In the past two years, the world has experienced multiple elections with unexpected results. Political divisions, public disenchantment, economic weakness, lack of leadership, acute international instability and –of course- terrorist attacks are combining to drive international politics to a populist stance. Following the elections in USA, France, UK and the Netherlands, now it is time to see what Kenya decides.
However, as far as the Kenya elections are concerned, the populist movement is maybe the least of its problems. The election of the 8th of August is the sixth presidential election since the country of more than 45 million people embraced a multiparty democratic system in 1992. Whilst the families of the leading presidential candidates, Kenyatta and Odinga, have been competing powers since the independence of Kenya from Britain in 1963. The existing situation is turbulent. In the second weekend of July nine people were beheaded by suspected Al-Shabaab militants, the Internal Security Minister suddenly died, Odinga was hospitalised with food poisoning, and President Kenyatta appeared to accuse the judiciary of trying to delay general elections. The decisions made on 8th August will have a considerable ripple effect throughout Kenyan society for years to come.
The two leading candidates
The two leading presidential candidates come from two very important families, which have played a significant role in Kenya’s post-independence development.
The 56-year-old President Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of the country’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta. The Kenyatta’s are one of the wealthiest families in Kenya – according to Forbes magazine. During the years of his presidency, Uhuru Kenyatta moulded Kenya into becoming a useful ally of the Western countries against al-Shabaab. Fomenting its dominant position in regional diplomacy and politics.
Kenyatta however, is a decisive figure within Kenya. He has been indicted for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court, where he was accused of organising attacks on supporters of Raila Odinga after 2007 election. Moreover, Kenyatta has alienated some of his traditional base by declaring himself as the “digital president”. He believes that Kenya has to entrust politics with the next generation, while the older generation should “retire” from the political scenery.
The bone of contention, though, remains his perceived achievements as a President. Some Kenyans believe that their country has developed economically through is years in power, whilst there are also accusations of excessive borrowing that has strangled the economy. Although the government attests that Kenya has solved many of its problems, the UN and other agencies have evidence for the opposite.
The UN’s development agency (UNDP) reports that Kenya has the highest unemployment rate in the region, with four out of 10 Kenyans out of work. Moreover, according to the privately owned Daily Nation, “many of the candidates and parties bribe voters”. In support of this claim regarding corruption, Transparency International ranked Kenya at position 145 out of 176 corrupt countries, while the anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo has called the standing President’s administration “the most corrupt in Kenya’s history”. Kenyatta’s suppression of the right to expression has also left him out of favour with many Kenyans.
From the other side, Raila Odinga, the second of the candidates, is the most controversial figure in these elections. The 72-year-old is the son of the country’s first Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Infamously known for his part in the 1982 coup attempt against President Daniel Arap Moi for which he was detained; he is the longest serving- detainee in Kenya. He has also been the Member of Parliament of Kibera for 20 years and Prime Minister of Kenya, while he has run for the presidency four times including this year round.
For many people, he has been the supporter of democracy, who fights against dictatorship. In addition, he is the only person who has changed political allegiances so many times, as he has moved from Ford to Cord, after to Narc and now to Nasa.
The Al-Shabab issue and the two leading candidates
Another problematic aspect in these elections remains the very different approach of the two opponents regarding the al-Shabaab issue. The Somalian terrorist group, who are affiliated to Al-Qaeda, are responsible for various bloody attacks in Kenya, such as the attack at the Garissa University.
The two leading candidates have confused the electorate with their rhetoric surrounding al-Shabaab. This may lead to destructive consequences, as it can mislead the voters as regards to the existence of threat by the Al-Shabab.
On the one hand, Kenyatta has openly opposed them and has sent troops to participate in the AMISOM, a peacekeeping mission approved by the United Nations in Somalia. He thinks that the danger is imminent and it may be true if we take into consideration the last beheading of nine people as mentioned above. On the other hand, Odinga, who led the international lobbying for the intervention while he was Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013, believes that the military campaign was achieved long ago and hence the Kenyan troops should withdraw. It is worth mentioning that the standing president has branded the supporters of this view and Odinga himself as sympathisers of al-Shabab.
One angle that one should keep in mind is that there are people who allege that the Kenyan Defence Forces carries out extrajudicial killings, subsequently labelling them as the work of al-Shabab fighters. They also accuse the KDF of labelling petty crimes as al-Shabab attacks to get more resources and funding from the United States.
