In Kenya, U.S. Added Action to Talk of Democracy – By Helene Cooper, NYT

March 1st, 2008 Print Print Email Email

“The U.S. government has embraced democracy promotion as a softer and fuzzier alternative to defending human rights.”In Ethiopia, where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has become a strong ally of President Bush, the United States did little to chastise Mr. Zenawi after elections in 2005 during which 200 demonstrators, bystanders and policemen were killed. Hundreds of opposition members were jailed. Many of the independent news outlets were shut down.”

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“The U.S. government has embraced democracy promotion as a softer and fuzzier alternative to defending human rights.”In Ethiopia, where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has become a strong ally of President Bush, the United States did little to chastise Mr. Zenawi after elections in 2005 during which 200 demonstrators, bystanders and policemen were killed. Hundreds of opposition members were jailed. Many of the independent news outlets were shut down.”


WASHINGTON — Within hours of Thursday’s power-sharing deal between Kenya’s rival leaders, the State Department issued a rare statement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, praising the pact and citing the United States for providing
“intensive support” to bring it about.

Indeed, while Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, spent weeks in Kenya negotiating the agreement, many foreign policy experts also credit the Bush administration for putting action behind its talk of the need for democracy in Africa.

In Kenya, that meant pressing President Mwai Kibaki, whose supporters, many policy experts say, were most to blame for December’s disastrous elections and the ensuing fallout.

After almost two months of watching Kenya’s rival factions battle in ethnic-fueled violence that left more than 1,000 Kenyans dead, President Bush dispatched Ms. Rice to Nairobi. Ms. Rice let it be known that the United States would not look kindly on Mr. Kibaki’s actions and pointedly called for him to compromise, saying, “The time for a political settlement was yesterday.”

Mr. Kibaki bristled at the outside interference, but yielded.

“I think Kenya was a wake-up call for the United States,” said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, who has been openly critical of the administration’s response to flawed elections in Africa. In the end, Mr. Roth said, “Rice did play a constructive role in Kenya, and this agreement is a wonderful step forward.”

Mr. Bush and his aides make the argument that in Africa, the administration has outpaced its predecessors, quadrupling foreign aid, pushing aggressive programs on H.I.V. and AIDS and pushing strongmen toward elections.

But in recent months, a growing chorus of critics have said that when it comes to democracy in Africa, the administration has been all talk. They argued that deeply flawed elections in Ethiopia and Nigeria — results that were, in some way, endorsed by the United States — showed the administration putting stability above justice. Kenya, they said, was the latest example.

In a scathing commentary in several African publications in February, Jeffrey D. Sachs, a special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called the initial response to the Kenyan elections “distressing.”

By assigning blame to both sides of the elections fracas, when most independent observers said Mr. Kibaki was more to blame, the administration was tilting in favor of Mr. Kibaki, Mr. Sachs said in an interview.

Human Rights Watch was equally critical. In a report on Jan. 31, Mr. Roth said, “The U.S. government has embraced democracy promotion as a softer and fuzzier alternative to defending human rights.”

In Ethiopia, where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has become a strong ally of President Bush, the United States did little to chastise Mr. Zenawi after elections in 2005 during which 200 demonstrators, bystanders and policemen were killed. Hundreds of opposition members were jailed. Many of the independent news outlets were shut down.

Next came Nigeria, where, after much hemming and hawing, President Olusegun Obasanjo finally gave up his effort to change the Constitution so he could run for a third term. But the elections were, by most accounts, a mess: Observers pointed to voting centers that never opened, yet nonetheless reported 90 percent turnout. In some polling places, the police watched while poll workers stuffed boxes with ballots marked for the ruling party.

The results, naming Mr. Obasanjo’s successor in the governing People’s Democratic Party, Umaru Yar’Adua, the winner, were announced hours before counting had finished in several states.

The State Department said it was “deeply troubled” but it urged Nigeria to sort out things on its own, and the administration accepted Mr. Yar’Adua as Nigeria’s new leader.

“There seems to be on the part of this administration a confusion that leads them to the conclusion that support of rigged elections is consistent with stability,” Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in February.

At first, it seemed as if the administration would follow the same playbook with Kenya’s elections, on Dec. 27. The first results to be counted were for Parliament, where the party of President Kibaki was soundly defeated. The opposition alliance, led by Raila Odinga, won about 100 seats; Mr. Kibaki’s party won 30.

Yet Kenya’s electoral commission declared that in the separate presidential vote, Mr. Kibaki had won. Violence immediately erupted, and turned quickly into ethnic retaliation. Ms. Rice sent Jendayi E. Frazer, an assistant secretary of state, to Nairobi a few days after the election.

Mr. Sachs and other critics have complained that Ms. Frazer was too accommodating to Mr. Kibaki, by declaring that the vote probably could not be reassessed by an independent tally; by saying there had been vote-rigging on both sides, so Mr. Kibaki might have won; and by not acknowledging an independent exit poll that showed a clear victory for the opposition.

State Department officials take issue with that characterization. A senior official said that Ms. Frazer was in no position to tell who had won the election, and that it was not the role of the United States to make such a judgment. The official said the primary concern of the Bush administration after the election was that “people were dying.”

“The priority,” Ms. Frazer said in an interview, “was to stop the violence.”

But the violence did not stop, and as Mr. Bush made preparations for a presidential trip to Africa, he announced that he was dispatching Ms. Rice to Nairobi. Her task, the State Department said, would be to “deliver a message directly to Kenya’s leaders and people: There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy.”

http://www.nytimes.com

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