There are two events coming up this week that I would like to comment on.
The first, this Tuesday at the United States Institute of Peace, asks “Why Were Kenya’s 2013 Elections Peaceful? I’ll admit to generally sharing the frustrations that many expressed in regards to the constant predictions of violence in the run up to the election.
I covered several events on the Kenyan elections for Africa in DC. I predicted that with the eyes of the world on Kenya, it didn’t seem likely that the elections would be accompanied by significant violence and that the greatest difficulty lies ahead. It is likely that Kenyatta’s election will further erode the legitimacy of the ICC. I think it’s also possible that the Kalenjin – Kikuyu ethnic alliance that was forged during the election may collapse, which would have significant consequences.
I’m surprised that those on the stage for USIP’s Kenya event so overwhelmingly represent US opinion. Four of the five speakers work for either USAID or USIP. The fifth is an American who founded a NGO that operates throughout Kenya.
I am worried that this event may be a bit self-congratulatory (as I see constantly with AGOA). I would also note that while electoral violence did not approach 2008 levels, the 2013 elections were accompanied by levels of violence that would be unacceptable in this country. The other concern is that USIP may be asking the wrong question here. I’m hoping that the situation in Kenya will remain tenable throughout Kenyatta’s first term. I’d like to know what the experts think about that.
The second event, ‘Perilous Desert: Security Challenges in the Sahara and Sahel’, a launch for a book by that name, examines the situation in “the desert states” to the south of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. It is unclear what this even means. If one is talking about contiguous borders, this would mean that the conference/book is limited to Algeria, Niger, Chad, and Sudan. I cannot believe that Mali would not be on the agenda. Furthermore, the narrative indicates that the event will emphasize the need to focus on the Sahel, which will undoubtedly be watered down by a book with a much broader focus (although I’ll admit that the Sahel connections to Algeria and Libya in particular are significant and need to be considered).
The agenda for the conference is not yet available, but I was struck that the three Carnegie Endowment experts listed, with the possible exception of Anouar Boukhars, appear to have little background in the Sahel (they are now assuming the mantle of Sahel expert given their longstanding interests in North Africa). If the Mali crisis has clearly revealed anything to me, it is how opportunistic many of DC’s foreign policy experts are. I lived in the Sahel for two years just as AQIM and Boko Haram were gaining prominence and it’s fascinating to compare the interest in the Sahel when I left in 2008 versus my return, at the end of 2010.
I hope that events like this will starkly show the need to sustain interest in areas and not migrate from one prominent conflict to another.