In New York
Expressions of optimism about Kenya’s ‘young democracy’ were mixed with warnings of possible violence at a Washington think-tank forum on Monday.
“It’s going to get nastier and more intense as we go into election day,” John Tomaszewski of the International Republican Institute predicted in regard to the already-overheated political rhetoric being used by both Jubilee and Nasa partisans.
“We will see some serious challenges to the democratic system in Kenya,” added Mr Tomaszewski whose NGO monitored the August 8 election. “Which way it goes, no one knows as of yet.”
But Mr Tomaszewski and other speakers at the event sponsored by the Brookings Institution also suggested that Kenya’s democratic institutions may well prove strong enough to overcome those challenges.
“Kenya is not some banana republic, at all,” Mr Tomaszewski declared.
Lauren Ploch Blanchard, a Kenya-focused researcher for the US Congress, pointed to the reforms implemented during the past decade, especially through the 2010 Constitution.
“Were such a long way from where we were in 2007,” she said in regard to the post-election violence that had convulsed the country.
Ms Blanchard also compared today’s Kenya favourably to Uganda, where efforts to extend President Museveni’s rule have sparked fistfights in Parliament.
In Kenya, she noted, “there is an independent police oversight mechanism. You don’t have that in Uganda.”
Kenya also compares favourably to its neighbour in having a vibrant civil society and an independent judiciary, Ms Blanchard said.
David Gacheru, the number-two official in the Kenyan embassy in Washington, spoke from the audience in defence of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s conduct since the Supreme Court ruling nullifying the election results.
“The president is constantly reaching out to the other side and preaching peace,” Mr Gacheru said. “What is the opposition doing? There is no preaching of peace.”
The deputy chief of mission also repeated a claim made at another Washington forum last month by Dr Korir Sing’Oei, legal advisor to Deputy President William Ruto, that international organisations exhibit “adulation” toward Kenya’s opposition, which causes Nasa leaders to behave with no sense of “proportionality.”
Mr Gacheru said: “Adulation of the opposition by the international community – significant NGOs and the think tank fraternity – has made the conduct of this opposition lack a sense of proportionality.”
Neither Dr Sing’Oei nor Mr Gacheru offered examples of this purported favouritism toward Raila Odinga and Nasa.
Asked to assess the chances of Mr Odinga prevailing in the scheduled October 26 voting, Mr Tomaszewski said the opposition leader would have to clear “a very, very tall bar.”
The Africa director of a democracy-promotion group loosely affiliated with the US Republican Party offered the opinion that Mr Kenyatta had won the election on August 8.
He noted that the president had made in-roads into parts of the country where Mr Odinga should have been stronger. The Nasa leader is facing a daunting challenge in garnering more votes than his opponent, Mr Tomaszewski said.
Many Kenyans are eager to put the electoral process behind them, he added. “There is a growing sentiment that we can no longer be held captive by these two men,” he said in regard to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Reflections on how the Bible has taken centre stage in the battle for presidency.