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Kenya’s future up in the air after Kenyatta win

Despite a massive breakdown of its vote tallying system and a disgruntled opponent crying foul over the results, post-election Kenya has largely remained calm. But with the defeated candidate threatening a protracted legal fight and the winner facing crimes against humanity charges by a UN tribunal, the peace is precarious.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister and son of the country’s founding president, was declared the winner by the election commission. He is to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in June, meaning the majority of Kenyans have elected a suspected orchestrator of crimes against humanity. But his main rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, has contested the results. Odinga says there were numerous irregularities, and threatened to go to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision. “Anybody in our opposing team starting celebrations is in for a new shock,” said Lands Minister James Orengo, an Odinga ally.

The court could force Kenyatta’s inauguration, set for March 26, to be delayed or cancelled. This was Odinga’s third bid to win the presidency, and the second time he has disputed the results. In 2007, after the election commission declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner, Odinga said he was cheated. Ethnic clashes then erupted, leaving more than 1,000 dead, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and scarring a nation.

The trauma from the previous election caused some in Kenya to believe that a peaceful process became more important than a fair one. “We have been urged not to question the process of tallying; not to question credible allegations of rigging; not to question the law; not to question anything. Instead, ‘peace,'” wrote Kenyan blogger Keguro Macharia.

“From looking at the results, you can conclude there were irregularities,” said Albert Mumma, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi. “Whether they (Odinga’s camp) were able to gather the evidence, I don’t know. The court must look at actual evidence, not just supposition,” Mumma added.

The election commission has admitted the electronic system, installed a the cost of tens of millions of dollars, failed miserably but insists the hand-tallied results are “credible.” Mumma warned that the Supreme Court would likely consider the repercussions of its rulings if Odinga’s legal team finally does lodge an appeal. Overturning the election commission “would be destabilising for the country.”

However, peace alone might not keep Kenya, long seen as a beacon of stability in the volatile region, in the West’s good graces. Some Western states warned they would limit contact with Kenyatta to only the bare basics, potentially putting him in the same category as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. He could end up trying to dodge the court by claiming presidential immunity – and find his global movements restricted.

Or, he may spend time fighting the charges that he was a key figure in organising bloodshed in 2007, thereby distracting him from the job of running Kenya, a nation of 43 million people. “Kenyatta’s victory has guaranteed that Kenya’s leadership will be chaotic, controversial and distracted; hardly a recipe for good governance,” wrote Simon Allison, an Africa analyst, in the Daily Maverick.

In an early sign, many Western states praised Kenya for peaceful elections but did not mention Kenyatta’s name. This contrasted starkly with South Africa and China, who quickly offered Kenyatta an embrace – a possible hint that the president-elect could “look east” to Beijing instead of relying on traditional partners.

During the slow tallying of the ballots, Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto – also wanted by the ICC – accused former colonial master Britain of trying to influence the election commission to favour Odinga. Ruto and Kenyatta were on opposite sides in 2007 and the ICC prosecutor accuses them of murdering each other’s supporters. Some analysts believe they ran together to put their eggs in one basket and hope for the best outcome. If the election commission’s decision stands, then they indeed have positioned themselves well to fight off the ICC. But their alliance may also symbolise another hurdle Kenya must overcome: tribalism. By hooking up with Ruto, a member of another tribe, Kenyatta was able to ensure voters from key areas based solely on family links, analyst Makau Mutua believes.

Mutua, a founder of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, wrote in the Daily Nation that the real economic and political issues of the campaigns, such as unemployment and underdevelopment, “were subsumed in the tribe.” Paraphrasing former US president Bill Clinton’s campaign from the 1990s, he said that in Kenya “it’s the tribe, stupid.”

Jason Patinkin and Shabtai Gold, "Kenya’s future up in the air after Kenyatta win," Business recorder. 2013-03-13.