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For Kenya, a month of attacks, then quick progress

In January, one of Africa's most stable democracies was ripping itself apart. How was it saved? Part 2 of four.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 6, 2008

Chief mediator Kofi Annan on Jan. 22.

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

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Nairobi, Kenya

In the first few days following the Dec. 27 election, many Kenyans didn't realize – or didn't accept – that they had a problem. Horrific ethnic violence – Kalenjins and Luos attacking Kikuyus – flared in the Rift Valley and western Nyanza provinces. But many African academics, aid workers, and politicians in Nairobi predicted that the "disturbances" would last for just a few days, like a teakettle letting off steam.

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Ensconced in the State House – the official presidential residence – President Mwai Kibaki continued to insist that the Dec. 27 elections were legitimate and he'd been reelected. International observers called the elections "flawed." The opposition, holed up in their own headquarters (ominously dubbed "the Pentagon"), continued to cry foul, and to urge for peaceful mass action. As each side claimed victory, the country burned.

"I don't know whether this was a fight over principles. This was a fight over power," recalls Martha Karua, a hard-liner in Mr. Kibaki's cabinet. "The election commission clearly declared Kibaki to be the winner, and the loser refused to accept the result, and refused to accept the internationally accepted method for resolving the dispute: going to court."

In the initial aftermath of the elections, no one was talking to former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. His role as chief mediator was the result of three weeks of concerted, behind-the-scenes effort by Kenyan diplomats, businessmen, and civil activists, as well as substantial pressure from the international community.

• • •

In his room at the Serena Hotel, a few days after the Dec. 27 elections, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa is packing his bags to leave. He has spent the past two weeks in Kenya as head of the Commonwealth Group election monitoring mission. The group has reported persistent vote irregularities, casting doubt on the election results. But his work as an electoral observer is done. Mr. Mkapa, with some sadness, is heading home.

Then, there's a knock on his hotel door. It's Lazaro Sumbeiywo, a retired Kenyan general, and Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, a Kenyan career diplomat, both of whom helped mediate an end to Sudan's 20-year civil war.

"You are not leaving," General Sumbeiywo tells Mkapa. "Now that we have got this problem, you will not leave. You have to get in touch with our leaders" to agree to international mediation.