Kenya’s 2013 election will be a referendum on integrity
Either Kenyans are full of contradictions or they are being underestimated by the two tribal leaders, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and his counterpart Eldoret North MP William Ruto who are facing charges of crimes against humanity arising from the post-election violence of 2007-8 by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The contradiction is that a majority of Kenyans support the ICC process but at the same time support the suspects as well. The two politicians are running for president in Kenya’s general elections on March 4. Currently there is talk of Ruto being Uhuru’s running mate. So either the opinion polls are flat out wrong and Kenyans are going to deal a decisive blow to end impunity by choosing the path of peace and prosperity and rising above ethnic politics or the popularity of Uhuru and Ruto is real. If the latter, then we are on our way to becoming a pariah state. Perhaps out of a mixture of concern, fear, hope and optimism I chose to believe the former: That the future is on the side of the Kenyan people.
Here are the scenarios and choices we face. Scenario one is that the two suspects will put country and the people of Kenya above their blind ambition, drop out of the presidential race and let Kenyans get on with the business of nation building while they take individual responsibility for their pending cases. Scenario two is that they stay on in the race and lose, in which case they will concentrate on the ICC issue and their private lives. Scenario three is that they stay in the race and the presidential election goes into a runoff after there is no clear winner. In that case we shall have an unprecedented electoral and constitutional crisis which I am not quite certain how we would navigate. The run-off will be held while Ruto and Uhuru will be at The Hague attending their trial, which starts on April 11.
Another scenario is that one of them wins decisively in the first round of the elections. Then we will have a real problem as we will cease to be Africa’s best hope and confirm our standing in the league of pariah states. The consequence of this will be devastating to Kenya’s standing in the international community as the Chief Mediator Kofi Annan warned recently. Kenya, with a president standing trial for the worst crimes known to humanity, may be isolated by the international community and even slapped with sanctions. Alternatively, if the two decide to cooperate with the ICC, Kenya will be the only country in the world with a sitting president and vice president away on trial at the ICC and who maybe imprisoned abroad. I am not quite sure either where that would leave us.
The last scenario, which I sincerely fear about, is if the ICC four (Uhuru, Ruto, radio broadcaster Joshua arap Sang and former Head of the Civil Service Francis Muthaura) are found innocent. That could mean the violence that we witnessed in 2007 was spontaneous and innate to our society as opposed to having been systematically planned or instigated. It would imply that the violence could not be blamed on any individual’s premeditated criminal devices but upon our collective national fialure, ethnic biases and socio-economic discontentment and rivalries. Why this is particularly worrying is because it means that the potential for violence in the 2013 and subsequent elections is real. It suggests that we are a people in a constant state of conflict as opposed to a tolerant and peace loving nation. The conditions for violent outbursts and reprisals are more real today than they were before. The same rifts still exist if they have not been exacerbated by the violence of 2007. Ethnic suspicions still linger; sharp partisan grudges persist, land disputes remain unresolved and poverty and inequity are still stark in our society. The proposition that the ICC four instigated the violence should be consoling because it relieves some responsibility for the 2007 election violence from the collective failure of the Kenya public. If the accused did not plan these homicidal plots, then it was a murderous rampage by Kenyans against Kenyans leaving in its wake 1133 dead, thousands injured and over 400,000 internally displaced.
South African judge and former head of the Kenya’s Independent Review Commission, Justice Johan Kriegler, pointed out poignantly (and hopefully not prophetically) that if we are not careful then the civil unrest in 2007 would look like a Christmas party in future elections. This is based on the presumption that the Kenyan people, and not the ICC four, bear the greatest responsibility for the violence. The nation did not just explode spontaneously. Either it was instigated or it is innate to the Kenyan electoral process and inherent in our ethnic relations. A proposition I firmly reject. The ICC will rule on this argument during the trials next year.
2013 will therefore be a referendum on the integrity of the heart and soul of the Kenyan people and not on the ICC process, contrary to these tribal kingpins’ proclamations. As the Chief Prosecutor for the ICC Fatou Bensouda who is this week visiting Kenya affirmed, the ICC process is a trial not against the people, ethnic groups or government of Kenya but against the alleged willful and criminal conduct of the four individuals during the 2007 elections. The burden of charges is upon them, not on the Kenyan people. In the court of public opinion, the overwhelmingly affirmative choice for a new constitutional order we made in 2010 and subsequent efforts to address the systematic issues that precipitated the 2007 electoral conflict gives credence to the premise that they must not be allowed to apportion blame to us. The Kenyan people have taken decisive steps to distance themselves from the 2007 debacle.
It is wrong to gloat on anyone’s misfortune but I must point out that they brought this harsh judgment and damnation upon themselves with little help from the Kenyan people, the international community or their political foes. An the Swahili adage says, ‘Nguruwe hujipika kwa mafuta yake mwenyewe’ (A pig fries in its own oil ). The most vocal of the ICC four, William Ruto championed for the ICC process with bold and miscalculated proclamations of ‘let’s not be vague, go to The Hague’. Whose fault is this? Certainly not the Kenyan people’s.
If two individuals creating division and bankrolling deception to hoodwink and bamboozle the public are polarizing our nation and compromising our great destiny imagine what we can collectively achieve if we dedicate ourselves individually. Two individuals who only four years ago were sworn political enemies who allegedly mobilized their respective ethnic communities the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin to attack and kill each other. It is mind boggling to say the least that Uhuru and Ruto are now allies. It is said that in politics, there no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only interests. The only interests here are to protect their political careers by taking advantage of their ethnic bases. Surely, Kenyans are not that gullible? We cannot afford to be quiet or to succumb to their spin. In 2013 rather than succumb to skepticism, the Kenyan people must be vigilant and proactively go out into our communities, preach peace and educate the masses on the stakes in these elections. We cannot afford to remain quiet when so much hangs on the balance. Do it for yourself; do it for your children and do it for the future of this our beloved country Kenya.
Nathan Wangusi is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, in the United States of America. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org