Out of Kenya's violence, rebirth
Forget tribal tags. This fight is about economic disparity. And it's a crucial catharsis.
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Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's rapid diplomacy in Nairobi has established that Kenya's long-term solution lies in resolving disparities in which resources went only to select regions, perceived economic growth seldom trickled down to the working class, and the youth remain disenfranchised.Skip to next paragraph
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Parties at the negotiating table now concur that a constitution that prescribes a winner-takes-all government in this historically polarized nation does not work. But a premium is placed on bringing a swift end to the spiraling violence that threatens to turn Kenya into Rwanda.
Kenya's crisis won't degenerate into genocide. First, Kenya has long been called the island of peace. To the northwest is Sudan, with troubling Darfur. To the east is Somalia, believed to harbor radical Islamists. The world won't tolerate the threat of Al Qaeda spilling into an unstable Kenya.
Second, with a Gross Domestic Product of $58 billion, Kenya is the region's economic engine. A crumbling Kenyan infrastructure will badly affect its mostly landlocked neighbors, giving the whole region a huge incentive to promote peaceful resolution.
Third, unlike Rwanda, Kenya's ethnic fabric is not woven by only two major tribes. It's a complex mosaic of 42 tribes with multiple subtribes, dialects, and customs.
Fourth, since the beginning of multiparty politics in the early 1990s, Kenya has fostered a robust independent press. It will be hard to stifle this freedom so fiercely guarded by largely Western trained editors.
Fifth, Nairobi is the home of dozens of multinationals, as well as the headquarters of the UN Environment Program. They have a big stake in securing Nairobi.
But Kenya will not extricate itself from this hole. The international community must help – with more sticks than carrots if necessary. The refusal by the United States and the European Union to do business as usual with Nairobi, for instance, appears to have softened the government's stand.
Kenya boasts the region's best-trained manpower, abundant resources, and a resilient people. But for 40 years, Kenyan politicians have failed to fundamentally change wobbling systems and institutions that bind the country in a crippling grip. A 15-year haggle over constitutional review ended in a stalemate just two years ago. And the disputed December elections finally drove the country into violent gridlock.
One day, however, historians may say that this gridlock sparked a necessary catharsis.
Mr. Annan said Friday that only a political solution could save Kenya. That's diplomatic speak for a coalition government with a specific short-term mandate and an impending constitutional overhaul. Both the government and opposition are confident that a deal will be signed this week.
That would make a fresh start – and give political rivals the opportunity to share credit for finally disarming the bomb that's threatened Kenya for 40 years.