Monday, February 4, 2008


President Kagame suggests a military solution for Kenya.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has touched on a delicate matter but one that appears to be gaining currency in the region: that for the good of Kenya and the region, it may be wise for the military in that country to intervene to stop the bloodletting.

In the era when military intervention in politics is widely sneered at, President Kagame's suggestion appears odd indeed. But, as the Rwandan leader said, if wanton killings amongst civilians continue daily with renewed intensity, there is no reason why the full machinery of the state must not come out to tame the situation. It is a compelling argument. It is human life we are talking about, after all.

Critics argue, however, that people like President Kagame behave like someone who wields a hammer. For such a person, every problem is a nail. Hammer it into place. But that may easily create an endless and deadly cycle. Once the military is out, there is no guarantee that it will go back into the barracks. Think Burma/Myanmar. Or if the military goes back, it is after decades of pain to the country. In Pakistan it is a see-saw. In Nigeria, we are still holding our breath as the jury is still out there. In Uganda, well, we are not quite sure where exactly the military is based.

There will always be, from time to time, powerful reasons for why the military should intervene in politics, especially in developing countries. The temptation, however, must be resisted. What would we rather have: politicians squabbling endlessly or generals squabbling endlessly? And what assurance is there that there will never be killings once the military has taken charge? These are tough questions. But that does not mean there are no answers.

For a start, in the specific case of Kenya, it would do a great deal of good if Mr Mwai Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga, accompanied by Mr Kofi Annan, embarked on a joint tour of the flashpoints to calm things. It is rather odd for Mr Annan and the two antagonists to drink coffee, tea and juice in the immaculate halls of Nairobi while the country continues to ban – literally. Stop the killings first. Then talk.

That said, for all it is worth, the Annan initiative must not fail. If it does, one may not have many arguments against President Kagame's Bismarckian solution of solving the great questions of the day "not through speeches and majority decisions … but by iron and blood". What a tragedy that would be!

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