- African politics - elections - Ethnic conflict - Kenya - unrest
ICC-charged Kenyatta cleared to run in Kenya poll
Kenya’s High Court cleared the way for Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential bid on Friday by refusing to rule in a case seeking to bar the ICC-charged politician from running for next month’s poll.
Four days after Kenyan presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta staunchly defended his candidacy in a televised public debate, the country’s High Court cleared the way for Kenyatta’s presidential bid - effectively dismissing arguments that his looming trial on charges of crimes against humanity disqualified him.
Dismissing the case against Kenyatta on Friday, the High Court maintained that it did not have jurisdiction over the petitions filed by various legal and human rights groups.
The court also cleared the way for Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, to stand in the March 4 presidential and general elections.
Kenyatta and Ruto are among four Kenyans facing an ICC (International Criminal Court) trial for their alleged roles in orchestrating murder, rape and violence after the 2007 polls. More than 1,200 people were killed and over 600,000 displaced in the inter-tribal violence.
A former finance minister and son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru Kenyatta is a leading candidate, with polls showing him running a close second to Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the presidential race.
Responding to the ruling, Kenyatta said it "affirmed what we have always held; (that) the people of Kenya -- and they alone -- have the power and the mandate to determine the leadership of this great country."
For his part, Odinga said he welcomed the ruling to allow "my main competitor.. to face me in a free and fair election whose outcome is determined by the people of Kenya."
Putting the focus back on the elections
Reading the decision on Friday, Justice Mbogholi Msagha said the court lacked the authority to decide who is eligible to run for president and that it was a matter for the Supreme Court to decide.
The ICC case has dominated the 2013 election campaign, putting Kenyatta on the defensive during Monday’s first-ever presidential debate.
Amid widespread fears that the March 4 elections would spark another deadly round of post-electoral violence, political platforms and promises have taken a backseat during the 2013 campaign.
“This matter should have been dealt with a long time ago and not days before the elections,” said Abdullahi Halakhe, a seasoned Horn of Africa analyst, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “Now that the court has ruled, it should put the focus back on the elections. If the court had blocked Kenyatta, it would have gone through a protracted appeals process, which would attract attention away from the elections.”
But at least one of the groups seeking to block Kenyatta's bid said it would take the case to the Supreme Court.
"For sure, we are ready for Supreme Court engagement," Ndung'u Wainaina, executive director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict, told Reuters. "Uhuru Kenyatta is not free to seek and hold public or state office."
A ‘calibrated narrative’ of international interference
The ICC case has put the international community in a delicate position over an issue that has polarised one of East Africa’s most stable nations and a key Western ally.
On Monday, Kenyan Foreign Minister Sam Ongeri summoned EU ambassadors to relay his displeasure over statements by some European governments that they would have only essential contact with Kenya’s top leadership if Kenyatta wins the presidency.
Ongeri is a key Kenyatta ally.
In the lead-up to the March 4 poll, Kenyatta’s campaign has effectively cast international responses to the ICC case as a sign of Western interference in Kenya’s domestic affairs.
Last week, the top US diplomat for Africa warned Kenyans of the “consequences” of their “choices”. Although US diplomat Johnnie Carson did not name a candidate, his statement was widely viewed as a warning that a Kenyatta victory would affect the country’s relations with the international community.
Reacting to the statement, Kenyatta’s spokesman Munyori Buku said, "On March 4 the people of Kenya will go to the polls to make their choice, Johnnie Carson not withstanding - unless of course Johnnie Carson is campaigning for someone."
“I think the international community should be extremely circumspect because the ICC narrative is being carefully calibrated and choreographed,” said Halakhe. “Anyone making statements attacking Uhuru Kenyatta and William Rutto are viewed as supporters of Raila Odinga.”
Tribal politics in a volatile mix
Both Kenyatta and Odinga draw their support from their tribal bases and alliances with other tribal groups.
Kenyatta is a Kikuyu - the majority tribe that has dominated Kenyan politics since independence. Odinga, on the other hand, belongs to the Luo tribe, which has historically felt deprived of its share of Kenya’s political pie.
Five years ago, violence gripped this East African nation after current President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was declared winner of the 2007 presidential election. His rival, Odinga, alleged electoral manipulation triggering ethnic clashes.
In a country where leaders have long exploited tribal loyalty to advance their political goals, analysts warn that the risk of ethnic violence following the March 4 poll is high.
In this combustible mix of tribal politics, the ICC case threatens to reinforce ethnic competition in a campaign that has focused on tribal alliances and voting blocs while paying scant attention to electoral platforms and promises.
“With the ICC case, the two candidates [Kenyatta and Ruto] are being portrayed as victims, while the victims of last elections’ violence, the people displaced, living in IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps are all forgotten,” said Halakhe.