John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Will Uhuru Kenyatta Win the Kenyan Presidential Election?

by John Campbell
March 7, 2013

An official from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) inspects ballot boxes at Kasarani gymnasium in Kenya's capital Nairobi March 5, 2013. (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters) An official from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) inspects ballot boxes at Kasarani gymnasium in Kenya's capital Nairobi March 5, 2013. (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters)

Kenyan elections took place on March 4. While some technical aspects of it were ragged, especially the transmission and consolidation of vote counts, voting appears to have been largely peaceful. Thus far, there has been little questioning of the credibility of the process.

If neither candidate wins fifty percent plus one of the ballots cast, there will be a run-off in April. Polling results before election day showed the two presidential candidates very close, but with Kenyatta developing some forward momentum. Based on incomplete results, Uhuru Kenyatta is leading Raila Odinga. His followers are looking for a first round victory. Kenyatta seemed increasingly confident that he could avoid a runoff. However, on March 5 the elections commission determined that the hundreds of thousands of spoiled ballots would be added to the ballot total. This makes a runoff more likely. Kenyatta appears worried and is lashing out, accusing the British High Commission (embassy) of meddling in Kenyan internal affairs.

As of now, it looks like voters primarily supported presidential candidates on the basis of ethnic alliances–not issues. It remains to be seen whether the losers will accept the election results and whether there is one round or two. Ethnic divisions run deep. In the run-up to the elections, there was ethnic identity campaigning and some hate speech that does not bode well. If there is a second round, we can anticipate a second wave of ethnic alliances, with no guarantee that the first round front runner will prevail.

Presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice presidential running mate William Ruto are under indictment by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for their involvement in ethnic violence following the 2007 elections. They say they are innocent of the charges, and they have pledged to cooperate with the ICC and to go to The Hague to stand trial. Their trial, originally scheduled for April, has been postponed to August. Nevertheless, if they are elected president and vice president of Kenya, it remains to be seen how the ICC dimension will play out.

Many Kenyans want to see justice done following the violence of 2007. However in 2010, the Kenyan parliament passed a resolution, only advisory, urging that the government withdraw Kenya from the jurisdiction of the ICC. If Kenyatta and Ruto prevail in the elections, this might be an option. If, however, they lose, a Kenyan government might well be indifferent to their ICC fate. Hence, the future relationship of Kenya to the ICC could also be determined by the outcome of the elections.

Kenyans also voted for governors and senators of forty-six newly created counties, part of a restructuring of the state mandated by the new constitution, which was designed in part to preclude a recurrence of the prolonged and bloody crisis that followed the elections in 2007. Nevertheless, the “elephant in the living room” remains whether the 2013 elections will be followed by violence similar in magnitude to that of 2007. The constitutional restructuring of the state has reduced the power of the presidency and may mitigate Kenya’s traditional winner-take-all political culture. That in turn may encourage less violence. Kenyans genuinely also seem to want to avoid ethnic violence, having witnessed its destructive power in 2007. Such factors may reduce the risks.

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