The Political Crisis in Kenya: A Call for Justice and Peaceful Resolution

Chairman Donald M. Payne / Feb. 09, 2008

Opening Statement

 Chairman Donald M. Payne

The U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs

The Political Crisis in Kenya:  A Call for Justice and Peaceful Resolution

February 6, 2008

Good morning, and welcome to the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health’s first hearing of the second session of the 110th Congress. Today, we will examine the unfortunate and still unfolding political crisis in Kenya, a country that many considered a safe place to live, including the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia, the Ogaden, and Sudan.

Just a few weeks ago, at the height of the crisis, I went to Kenya to assess the situation and to encourage political, religious, community, and civil society leaders to find a peaceful resolution. I visited thousands of displaced children in JAMHURI [JAM – WHO- REE] SHOWGROUND and met with volunteers from diverse backgrounds. It was remarkable and encouraging to see Kenyans coming together to help their fellow citizens.

Indeed, witnessing the violence and meeting the young victims was deeply troubling. Yet, I am confident that Kenyans will come out of this crisis united. Kenyans of different religious, ethnic, and economic backgrounds lived together peacefully in a region long marred by civil wars and political chaos. Unfortunately, like the millions of Kenyans, the more than 170,000 refugees from the Ogaden and Somalia in Kenya will also be affected, as will the lives of so many others in the region.

It was not long ago that the people of Kenya demonstrated that democracy works in Africa. The 2002 multi-party elections had a positive impact not just in Kenya, but also in Africa. The people of Kenya proved beyond doubt that the power of incumbency and the entrenched clout of a ruling party will not stop them from bring change peacefully.

On December 27, 2007, the people of Kenya voted in a hotly contested election, despite the logistical challenges and the long lines. More than 14 million Kenyans registered to vote, that is 82% of the eligible voters. An estimated 2,547 Parliamentary candidates were qualified to run the in 210 constituencies, a clear indication of the desire and determination of Kenyans to participate and to be part of the political process.

Incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was hastily declared the winner by the Electoral Commission of Kenya, after a series of highly irregular events which cast significant doubt on his so called victory. Let me be blunt. The election results announced by the ECK do not reflect the wishes of the Kenyan people. The people of Kenya voted for change. What they were given was the status quo.

International and domestic election observers reported serious irregularities, especially in vote tallying by the ECK. In one district, a stronghold of the president, the election result showed 115% turnout, but changed by the Chairman of the Commission to 85% without any explanation. Election results were declared even when documents were not returned or signed by officers. While the vote proceeded in an orderly fashion, the aftermath was a text book example of how to steal an election. National and international election monitors were barred from observing the vote tally in some places. Returning officers became mysteriously difficult to get in touch with before reporting the vote tally from their constituencies.

ODM candidate, Raila Odinga’s, lead, which had been reported to be nearly 376,000 votes, suddenly diminished to 38,000. The ODM won 99 seats in parliament compared to the president’s PNU 43 seats. Not only the opposition won the majority seats in parliament, but the president’s Vice President and over a dozen of his ministers were defeated in the parliamentary elections.

The E.U. observer mission declared that “the 2007 General Elections have fallen short of key international and regional standards for democratic elections. Most significantly, they were marred by a lack of transparency in the processing and tallying of presidential results, which raises concerns about the accuracy of the final results of this election.” Other observers also raised serious questions about the credibility of the electoral process.

In reaction, Kenyans went to the streets to express their frustration and anger. The protests soon turned violent and it is still unfolding. More than a thousand people have been killed, and over 300,000 displaced as a result of the unrest, including an estimated 80,000 children under the age of five. Millions more have been adversely affected. Two members of parliament from the opposition ODM were killed in January.

The instability in Kenya continues to threaten and affect the economies of neighboring countries and poses a serious threat to regional stability. The Kenyan economy has been hit hard and recovery may take a long time.

It is important to point out that while the ECK and the Kibaki government mishandled the 2007 elections, the State Department’s response in the wake of the elections was at best confused and at worst completely inappropriate to the circumstances. A number of statements issued by the State Department not only missed the point, but the actions of some U.S. officials were counter-productive and one-sided. To my knowledge no one else in the international community made such a gaffe.

The State Department should have waited on the outcome to determine how to respond effectively. Our diplomatic efforts in the wake of the elections have not been stellar. Indeed, the response to the Kenya election crisis proves beyond doubt that some in the Administration are quick to embrace a government that engages in electoral abuses and overlook rather than condemn its electoral and human rights abuses.

Remember the 2005 elections in Ethiopia? Did we condemn the abuses and killings of innocent civilians in Ethiopia after the elections? And where are those elected members of parliament and the mayor of the capital? Not in parliament. They were imprisoned for two years. The thinking may be: if Prime Minister Meles can get away with a stolen election and still remain a friend of Washington, why not Kibaki?

What are the lessons learned? Very few. Dr. Frazer’s statement on January 31 about ethnic cleansing played right into the hands of the Kibaki camp, allowing them to portray themselves as victims of an ethnic conflict. The violence is unlikely to end without a mechanism in place to resolve the election dispute.

What is happening in Kenya is not—I repeat not an ethnic conflict. It is a political conflict with ethnic overtones. However if political leaders in Kenya do not make a serious effort to stop the violence now, and address the systemic problems that exist in their political structures, the violence we are seeing could certainly reach a point of no return. Once that happens, it will be very difficult to stop.

It is critical that a transitional, coalition government is established, with a clear mandate to implement necessary reforms such as a new constitution, a new electoral law, a new electoral commission, address the root causes of the crisis, and prepare the country for transparent presidential elections within two years.