Rumours of disappearances, whether real or not, of suspected “al-Shabab fighters and supporters” are rampant, according to some civilians. Some of the missing were well-known political activists and opponents.
This distance of opinions, except for dividing the voters, gives the election international importance. However, the view of Odinga regarding this matter is not true as Al- Shabab continues to be a significant threat as an affiliated group to Al-Qaeda and arguably the Islamic State. The ignorance of this fact would make things difficult, as the anti-terrorist units will not be able to find and prosecute terrorists who are protected by the government itself either by purpose or without it.
Consequently, it is understandable that Kenyans can be brought before the danger of the strengthening of Al-Shabab. Nevertheless, there may also be the animus of causing unnecessary fear in order to serve other interests. Unfortunately, these are choices that cannot be successfully made by voters who are unaware of the actual situation or who are bribed.
If Kenya decides to re-elect Kenyatta… what will be next?
Another issue that makes the public opinion agitated is the events that took place after the elections of 2008. Will these events be repeated if Kenyatta is re-elected?
A quick look back then will show us that the events in the aftermath of the elections were devastating for the Kenyans, with casualties reaching 1,300 in total. The ICC accused Kenyatta of having committed crimes against humanity by organising a Kikuyu politico-religious group, the Mungiki, which participated in the post- election violence. Kenyatta denied any involvement with that group before the ICC. Although the charges were withdrawn, there are many who believe that he should be in jail for those crimes. However, an objection would be that Odinga should have been also indicted for the crimes committed after those elections, as he was the Kenya’s Prime Minister. On speaking with PGW, Frank, who currently lives in the UK and is the director of Mojatu Foundation, personally, argues that Odinga is as much guilty as Kenyatta is. According to him, the ICC indictment of Kenyatta is not fair if Odinga is getting away with it because Odinga as a Prime Minister had the responsibility to suppress the violence instead of being a complicit to it. “He should protect his citizens and not commit the same crimes against humanity as Kenyatta is alleged to have committed”, Frank added.
As this organisation is completely neutral regarding this matter, Valentine, who is also Kenyan, and is the CEO of the above- mentioned organisation does not share the same personal opinion as her colleague’s. As she stated that “I personally believe in Raila Odinga because the sitting president has been unable to fight corruption. In fact, corruption scandals increased in his term. I still feel uncomfortable with the way the ICC case ended with no one facing the law for the atrocities of the post-election violence. I strongly feel Kenya was failed and this promotes impunity”.
President Kenyatta is a supporter for Kenya’s withdrawal from the ICC. During Kenya’s Independence Day celebrations, he exclaimed: “Our founder fought bravely to have the right to make choices free of external influence. Today the world is full of wars driven by the desires of some to exploit the resources of independent nations”. It is obvious that if he is re- elected, this withdrawal may become a reality followed by the withdrawals of other African countries influenced by Kenya. Is this a desirable move living in a world full of international challenges and continuing instability?
As far as the other African countries are concerned, South Africa and Gambia have withdrawn from the ICC which was followed by a reversal in their decision to withdraw. The purpose of the International Criminal Court is to stop the arbitrariness of states and to eliminate the impunity of the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes that shock the international community. This Court is the first international court which provides for punishment for individual responsibility. As a treaty-based court, its founders do not have the intention to intervene in the countries’ sovereignty. This is obvious from its being complementary to national courts, according to its own statute. This means that the Court will deal only with cases which cannot be examined or will not be examined for any reason by national courts. How promising will it be multiple African countries withdraw, while they are the most vulnerable ones to suffer this kind of crimes?
Taking everything into consideration, it is clear that both candidates are of questionable integrity and competence. One could say that neither of them will be good enough as a President. The peace and democracy that the Kenyan population is asking for seems far away. Even though the al-Shabaab matter is very important, the problems with the economy with increased unemployment, corruption and of course the violation of human rights are much bigger. The weak judicial system along with the critical stance to the ICC deteriorates this situation further.
The voters must be very careful with their decision on the 8th of August, by balancing the advantages and disadvantages of each candidate. It remains for all to see what will happen with the NGOs and the United Nations being on call, as incidents of violence may not become avoided.
Lead Image: Kevin Ojiambo | Standard Media Kenya
Eirini Favgi is a Llm International Criminal Justice and Armed Conflict candidate and a contributing writer for PGW.