Reading about the ongoing strife in Kenya is both worrisome and depressing. This is especially true if the lessons of Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion are taken to heart. He highlights how a single period of instability can often initiate a pattern of recurring conflict, as well as how problems in one state can plague an entire region. Both risks seem to be acute in the Kenyan case, as democratic institutions and investor confidence are undermined and the trade and security prospects of landlocked neighbouring states like Uganda and Rwanda are threatened. The last thing Africa needs is another unstable neighbourhood, in addition to those around Sudan, Zimbabwe, and the DRC.
All the more reason for the African Union and other bodies to use their influence to convince Mwai Kibaki to change course. Ideally, the election that he rigged should be repeated under fair conditions, as monitored and enforced by representatives of the international community. The AU has been shamefully complacent in the face of abusive and corrupt regional governments, but it has an opportunity here to limit the scope of escalating violence and hopefully prevent the descent of the region into a conflict trap. For the sake of Kenya, the region, and the continent, other influential powers and organizations should support that effort.