John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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CFR’s Center for Preventative Action and Potential Electoral Violence in Kenya

by John Campbell
January 10, 2013

Kenyans queue to vote in the country's referendum in Naivasha 04/08/2010. (Antony Gitonga/Courtesy Reuters) Kenyans queue to vote in the country's referendum in Naivasha 04/08/2010. (Antony Gitonga/Courtesy Reuters)

Kenya is an African state of strategic importance to the United States. Not only does it provide the United States with air and maritime access, it plays an important role in preventing terrorists from using Somalia as a safe haven, and promoting peace between Sudan and South Sudan; two major Washington foreign policy goals.

But, Kenya may be in trouble. The elections of 2007 were so violent that political order nearly collapsed. Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, drawing on U.S. and other support, only succeeded in ending that crisis two months later by negotiating a power sharing arrangement and providing for the negotiation of a new constitution. Kenya’s next elections are scheduled for March 4 and April 11, 2013. If they go well, Kenya’s positive trajectory toward democracy and economic development is likely to be sustained. But if they go badly, violence and instability are increasingly likely.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action just released its latest Contingency Planning Memorandum, “Electoral Violence in Kenya.” It is a must-read. It includes a concise review of developments since 2007, provides an analysis of current realities, and suggests concrete measures by which negative scenarios could be avoided. Joel Barkan, the author of the Memorandum, is a distinguished academic and expert on Kenya. Barkan shows that the risks of a negative outcome are serious. He reviews current developments, including presidential candidates mobilizing support along ethnic lines, the shortcomings of electoral preparations, and the indictment of two leading candidates by the International Criminal Court. He posits possible scenarios and analyzes the warning indicators. Policy makers will find especially useful his recommendations for the international community.

Barkan highlights the importance of international observers and the tracking of violence before, during, and after the elections. Here, making use of the Kenyan media, perhaps following the methodology of the Nigeria Security Tracker, could provide a greater degree of precision than in the past.

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