Duncan is a project coordinator in southern Sudan. He has coordinated several international aid projects in the refugee camps spread throughout the war-torn region. He currently works as a consultant for the southern Sudanese government’s finance ministry. He lives in Nairobi.

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