The Brookings Institution hosted a more riveting than usual talk today, “Kenya Decides: The 2013 Presidential Election.” As I mentioned in the previous post, this talk, on a much more prominent platform, repeated the guests that SAIS convened yesterday with the addition of Jendayi Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under George W. Bush. If I recall correctly, Frazer stated that Kenya was the first African country she ever visited.
The talk was in a slightly different format than most – the participants gave very brief opening remarks and a Q and A, moderated by a VOA journalist of Kenyan extraction followed. I ducked out with 30 minutes remaining when the session moved to audience Q and A. Kanyinga opened his remarks by commenting that in Kenya, observers often view the same events with different interpretations, and he proceeded to have some vigorous disagreements with Frazier, principally on 2 points:
The ICC – Kanyinga felt that the 6 ICC indictments have done a lot to foster accountability and further the rule of law in Kenya. Jendayi Frazer called the ICC “illegitimate” and suggested that the West has manipulated the ICC to its own ends (a surprising confluence of the perspectives of the Right and far Left). Kimenyi generally agreed with Frazier, calling the role of the ICC in Kenyan politics a ‘bad idea’ that has led to further division in Kenya.
Political alliances – Kanyinga suggested that the current election has been marked by unprecedented alliances. The Ruto – Kenyatta alliance and Odinga – Musyoka alliance. Frazier rebutted this with what seemed to be a pretty good set of examples of previous alliances in Kenyan presidential elections that brought together one time foes.
Makori at one point asked Frazer a question concerning the perceived support of the Bush administration for Kibaki following the disputed 2007 election. In a rather convoluted explanation, Frazer denied that the administration had taken such a position. Instead, Frazer argued that a low level spokesperson, had misinterpreted a State Department statement and elaborated on it in a way that praised the Kibaki government for overseeing a successful election, rather than offering the intended praise for the Kenyan people on holding a peaceful election (as the violence erupted after the election was over).
Also of note, when Kanyinga appeared to indicate that Kenyatta and Ruto were running in order to beter escape ICC prosecution if elected, Frazer hit back forcefully. She spoke of Kenyatta as a career politician (who had previously run for President) and appeared to even go beyond that and praise his commitment to Kenya’s development and good governance.
The last two days have shown that all eyes in DC’s Africa community are on Kenya. Increased attention (even from afar) probably means that a repeat of 2007/08 is not too likely. It would have been interesting to have been here in the Fall of 2010 to know if the Ivory Coast election was garnering similar attention.