Tide of optimism ends disastrously in Kenya

When Mwai Kibaki was first elected president of Kenya in 2002, hopes were high that he could end corruption. But this African fairytale has turned into a horror story and the cause is all too familiar: vote-rigging.

In 2002, amid what the BBC describes as a "tide of optimism", Mwai Kibaki was elected president of Kenya after the 24-year rule of the unpopular Daniel arap Moi.

Hopes were high that his government could end corruption and rejuvenate the economy and indeed, in the past five years, Kenya has established itself as "east Africa's most energetic and diverse economy", says the FT, with a strong manufacturing base, fast-growing telecoms, financial and horticulture sectors, and a reputation as a safe tourist destination.

But now this African fairytale is turning into a horror story. The immediate cause is depressingly familiar a rigged election. Kibaki was recently sworn in as President for a second term amid what the FT describe as "ballot stuffing and falsification of the figures". The resultant fury from supporters of his main rival, Raila Odinga, has sparked a wave of violence that has already claimed at least 300 lives.

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But many Kenyans are also venting their anger at still being impoverished over half subsist on just a few dollars a day. And Kibaki's anti-corruption ticket is in shreds after the implication of numerous officials in multi-million dollar scandals.

The West has also done its bit to stoke resentment by "backing one of Africa's most corrupt regimes", pouring development aid into a country that supported the US war on terror and welcomed firms such as Barclays, but also acquiesced in the "growing pauperisation" of its people.

So what next? Given Kenya's importance to a host of other African states, "meltdown is too ghastly to contemplate", says the FT. Short-term violence will only end once fair elections are held, but, as Xan Rice notes in The Guardian, Kibaki is unlikely to agree to them.

Urgent external pressure needs to be applied to avoid Kenya's "worst crisis since independence", but where from is unclear. The African Union, whose members are also guilty of election rigging, "lacks moral authority". Meanwhile, the West seems content to offer platitudes Gordon Brown urged local leaders to start a "process of reconciliation". This may be too little too late to solve a crisis described by Betty Maina, head of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, as already "bad, bad, bad."