By Uche Igwe
It seems that the last has not been heard about the implications of the recent confirmation of charges against three prominent Kenyan politicians and a journalist at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. Two of those involved have just stepped aside from their roles in the Grand Coalition Government. The leader of Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta stepped aside from his role as Finance Minister, while Francis Mathaura stepped aside from his role as the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet. However, Mr. Kenyatta still retains his role as Deputy Prime Minister and may be vying for presidency under Party of National Unity (PNU) Alliance party. There was intense public pressure on both leaders to step aside when the charges against them were confirmed.
It is not clear at the moment the sort of repercussions the expected trial may have on Mr. Kenyatta’s political ambition and that of the former Education Minister Mr. William Ruto, who is also among those charged. In the last few days there have been a lot of political permutations and engineering, whose result remains unpredictable. Pundits have continuously cautioned both politicians and citizens to do everything not to allow the situation from derailing to conflict.
Some observers believe that the fact that charges have been confirmed against the Uhuru and Ruto may make them ineligible for the elections especially with reference to the limits set by Chapter six of the new constitution on leadership and integrity. The Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Mutula Kilonzo, made reference to this in a recent statement. However both Uhuru and Ruto have appealed the confirmation of charges as they continued to maintain their innocence. They have even vowed to go ahead with their campaigns.
Kenya’s Attorney General Prof. Githu Muigai argued that nothing could be done to them until the pending appeal is determined. This view is also held by the Constitution Implementation Commission whose chairperson Charles Nyachae recently stated that Article 99 of the constitution which sets out conditions under which a candidate can be disqualified does not bar Uhuru and Ruto from seeking Kenya’s highest political office.
Divisive politics have been a reoccurring decimal in Kenya. The Kikuyus and Kalenjins, for instance, have a long history of intertribal antagonism. They were also the two main tribes that were involved in the post-election violence in 2007 especially within the Rift Valley Province. However, political expediency at this time may force them to quickly consider forgiving each other and realign towards a common goal. Mr Kenyatta is the leader of the Kikuyus and Mr Ruto is also seen as the de-facto leader of the Kalenjins. As it stands now in their current travails, both men may decide to forget their past and team up against Prime Minster Raila Odinga, who is seen by many as a possible beneficiary of the ICC trials. Another relevant factor is Mr. Mathaura who stepped aside as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Public Service and who is a Meru-born top bureaucrat. His ethnic group is considered as an ancestral cousin of the Kikuyus. Going by that relationship, they could be seen as possible allies during the next political season.
One other interesting scenario is the possible emergence of a dark horse in the name of Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, the current Vice President. Though he is free of any political baggage in theory, many Kenyans see him as a political opportunist having been referred to by his opponents as ‘watermelon’ during the campaigns for the constitution. Mr. Kalonzo, who is from the Kamba tribe (which constitutes about 11. 42 percent of the population), ran for the presidency in 2007 against Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. It is believed that his insistence in participating in the elections and the 879,899 votes he scored contributed greatly in denying both front-runners an outright win. Supporters of PM Raila Odinga from the Luo ethnic group consider him a political traitor – a perception shared by many Kenyans and which may become the biggest impediment to his possible emergence as president. Despite all these, it will be politically perilous to dismiss a man of his statue and political experience.
A conservative segment within the Kenyan political elite is sceptical about the ICC and perceive it as a tool that Western powers want to use to pave way for their preferred candidate. Some of them consider PM Raila Odinga a ‘puppet of the West’ and even point to the fact that US President Barack Obama’s ancestral origin is traceable to the Luo ethnic group and that may be a reason for the implicit support of the Obama administration for Raila Odinga’s candidature. They believe that the four Kenyan suspects could have gotten a fairer trial back home where recent reforms seem to have produced an improved and seemingly impartial judiciary.
The biggest challenge before all the contenders is to eschew divisive politics laced with hateful utterances, which can threaten the fragile peace in the country. Prime Minister Raila Odinga should take the lead through campaigns of forgiveness, reconciliation, inter-ethnic harmony, unity and amity. Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto must learn to exercise verbal restraint during their defence at The Hague and back home. There is a need to watch out for early warning signals either among the dominant Luo communities in the Kibera slum or among the mesh of Kalenjin, Maasai and Kikuyu communities in the Rift Valley Province. The time has come for forward-looking politics of accountability and inclusion; one that is less abrasive and shuns judgemental ethnicity and impunity. The emergence of such a political class in Kenya will galvanise the confidence of ordinary Kenyans in their political leadership, rekindle patriotism and accelerate the country towards genuine healing that will lead to a departure from the dysfunctional politics of the past . The world is watching.
Uche Igwe is a governance expert