Democracy Lab

Lessons Learned from Kenya's Election

Kenya’s general election wasn’t perfect -- but it was peaceful. Here’s why.

As investors bite their nails over the latest Eurozone crisis in Cyprus, a different type of investment is paying off handsomely: Kenya's elections passed largely without violence. 

This success was not just good luck. Well-prepared Kenyan institutions, global non-profit organizations like Mercy Corps, and governments from around the globe collaborated to help peace win the day. This result not only prevented significant human suffering: It also bolstered a stalwart ally of the West in the struggle against terrorism (Kenya is currently battling al-Shabab extremists from neighboring Somalia who could have exploited any violence to their own advantage) and protected a rapidly growing market for global exports. To be sure, many observers express skepticism regarding the election's credibility and will not be pleased if the presumed winner, Uhuru Kenyatta, who is accused of fomenting violence in the last presidential elections, ultimately prevails. So far, however, any contested results will be challenged where they should be: in the courts, not through violence on the streets. 

Five years ago, Kenyans were not so fortunate. Violence surrounding the 2007 election, stoked by ethnic mobilization, led to more than 1,000 dead with 350,000 more displaced. The bloodshed cut Kenya's tourism industry in half, and reduced Kenyan GDP growth by over half, from 6 percent to 2 percent, virtually overnight. These negative economic effects rippled throughout East Africa, as Kenya is a lynchpin economic and transportation hub, and have persisted for the past five years. 

A peaceful election required tremendous effort. Kenyan government and grassroots organizations implemented a nationwide early-warning and early response network to quell violence before it spread. Another Kenyan group monitored for hate speech. Political parties reminded their followers to defend the peace. Recently reformed police secured the polling places, religious leaders and local committees monitored and calmed tensions, and drama groups conducted mobile peace theaters. SMS texting technology facilitated a nation-wide public education campaign and was used to send calibrated peace messages to youths preparing to clash. 

Numerous international partners, ranging from the United Nations to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, supported Kenya's efforts. For instance, from the United States alone, the State Department's Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau and the U.S. Institute of Peace deployed teams to high-risk areas to assess conflict mitigation efforts. The U. S. Agency for International Development funded a large effort that mobilized youth against violence. 

The risk of violence was, and remains, very real. Observers have documented warning signs of violence, from stockpiled weapons to ethnic incitement, which was a root cause of earlier violence. Fearful families sent women and children to the farm or out of the country. Kenyan businesses closed in anticipation of violence, with economic repercussions across East Africa. Studies showing that previous bouts of electoral violence are strong predictors of repeated violence reinforced the need for prevention. 

Though it will take time to understand exactly what worked and why, the broad effort at conflict prevention succeeded, and the dividends of prevention are already evident. After the March 4 election, Kenya's stock market soared, and GDP growth is expected to reach 6 percent again soon. Peaceful elections also saved millions of dollars worth of humanitarian assistance that would have been necessary to feed and house those who could have been displaced by violence. With East Africa's largest economy, Kenya looks set to continue the economic growth that will restore the $7 billion dollars' worth of losses since 2008. This, in turn, will lift many out of poverty, led by sustainable commercial growth rather than scarce aid dollars. 

The total cost of peace efforts in Kenya is shockingly low -- less than a third the cost the military pays for a single joint strike fighter to leave the runway. If we can multiply conflict prevention savings in one country across the globe, the potential benefit is enormous. 

Though conflict prevention is cheap compared with alternatives, proving success is challenging. It is the classic dog that didn't bark. In Kenya, some observers attribute peace to a political alliance between two tribes previously at loggerheads. Yet even with that alliance, indicators were present and a peaceful election was far from certain. What we know is that prevention efforts have worked well -- at least so far. 

Though Kenya's peaceful election is worth celebrating, it is too soon to declare victory. Violence could still return in Kenya. A court challenge to the razor-thin presidential results is generating anxiety, and the business sector is watching (a weakening shilling shows tension tied to a pending decision by the Supreme Court on the legality of the election). In addition, the team that appears to have won Kenya's election is indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegations of stirring violence in the previous election and will face trials in The Hague later this year. Either of these events could revive ethnic tensions. Prevention efforts cannot rest. 

As the world prepares for a new round of critical elections -- the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan is just one example -- it is worth learning the lessons from Kenya and focusing on conflict prevention. War is costly in so many ways. But investing in peace pays.


