Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kenya: Assessing the Political and Humanitarian Crisis

January 16, 2008

Opening Remarks by: Michael Ranneberger (U.S. Ambassador to Kenya)

Featured Speakers: Bukard Oberle (World Food Program Country Director, Kenya), Sam Kona (Center for Conflict Resolution, University of Cape Town, South Africa) David Throup (Senior Associate, CSIS), Mark Bellamy (Visiting Fellow, CSIS Africa Program, Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya)

Moderated by: Jennifer Cooke (Co-Director, CSIS Africa Program)

The political and humanitarian crisis in Kenya continues since a resolution has not been made between the recently elected president, Mwai Kibaki, and his opponent in the recent elections, Raila Odinga. Today, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and Woodrow Wilson International Center (WWIC) came together to discuss and clarify the current situation in Kenya. They made projections concerning the country’s humanitarian efforts and political stability.

Kenya has been in a state of crisis since the presidential election results were released on December 30th when Kibaki was named winner. Supporters of Odinga and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) protested these results claiming that the election was rigged to favor Kibaki and his party, Party of National Unity (PNU). Since the election, violent protests all over the country have occurred including the deaths of at least 500 Kenyans and the displacement of 250,000 people. Kibaki was formally sworn in as President of Kenya, but tension still remains. Sam Kona said that the violence and strife caused by the election reveal many other underlying problems related to the high ethnic tension among Kenyans specifically with the Kikuyus, who have disproportionately controlled much of the wealth, land, and elite positions in government in comparison to other ethnic groups.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger discussed the strategies of both leaders during this time of crisis. Kibaki has chosen to stand strong and hopefully by doing so, the violence will die down and he will retain his presidency for the next five years. Odinga hopes that the international community will pressure the Kenyan government to recount the vote. Both of these strategies, he said, were unconstructive. Kibaki cannot use oppression to retain his position if he wishes to be viewed as a democratic leader. In regards to finding a solution in this matter, Amb. Ranneberger emphasized that the international community would “facilitate, not mediate” dialogue between the two officials. The most accepted resolution is a power-sharing agreement between the two men with a number of possible reforms. A prime minister position or other executive position could create a more fair solution for both Odinga and Kibaki supporters Another solution might be through collaborative efforts between the two men, who could work together for constitutional and institutional reform.

Sam Zona and Amb. Bellany spoke of the situation in Kenya as hopeful. Enormous amount of pressure from outside and inside Kenya encourages the government to begin dialogue between Odinga and Kibaki. The United States sent Secretary of State Frazier early last week to meet with Kibaki to discuss power-sharing possibilities. The African Union and Ghanaian president John Kufour will also encourage dialogue to begin between the two contenders. Within Kenya, business elite, civil service organizations, and religious leaders also are stressing the importance of resolution because of the economic strain the political unrest has created. With ten billion shillings lost every day, the growth rate of Kenya’s GDP has already decreased from 6-7% percent to only 2-3%. The people of Kenya are very interested in seeing the country restored to a sense of normalcy.

Bukard Oberle and Sam Kona spoke on the humanitarian efforts going on currently in Kenya. Efforts to supply food and water to the 250,000 displaced and affected have been very successful largely because of the tremendous job of the Kenya Red Cross (KRC) and the WFP. Just today, the WFP, in conjunction with KRC and the Kenya government have distributed food to 77,000 people in the slums of Nairobi, an area where many people are unable to find work due to the political unrest. Since the election, 227,000 beneficiaries have received food rations, 126,000 of which live in the Nairobi slums. Mobil health facilities have been set up and health concerns overall are under control. The main problems which humanitarians face currently are access to many areas because of the violence occurring throughout the country.

Many of the speakers emphasized, it will be a slow process to restore Kenya’s government and economy from this election. It is in restoring Kenyans’ confidence in the democracy that lasting change will occur. The crisis in Kenya signifies a turning point in the country’s history. In the coming years, hopefully there will be institutional and constitutional reform that solidifies democratic ideals. The government must aim high in order to remove the divisions of ethnic groups from politics and to reestablish legitimate democracy. Through the work of the Kenyan government, the UN community, NGO’s and the citizens of Kenya, peace can be restored.

Read the transcript or listen to a recording of this event

For more information:

"Breaking the Stalemate in Kenya"
By Joel D. Barkan, Senior Associate (Non-resident), CSIS Africa Program

The United Nations Development Program Website also has more information on development issues in Africa including democratic governance and crisis prevention and recovery.


Here is the website for the Kenya UNDP office:


Sponsor: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, World Food Program

Location: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Date: January 16, 2008

Time: 10:00-12:00

Approximate Number of Attendees: 200

Intern Attending: Ellen Rolfes

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