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Trump 'unprepared' if Kenya elections turn violent

Party supporters queue at Muliro Gardens in Kakamega County to nominate their favourite candidates during voting in primaries on April 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Party supporters queue at Muliro Gardens in Kakamega County to nominate their favourite candidates during voting in primaries on April 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Analysts taking part in a think-tank panel in Washington on Wednesday expressed uncertainty regarding the Trump administration's potential response if next month's elections turn violent.

Mark Bellamy, a former US ambassador to Kenya, cited a “dilemma” facing the US and other donor nations.

They want to help prevent a repeat of the 2007-2008 election violence, Mr Bellamy said. But, he added, it is not clear if they are “willing to do that at the expense of sanctifying what could be a seriously fraudulent election.”

Kenyan politicians must work to squelch any resort to violence among their supporters following the election, Mr Bellamy said. The intensive diplomatic intervention that helped halt the bloodletting 10 years ago is unlikely to occur this time, he warned.

“There is no cavalry riding to the rescue — no Kofi Annan,” Mr Bellamy said in reference to the 2008 mediation effort led by the former United Nations secretary general.

If violence does erupt next month, the Trump administration appears unprepared to respond in as concerted a manner as the Bush administration did a decade ago.

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state at that time, flew to Nairobi to urge Kenyan leaders to stop the violence. Jendayi Frazer, then the assistant secretary of state for Africa, also travelled to Kenya and denounced killings that amounted what she termed “ethnic cleansing.”

No attention

In contrast, top Africa posts in the State Department and White House remain vacant nearly six months after Mr Trump's inauguration. There is also no indication that the president himself is paying attention to Kenya.

Lauren Ploch Blanchard, a researcher for the US Congress, also suggested at Wednesday's panel that the international community is unlikely to act as effectively in 2017 as it did in 2008. “There isn't an obvious cast of characters,” she said.

But Ms Blanchard noted that US Ambassador Robert Godec “is working tirelessly” to ensure international support for a credible and peaceful election on August 8.

The US Agency for International Development is also financing political-violence mediation efforts in Kenya, as well as assisting the work of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, she added.

As a possible indicator of the Trump team's intentions regarding Kenya, Ms Blanchard noted a US threat on Tuesday of sanctions against those in the Democratic Republic of Congo “who stand in the way” of presidential elections due to take place this year.

Godfrey Musila, a researcher at the Pentagon-affiliated Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, predicted at Wednesday's think-tank session that the National Super Alliance will win a narrow victory next month.

The outcome will hinge on the degree of support Nasa wins in the southern Rift Valley, Mr Musila said.

Media coverage of the run-up to the elections has been inadequate, added Kenya television talk-show host James Smart.

He cited “an environment of fear” in the country's newsrooms. Media houses feel threatened by the government's ability to reduce their revenues by withholding advertising, Mr Smart said.

Billed as a preview of next month's elections, the Wednesday panel discussion took place at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent international-affairs research institute based in Washington.

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