Turdblossom to the Rescue?

When Karl Rove is your white knight in shining armor, your party has a serious problem.

There is little from medical literature or science to suggest that the best way to treat the deranged is to humor them and hope they go away. It is in that spirit that we must approach the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) recently held here in Washington and grapple with what it says about the Republican Party's foreign policy stance.

Clearly, the GOP establishment is eager to have the party look slightly less crazy on everything from foreign policy to women's issues. Karl Rove has launched a controversial plan to try and weed out unelectable Tea Party candidates from the primary process. Party Chairman Reince Priebus just issued a tough report detailing the party's many failings in the last presidential election, saying, "There's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; and our primary and debate process needed improvement."

But as the CPAC crowd's disdain for such ideas as "Republican in Name Only' made clear, the Washington Republican establishment has lost almost all connection to the party it is supposed to represent. Indeed, if moderation and responsibility are new watchwords for Republican elites, this message was entirely lost on the red-meat speakers at the CPAC podium.

Consider some of these gems from the weekend. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert argued that "Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we would not win it." The congressman then went further, insisting that he had learned from the North Vietnamese that with only one more week of bombing, the Viet Cong would have unconditionally thrown in the towel. (One wonders why Henry Kissinger hadn't ever thought of more bombing as a solution in Vietnam. And surely the South probably would have prevailed in the Civil War by May of 1865 if Robert E. Lee hadn't blundered into surrendering at the Appomattox Court House.) To round out his presentation, Gohmert also suggested that the United States should be encouraging ethnic separatism in Pakistan, since that always seems to turn out well.

CPAC also continued the Republican obsession with the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, and the conference dedicated a full session to further exploring the hidden facts of what it proclaims to be a monumental scandal. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman accused President Obama of going AWOL during the assault, as Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire vowed to "get to the bottom of this." To an outside observer, the fixation on Benghazi is looking more and more like the John Birch Society's old conviction that plans to put fluoride in the drinking water were a communist mind control plot.

One of the stars of CPAC was newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz, another Texan, who proudly proclaimed, "If standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution makes you a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird," Before attacking the administration for insufficiently loving Israel and giving foreign aid to people who "hate us," Cruz also called for abolishing the Department of Education and auditing the Federal Reserve.

But for all the emphasis on traditional conservative targets like foreign aid and Benghazi, all wrapped in snide insinuation that President Obama is a closet Islamic extremist, it was equally notable what wasn't discussed. Issues like free trade, an effective NATO alliance, and even missile-defense plans, long a conservative hobby horse received nary a mention. There was no real effort to come to terms with the hard lessons learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos championed by President George W. Bush. There was no real embrace even of major Bush successes, such as his efforts to combat HIV/AIDS by creating PEPFAR or to make foreign aid more focused by creating the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

As much sport as we might find in poking fun at the fever swamp that is CPAC, with Sarah Palin slurping Big Gulps and Ann Coulter making fat jokes about Chris Christie, it is a real problem that one of America's two major parties has virtually imploded when it comes to laying out a positive foreign-policy vision that includes diplomacy, trade, defense, and development. As former Florida governor Jeb Bush argued at CPAC of his own party, "All too often we're associated with being 'anti' everything...Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on."

Jeb Bush may not have been popular for saying so at CPAC, but he is correct. U.S. foreign policy is not well served by either party simply defining itself by what it is not. We know the Tea Party hates the United Nations, foreign aid, Iran, Islamists, and Barack Hussein Obama. We have no idea what Tea Partiers thinks America should do in conjunction with its allies other than kill terrorists. They have come to define the world in terms of endless dystopian threats, while that most American of words, "opportunity," never seems to cross their lips.

The question now is whether the likes of Karl Rove, Jeb Bush, the RNC, and old-guard GOP think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, who so pumped up the Tea Party for tactical purposes to win the 2010 midterm elections, are now going to cauterize the wounds that are destroying the Republican brand. The patient will not heal itself. If the party wants to get it right on foreign policy, and once again make the case that responsible internationalism has always been a core party value, they will have to aggressively take on the lunatic fringe within the party. It says a great deal about the current state of affairs that Karl Rove, a political consultant dubbed Turdblossom by President Bush and portrayed by a canned ham on the Colbert Report, is getting an audition as a white knight.

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