US diplomat in Kenya speaks out

The World

The government of Kenya has been running ads implying the United States was partly to blame for the violence. Today MR responded, �the ads were taken out by the Office of the Press Spokesman and sort of implied by saying there were serious irregularities in the elections we were somehow appealing violence which of course is nonsense. And I basically just issued an op-ed piece which said as much, that it was stupid.� LM �yeah, you said it was irresponsible to say as the ads do that speaking the truth provides incitement to ethnic violence. I wonder though, if you say it’s irresponsible to say it, if even by stating as you did that the election was not free and fair, that there is blame on both sides, that you feel as though you might be unwittingly sponsoring further violence?� MR �no, that’s actually the exact opposite of what I feel very firmly which is that the way to reduce the violence and tension in the country is by greater openness. There’s no question whatsoever about that, removing whatever restrictions remain on the freedom of the media, allowing peaceful demonstrations, and basically addressing frankly the issues with respect to the elections which even the President in some statements acknowledges. And I think the fact that we have been speaking out in the responsible way has given us a unique amount of credibility with the Kenyan people and frankly with both sides in this crisis.� LM �and where do you see that credibility going?� MR �I think where I see our credibility being useful is in encouraging both sides to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Kofi Annan’s mission and also to try as I say to be a voice of reason with the Kenyan people as well.� LM �Well the two main parties we’re talking about here, the incumbent president, Kibaki and the opposition leader, both of them have apparently said they are open to talking as you mentioned. Why aren’t they then?� MR �just in the past couple of days both sides have reiterated, both men directly and personally have told me face to face that they are prepared to meet when Kofi Annan arrives. And there are a lot of reasons why it hasn’t happened so far but I think their positions are now quite clear, and so I do expect that meeting to take place while Kofi Annan is here, likely this week.� LM �So for those who say, what kind of a democracy is this that we have anchored ourselves to in Africa, that it sounds flimsy enough that this violence can happen, what do you say?� MR �I think people need to pull back for some perspective. I recall how after Martin Luther King, Jr. died, how a tremendous number of US cities went up in flames. This kind of violence can happen when there are underlying grievances that go back decades and have not been resolved. And one instance like a disputed election can be a trigger for that. But countries like my own, like Kenya can pull out of these actually stronger if they address these underlying grievances and challenges and use them, as horrible as this sounds, as an opportunity to do institutional reform, to address these issues, and move the country ahead.�

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