Bush and Kibaki: Rendition The Key?

A reader writes:

I have to tell you that as a Kenyan currently living in the US, I was absolutely livid to read the first US State Department statement congratulating Kibaki on his re-election which came out even as the country was beginning to explode with anger from the blatant and obvious ballot rigging that had occurred. The later statement and apparent retraction from the State Department does nothing to diminish that anger in my eyes or in the eyes of many others.

It does not help that there has been a perception in the country that the US government has wanted Kibaki to win because of his perceived support on the 'global war on terror', indeed one of the defining issues in reducing Kibaki's support amongst Kenya's Muslim community during this election has been his perceived complicity (true or not) in the rendition of GWOT suspects, including some who claim to be Kenyan, to Ethiopia and apparently to Guantanamo.

The haste with which the State Department endorsed his re-election has raised eyebrows amongst those of us who had not been convinced that the US government had a preferred victor in these polls and really raises the question of whether that initial endorsement only occurred because they were incompetent. Let me explain.

Kenyans had truly come to believe their vote counted (as demonstrated by the high election turnout on Thursday Dec 27th) until Saturday when it became apparent that the presidential results which should have been announced by the previous evening were being deliberately withheld. Until Friday evening, it was clear that Kenyans were voting out the current government. 20 of the 35 of the ministers in Kibaki's outgoing cabinet, including the vice-president have been voted out of office. It is clear that at least half, if not more of the members of parliament have also been voted out. Kibaki's PNU party has won 34 seats in parliament (out of 210) and the opposition ODM has won 92 seats. The tallying of the presidential votes received from the polling stations by the independent media also made it apparent by Friday evening that Kibaki himself was on the way out as Raila had a lead of almost one million votes. The sense of anger in the country begun on Saturday when the official presidential tally suggested that Kibaki had allegedly gained over one million votes overnight appeared set to win the election. By Sunday, in the face of protests including protests of some returning officers who produced documentation that the election results they sent to the electoral commission had been changed, the rigged results of the presidential election were secretly announced by the electoral commissioner to only the government broadcast station KBC together with a tape of a secret swearing-in ceremony of Kibaki as the president. The ceremony was held at the State House with only the president and his supporters present and everyone else only became aware of it when the tape was broadcast on TV (as opposed to the usual swearing in ceremony that had been planned, and usually occurred at the Uhuru Park - a public open air park, like the Mall in D.C - with representatives from all parties, the diplomatic corps and the public). The media blackout and all the other nonsense from the government begun that evening. By Monday the public unrest had begun and independent election observers were reporting that the vote tallying by the electoral commission was fraudulent.

And yet, given all this, the US State Department still chose to issue that first statement congratulating Kibaki on his election even us the news of the explosion of violence was already being broadcast internationally. To ignore all that evidence and issue that initial statement creates the impression that this was more than incompetence. Incompetence is the most positive spin one can put on their actions and having lived here for almost 10 years (and seen the Bush administration in all their glory for the last 7 years), I refuse to give them the benefit of doubt and ascribe their actions to incompetence. But I would dearly love to be proven wrong.

On a positive note, the initial incapacitation of the Kenyan media and others from their initial shock on the governments actions on Sunday appears to have begun to wear off. They have begun to respond and the media council has issued a statement saying they plan to ignore the media blackout if the government does not rescind it and more electoral commissioners are speaking out about the election irregularities. I guess we will know whether the press is back to their usual independent selves over the next few days.

I have faith in my country as we have always stepped back from the brink of civil war in the past and I believe we will be able to do so again.

Another reader adds:

Odinga (the opposition leader) is from the same tribe as Obama. They are extremely intelligent or perhaps I should say intellectual. And they have very weird naming habits. All the male surnames start with O (Otieno) while the female start with A (Atieno)- but that is not the weird part. The weird part- they have this interesting habit of naming their kids after major events, personalities etc. There is a whole generation of kids called El Nino (after the floods which nearly devastated western Kenya), Clinton is also a popular name, as is Mandela.