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SAIS kept up its plate of Africa fare this week with a talk (in the same room as Monday’s China discussion) featuring two Kenyans (one US-based, one from Kenya). Mwangi Kimenyi, the Africa expert at Brookings, was joined by Karuti Kanyinga (disclaimer – I have worked briefly with Karuti), a scholar at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi. The topic was “Looking Past Kenya’s Election: Ethnic and Institutional Challenges to Inclusive Development.” Although the stated intent was to look at challenges that Kenya will face in the aftermath of the election, the elephant in the room figured prominently as well.

Both of the speakers seemed to be relatively optimistic about recent developments in Kenya. Kimenyi felt fairly confident in his ability to claim that political violence as a result of the election would be minimal. Kanyinga suggested that the judiciary is currently enjoying the highest degree of confidence at anytime since independence. Both seemed to be in agreement that although the electoral commission would be operating fewer polling stations this year than in the last election, there were enough resources to ensure that credible polls would be held.

There were a few notes of caution however. Both expressed concern that the alliances the major politicians were entering into (both Kenytta and Odinga) were tenuous. Although the expectation was of a peaceful election, Kimenyi in particular was worried that a future ICC verdict concerning the 2007 elections may provoke another wave of violence. I do not follow east African politics that closely, but I found it interesting that both seemed to agree that Raila Odinga would have been heavily favored to win the election had the ICC issue not galvanized the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups.

In a moment of much appreciated candor, Kimenyi (who I had only heard introduce luminaries at Brookings events, but was quite impressive) expressed his disappointment with Johnnie Carson’s recent remarks on the elections, which more or less implied that the US did not want to see a Kenyatta/Ruto administration. All in all a good event from SAIS, and likely much more intimate than the event the Brookings Institution will hold tomorrow with basically the same cast of characters.

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