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As Violence Subsides, Kenya Strives for Peace

Ambassador Charles Stith on crisis and resolution

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Dr. Charles StithCharles Stith

Director of BU’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center

Click below to hear the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania answer questions about the postelection crisis in Kenya and its resolution.

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Before Kenya’s presidential elections last December, the African country had been riding high. In a region of the continent that includes the war-hit nations of Congo, Somalia, and Sudan, Kenya had achieved enviable peace and stability, enjoying economic growth and a thriving tourist industry.

It was something of a shock then, when a rash of tribal violence exploded amidst claims of a rigged election. In the past 10 weeks, more than 1,000 people have been killed and about 600,000 have been forced to leave their homes.

The chaos erupted after incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, who had not been expected to win, claimed victory on December 27. When opposition leader Raila Odinga immediately disputed the claim, violence ensued. By New Year’s Day, more than 300 people were dead. As has been the case in many African nations, much of the fighting between groups supporting each of the presidential candidates took place along tribal lines. Kibaki belongs to the Kikuyu ethnic group, while Odinga’s supporters are largely members of the Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups.

Charles Stith, director of BU’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center and a College of Arts and Sciences adjunct professor of international relations, recently returned from an eight-stop trip to Africa that included a visit to Kenya. The day before Stith touched down in that country, the warring parties had hammered out a power-sharing agreement that allows the president to remain head of state, while the prime minister, a newly created position, would head the government, and as such, manage the affairs of the cabinet. The cabinet, meanwhile, would be reshuffled to add greater ethnic diversity. While the agreement has calmed the violence, Stith says, issues of land, electoral, and constitutional reform still need to be addressed. He reports that most Kenyans are optimistic that these can be agreed upon without further conflict.

A former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, Stith believes the resolution of the Kenyan crisis is unique and historic. “This was an African problem that was resolved by African leaders and resulted in an African solution,” he says. “There is a degree of ownership that is both continental and national, which is both interesting and inspiring.”

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

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