Obama’s dilemma in Kenya politics

US President Barack Obama must be in a dilemma when it comes to preventing an explosive situation in Kenya.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

It is obvious that Obama would rather concentrate on rebuilding the American economy than associating himself with the Kenyan political soap opera. However, the fact that Obama’s father was Kenyan means that any repeat of the 2008 post election violence will inevitably draw the US President into the mess.

A Rwanda style genocide in Kenya is a nightmare that Obama must be dreading. As close to a million people were killed between April and July 1994, US President Bill Clinton said that American interests were in danger and therefore his intervention was not necessary.

The situation in Kenya is different both because of Obama’s parentage and because of the Rwanda genocide. The fact that Obama has dozens, if not hundreds, of relatives means his involvement is inevitable. Indeed, most people in Nyanza, where Obama’s father hailed from, already expect some sort development assistance now that Obama is president.

The Rwanda genocide of 1994 made the world to vow that, “never again will genocide be allowed to thrive.” As the world’s leading military and economic powerhouse, the US will have no choice but get sucked into the Kenyan quagmire whenever it happens.

Kenya’s pro-Western leanings since independence in 1963 further means that the US and Britain must get involved. “The US has a strong interest in the political stability of Kenya … Kenya is too important to fail. It is not me saying this, this is shared by the highest level of my Government,” said America’s ambassador to Kenya, Michael Rannerberger last week.

In order for Obama to ensure stability in Kenya, he must engage with the current political leaders. The question is, who?

If Obama gets too close to President Mwai Kibaki, it will be seen as an endorsement of Kibaki’s controversial victory in the 2007 General Elections. A Commission of Inquiry declared last year that the presidential results were inconclusive. Co-operation between Obama and Kibaki will not be taken well by the Luo ethnic group where Obama’s father came from and which also happens to be Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ethnicity. Kibaki comes from the Kikuyu ethnic group and the rivalry between the two men has resulted in ethnic tension between the Kikuyu and the Luo.

President Kibaki’s government is tainted with massive corruption scandals involving maize, oil, drugs and kickbacks. A United Nations report implicated the government in the abduction, torture and killings of thousands of youths. The military, acting under Kibaki’s orders, killed thousands during a counter-insurgency operation in Mount Elgon. Obama will not want to be seen condoning impunity and human rights abuses.

The 44th President of the United States could choose Prime Minister Raila Odinga as his pointman in Kenya but this will antagonize the Kikuyu, who constitute at least 22% of the population.

Prior to the 2007 General Elections, Raila ran his presidential campaign on an anti-Kikuyu platform. Kenya has 42 tribes and the unofficial slogan of Raila’s ODM party was “41 against 1″. The campaign is blamed for the ethnic chaos that erupted with President Kibaki’s victory.

Large numbers of Kikuyu settlers and business people were killed and evicted from ODM strongholds at the Coast, Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces. In order to win votes from these provinces, Raila had promised to establish ethnic federalism, where each tribe could have autonomy in its own province. This was an indirect attack against the Kikuyu who happen to live in all parts of Kenya and whose commercial activities are resented by other ethnic groups. Unfortunately, Raila still persists with his federalist campaigns.

Raila allied himself with Moi era ethnic nationalists in order to win votes. These are the same elements responsible for ethnic clashes against the Kikuyu since 1992. Ironically, the Luo were at one time victims of the same elements but the 2007 political equation spared them from attack.

Obama’s involvement, or lack of involvement in the Kenyan situation, will be exploited by his domestic opponents in the United States to ruin his chances of winning a second term in 2012. If he works closer with President Kibaki, he will be accused of condoning undemocratic practices. If he chooses to work with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, he will be accused of supporting ethnic cleansing in Kenya.

Indeed, Obama’s opponents from the Republican Party tried linking Obama with the ethnic violence in Kenya during the 2008 US Presidential campaigns. Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006 and the pictures he took with Raila were widely publicized on the Internet. Raila’s claim that he and Obama are cousins certainly did not help Obama’s image.

Obama’s 2008 campaign team made sure that the Kenyan political links did not become an election sticking point. Up until his inauguration on 20th January 2009, Obama’s argument was that there could only be one US president at a time and therefore only President George W. Bush could make foreign policy decisions. Obama let President Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice take the lead in forming the Grand Coalition.

Certainly, the global economic crisis that began in September 2009 played a key role in Obama’s victory. As Americans found themselves homeless and out of work, Kenya completely disappeared from the electoral radar screen. American voters were determined to get rid of the Republican government which they blamed for their woes.

Next time, there might not be an economic crisis to distract the attention of American voters from Kenya. There is no doubt that Kenya is facing a dark future with its current leaders. Obama is trying hard to avoid getting involved but it is just a matter of time before something happens.

Fate has already decided.

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