Saturday, March 1

Kenya and the U.S.

In today's New York Times, Helene Cooper examines the U.S. response to Kenya's election crisis, and how it fits in with broader U.S. policy on democracy in Africa. The gist is that the Bush Administration has been faulted for supporting flawed elections in Africa - Ethiopia, Nigeria, etc - in the name of stability. When the U.S. initially congratulated President Mwai Kibaki on his "victory" it looked like more of the same. But U.S. actions more recently - particularly the tough statements from Condi Rice - have received fairly positive reviews.

Why did the U.S. respond differently in Kenya? One reason would be that, as I mentioned in a previous post, the unexpectedly high level of violence following the announcement of results made the U.S. decide that backing a rigged election would actually undermine instability this time around. The U.S. had probably also staked more on Kenya's democratic reputation than Ethiopia's or Nigeria's.

But also, as Cooper mentions in the last paragraph, Bush was headed to Africa in a few weeks time. And I can't imagine Bush would have wanted to visit Tanzania while next door Kenya was going up in flames, particularly if he was seen as having acquiesced in a rigged election.

Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth is quoted in the article as saying "I think Kenya was a wake-up call for the United States." I think Kenya was a wake-up call for the administration (and a lot of other folks) on Kenya. But I doubt that elsewhere it will do much to change the fact that, as Senator Joe Biden puts it "there seems to be on the part of this administration a confusion that leads them to the conclusion that support of rigged elections is consistent with stability."

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