Sunday, February 17, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Bad manners, parochialism and personal interests have reared their heads again at the ongoing peace mediation in Kenya.

Cyril, Ramaphosa, a renowned South African mediator who arrived in Kenya to join the Kofi Annan team has been rebuffed and returned home because the government side was not happy with him. He suffered the same fate as his fellow South African; Bishop Tutu, at the early stages of the crisis. If the trend continues; if brinkmanship and hawkish behavior continue at the negotiations, Annan’s talks will go nowhere and this will be a tragedy for Kenya and the whole of East Africa, not to mention the larger international community.

Let us face it, Kenya is part and parcel of the global village, more so an integral part of the East African Community. That being the case, the inter dependency equation makes it impossible for member states of the Community to sit back and watch as Kenya burns despite sibling rivalries that existed before this crisis.

Kenya today, whether we like it or not, is the lifeline of land locked and troubled states of the Eastern Africa region. Because of its strategic position on the coast of the Indian Ocean, it is today, like it has been for over a hundred years, the gateway of landlocked countries to the rest of the world.

When in the 19th century, the British colonized the region; Kenya did not exist as country. Their attraction at the time was Uganda that had some semblance of civilization and a government structure; the Baganda dynasty. The more reason they decided to build a railway line from the port of Mombasa to Lake Victoria, then a part of the Baganda Kingdom to connect their overseas trade with Kabaka’s dynasty. Little wonder then that the Lunatic Express became known as the Uganda Railway. Only later in 1905 was it renamed the Kenya Uganda Railway after a state called Kenya had been curved out of the expansive but amorphous British East Africa Protectorate.

History apart; Kenya has over the years evolved into an economic powerhouse with the infrastructure to support member states of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Northern Tanzania and DRC. International trade with these countries is heavily dependent on Kenya. Thousands of aid workers in troubled DRC, Southern Sudan and Somalia are heavily dependent on Nairobi for rapid response situations, air and ground transportation and other logistics that go with international humanitarian crises. Therefore, if Kenya burns, the whole region feels acute pain.

Let us face it; the reason there is so much international interest to see Kenya return to normalcy is no accident or sudden love for this country. The concern is genuine from Maputo to Pretoria, Accra, Dakar, London and Washington. Tokyo, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels and Ottawa are just as concerned. The mere fact that the second largest UN headquarters is housed here is further proof that the international community would not take kindly to forty years of their investment going up in smoke for political differences that can be sorted out.

The slow speed with which the East African Community member states reacted to the Kenyan crisis was baffling to many observers. Despite spending a lot of money sending its observer team to monitor Kenya’s elections, the candid report produced so soon after the elections was not acted upon.

More so, there was loud silence on the part of Heads of State of East Africa. They left it to retired presidents from Southern Africa and John Kufuor of Ghana to do the dirty job.

Which brings me to my next point; isn’t there anything in the 1999 East African Community Treaty that talks of how to deal with a crisis of this nature incase it is evident it is likely to derail or jeopardize the operations of member states? Are there no best practices that member states should adhere to as a matter of law? Why did the EAC member states scrutinize Rwanda and Burundi for nearly a decade before finally admitting them to the club? Were they not asking these two countries to meet basic requirements of good governance best practices? Didn’t the EAC delay admitting them because they were considered not stable enough?

After the Addis Ababa AU summit last week, the responsibility to sort out Kenya has been laid squarely on the shoulders of the EAC member states. Jakaya Kikwete is the new AU chairman while Kaguta Museveni is the current chair of the EAC. With two senior members of the EAC chairing both powerful economic blocks, it is now their responsibility to find a solution to Kenya’s crisis to avert all sorts of human suffering. Their credibility is on the line and the world is watching.