Leading article: A crude subversion of democracy


Kenya's election result has opened the floodgates to a wave of violence. Yesterday there were running battles between armed opposition protestors and police in the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu. More than 100 Kenyans have been shot dead by police, including (according to some reports) women and children. The violence has been exacerbated by the tribal rivalries between the Kikuyu supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and the Luo constituency of his main challenger, Raila Odinga.

This explosion of rage from Mr Odinga's supporters was all too predictable. European Union election observers have raised serious doubts about the soundness of the poll. EU monitors were barred from counting centres in the Central Province. In one constituency there was a reported 115 per cent voter turnout.

All of this means that, at the very least, there ought to have been a recount and an investigation into the allegations of vote rigging. Indeed, there is a strong case for running the entire election over again. But instead the Electoral Commission of Kenya hastily declared President Kibaki the winner by a narrow margin on Sunday. And the President was sworn in for a second term within hours of that announcement. No wonder Mr Odinga's supporters are crying foul.

This crude subversion of democracy ought to have been met with a firm response from the outside world. Our own Foreign Office and the European Union have been critical. But Washington rushed to congratulate Mr Kibaki shortly after he was declared the winner. A US State Department spokesman later urged Kenyans to accept the result. Why would America, a self-styled champion of democracy, make such a counter-productive move? The suspicion has to be that President Kibaki has been given leeway because he has been an ally in the US's so-called "war on terror", providing support for American operations against Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia.

Yet this is grossly short-sighted behaviour by Washington. Kenya has been an oasis of stability and economic growth in a blighted region. But it will not long remain so unless the international community supports genuinely democratic forces in the country. This week's unrest vividly demonstrates what fate awaits Kenya if it continues down the road to autocracy. America should have learned by now that a weak and failing state can never be a reliable partner against terrorism.

Overseas international pressure can work if the major world powers are united. The threat from international donors to withhold aid from Kenya was vital in getting the previous President, Daniel arap Moi, to relinquish power in 2002. Similar pressure ought to be applied now to President Kibaki. The goal must be to allow the true voice of the Kenyan people to be heard.

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