How the ICC helped, rather than hindered, the Uhuru-Ruto election

Sunday March 10 2013



Rasna Warah

Rasna Warah 

By RASNA WARAH

A friend sardonically called it “Kenya’s f*** you moment” – a protest vote, not just against the International Criminal Court, but the international community that had threatened sanctions and other “consequences” if people indicted by the ICC were elected.

It was a peaceful, albeit tightly-contested, election. Humour was in ample supply as Kenyans tried to ease the nail-biting tension during the prolonged vote-counting period.

When the Uhuru Kenyatta-led Jubilee Alliance was overwhelmingly rejected in Taita Taveta, a satirical Facebook page joked that this was hardly surprising as “most tenants hate their landlords”, alluding to the thousands of acres of land owned by the Kenyatta family in the region. (Ironically, one of Kenyatta’s campaign promises was to bring about land reforms.)

In the end, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared that slightly more than half of Kenyans had voted for Kenyatta as president; both he and his running-mate William Ruto face trials at the ICC.

There were other surprising victories, such as that of Gideon Mbuvi Sonko, who was voted as Senator for Nairobi County, and Peris Tobiko, a Maasai woman who emerged the winner in Kajiado East.

Their triumphs will no doubt change the class and gender equation in Kenyan politics.

And who would have thought that an unknown such as Mohamed Abduba Dida would trounce the firebrand politician Martha Karua and activist-lawyer Paul Muite in the presidential race?

Was there something about the Kenyan electorate that political pundits failed to decipher?

Sceptics such as myself who saw a bleak future under a Kenyatta presidency may have misjudged the mood of a large segment of Kenyan society that views the ICC process as unfair and discriminatory.

Were those who voted for the Kenyatta-Ruto duo expressing a long-suppressed desire to, in the words of one analyst, “take control of their national narrative”?

Kenyatta’s victory could be attributed to how he branded himself and his campaign. He made it clear that this election was “a referendum against the ICC”.

It is highly likely that if there was no ICC case against him, he might not have run for president. It is also possible that his appeal grew because – not in spite – of the fact that he was indicted by the ICC.

Despite his regal upbringing, he also managed to market himself as a revolutionary who was defying imperialists who sought to undermine Kenya’s sovereignty.

This rhetoric resonated with a large number of Kenyans, but alarmed both the international community and some sections of the Kenyan intelligentsia whose cerebral analyses of Kenyans’ allegiances favoured Mr Raila Odinga.

Kenyatta’s alliance with Ruto is perceived as an act of much-needed reconciliation between the warring Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups.

The alliance garnered him not just the votes of a numerically large community, but also assured both communities that they would not see a repeat of the 2007/8 post-election violence that took place in the Rift Valley. The move was a stroke of genius and a major psychological coup.

However, there are still serious unresolved questions regarding why the Sh6 billion biometric voter registration system – which was supposed to revolutionise voting – collapsed. Fears that the digital system might have been tampered with grew when the IEBC admitted that software it had created had erroneously multiplied the number of rejected votes. The Commission clearly has a lot of explaining to do.

There is also the issue of too many spoiled votes, which raises the question of whether voters had been adequately educated about the voting process, including how to use colour-coded ballot boxes.

Some suggest that many of the spoiled votes could be due to colour-blindness, which apparently affects four per cent of African men.

Kenya may still not be out of the woods yet as various candidates, parties and civil society organisations contest the election results through the courts. It is also still too early to know whether the international community will penalise the country and its people for electing ICC indictees. Some countries may place their own national interests above their international obligations to the ICC.

However, one thing is certain – Kenya will never be the same again.

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