January 17, 2008

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines the roots of the violence that has convulsed Kenya since its disputed presidential election of December 27, 2007.

While acknowledging the ethnic dimension of the conflict, Dr. Pham argues that the much of the blame lies with constitutional failure:

Only within a framework of adequate checks and balances whereby the advantages of electoral victory are reasonably restrained (and the costs of losing are minimized) will political campaigns cease to take on the literal life-and-death edge which they have shown themselves to be in all-too-many African countries, most recently in Kenya. Instead, the winner-take-all nature of the continent’s highly centralized polities increases the incentives for the uncompromising positions like that of the [Mwai] Kibaki government which, after co-opting third-place finisher [Kalonzo] Musyoka, is attempting to continue “business as usual” as well as the self-destructive call by losers like [supporters of Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement] for three days of protests this week, despite the fact that previous rallies have degenerated into violence which wrought havoc to the protesters’ own neighborhoods.

Thus he concludes:

Only when the cost of being out of power is lowered below that of political violence to achieve it will African countries know the security and stability without which the prospects for their future—and America’s national interests in an increasingly significant geopolitical space—will be quite bleak.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “The Kenyan Tragedy and the Future of Democracy in Africa,” click here.