Thursday, June 19, 2008

Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Washington

I attended this talk and wrote the following report.

The Honorable Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on June 17 on the topic of “Kenya: A Way Forward.” The Prime Minister thanked the U.S. and high ranking officials for their support during Kenya’s recent difficulties. He commended foreign partners led by former UN Secretary General Anan and retired President Mkapa from Tanzania for helping to achieve internal peace. He noted that the transition government was now 60 days old. He admitted that the process of establishing the “grand coalition” had required soul searching, sacrifice and compromise, but that the Orange Democratic Movement was determined to make it work. He later added that he and President Kibaki have a viable partnership.

Reflecting on post election violence, Odinga said that Kenya “had lived a lie” in thinking it was immune from such disturbances. It was not an island of peace, but its fa├žade had hidden disparities, inequalities and anger. Some issues dated from colonial times, others came later; all should have been addressed earlier. However, now was the time. A first step would be a new constitution. He also pledged investigations into election irregularities and human rights violations. He supported the creation of a truth, justice and reconciliation process.

The Prime Minister noted that Kenya now faces enormous economic difficulties. The chaos stalled the economy and the rains have been poor. Growth has tumbled. The new cabinet – bloated he said by necessity – will work through committees to redress the nation’s ills. Reviving the economy is a major task. Kenya will count on its friends and outside investors to help.

During his talk Odinga also strongly criticized President Mugabe of Zimbabwe saying that elections there were a “sham” and an “embarrassment” to the continent. He called on African leaders, especially President Mbeki to step up and help resolve the crisis.

In answering a question about how to restore the social fabric, the Prime Minister said that Kenya would draw on the experience of others such as South Africa to help salve wounds. Proposals for a truth and reconciliation commission were being studied. Those persons involved in mob violence would face no sanctions, but perpetrators of crimes would be prosecuted. Abuses by security forces would be investigated. Issues of compensation for victims have not been decided. Odinga noted that in the aftermath of violence, Kenyans themselves discovered their interdependence. Matatus needed passengers, just as passengers needed matatus; similarly for shops and shoppers, farmers and markets. He implied that these interconnections boded well for reestablishment of societal trust.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that land issues remain troublesome. He said that many internally displaced persons - not just Kikuyus, but Luos too - had long been settled outside of their traditional homelands. Generations later these folk have little knowledge of where their ancestors came from, so they have no “homes” to return to. He stated that land reform would be a priority and opined that the breaking up of large European farms into small plots that were increasingly sub-divided had not served the nation well. He suggested that agricultural advantages of scale could be achieved and better services provided to citizens if farms were managed cooperatively.

Comment: Prime Minister Odinga made an impressive presentation to the effect that Kenya is on the way back and on a thoughtful track. Clearly, he knows the issues and appears determined to treat them straight forwardly. Whether or not the governing coalition will permit this to occur, remains to be seen. That notwithstanding, Odinga’s visit to Washington and contacts with policy makers in the administration, the Congress and the World Bank was designed to raise Kenya’s (and Odinga’s) image and to assure interlocutors that serious efforts – that merit American support – are underway. Without doubt, that message is being heard.

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