Kenya elected its new president, former Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta on March 9, and many wonder what the long-term consequences of the elections will be, as there has never been an election in Kenya without violent repercussions. The last, in 2007 led to an explosion of bloodshed. It was not surprising, then that there was a lot of fear surrounding Kenyatta’s win, as he is being indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity by causing ethnic rivalry in the 2007 elections.
Elections in Kenya are especially seminal moments due to the importance given to ethnic politics. The country has a history of corruption before elections as rich politicians pit the country’s many ethnic groups against each other in order to get votes, and it is the poorest regions that bare most of the consequences. Kenya, like its other Eastern African counterparts, is a country divided by ethnic tensions, and its leaders use this as a tactic to get elected. Kenyans and the country’s neighbours fear the outcome of the win as they rely on the port in Mombasa for fuel and food. What makes the violence in Kenya so alarming is its progress in other respects, such as its economy, and Marc Lacey, deputy foreign editor for the New York Times hopes that as Kenya advances economically the violence will decrease around election time.
There have been numerous efforts at reform, notably the change from the discredited Electoral Commission of Kenya, responsible for the last vote, to the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission. There have also been reforms in the judicial and legal systems, building citizens’ trust in institutions. Furthermore, this has been the most technical, expensive and complicated election in Kenyan history, as new electronic systems designed to eliminate the risk of fraud were used. Kenyatta has also made many promises to work with rivals. Despite this, his main challenger, Raila Odinga has claimed to challenge the elections in the Supreme Court as he believes the results to be fraudulent. As the count was affected by technical glitches, notably, “a programming error that led to the number of rejected votes being multiplied by a factor of eight.” And, as the BBC states, “Mr. Odinga’s Cord alliance had earlier complained that votes from 11 constituencies were missing, in effect leaving him more than 250,000 votes short.”
The ICC has indicted Kenyatta as well as running mate William Ruto, who both deny the charges.
Will these elections be plagued with the usual violence surrounding elections knowing that there has already been reported violence prior, particularly in one poor region near the Tana river delta where a reported 200 citizens were killed? So far, the elections have been peaceful, however, it is left to know whether the ICC will have any impact on Kenyatta.
Some believe that the ICC’s indictment in fact was responsible for Kenyatta’s win, as people deem it to be ‘Western interference.’ Like many countries in the continent, such as the Congo, and Ivory Coast whose leaders are being indicted for human rights violations, international interference—even those dealing with human rights issues—are viewed as indoctrinating, and meddling. “Why Africa only? Why were these laws not applied on Israel, Sri Lanka and Chechnya and its application is confined to Africa?” said former African Union chairman Jean Ping, as he asserted that the court was nothing but a neocolonial invention at an African summit meeting in 2009.
With some, like Sri Lanka, the United States—backed by the United Nations—is taking very cautionary steps, as it is afraid that any finger pointing could lead to a worse outcome and an escalation in violence. However, they are not afraid to take particularly castigatory measures toward Kenyatta—though Kenya is an essential ally militarily and financially in the search for al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, al-Shabab in Somalia. Some believe the reason to be that past cases, such as Sudan and Libya, have given the court more freedom to investigate within the continent. Another reason for the African-centered indictments, and possibly the most pertinent, are the geopolitical reasons. The more powerful nations, such as China and the United States would not allow for indictments in more precarious states. For example, thousands have been killed in Afghanistan since the court’s inception, and still no cases have been referred.
It is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the ICC, especially since it has had trouble in the past to effectively persecute indicted leaders such as Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who is leading from Khartoum to this day.
Though Kenyatta asserted that he would comply with international institutions, he is denying all charges. The ICC’s legitimacy might either be bolstered or undermined by this election.