Uhuru Kenyatta Wins 2013 Presidential Election: Triumph or Travesty?

18 Mar
President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta

On March 4, 2013 registered Kenyans turned out in record numbers to vote for the president of their country as well as senators, members of parliament, regional governors, and county representatives. Although the polls were scheduled to close at sunset they remained open until all of the people standing in line had been served. If there was any violence associated with the elections on that day it was not large or loud enough to come to the attention of the local and foreign press that hovered over the polls making sure that there was no renewal of the violence that took the lives of over one thousand people and caused extensive damage to homes and businesses all over Kenya before, during, and after the Presidential elections of January of 2007. I was there in Nairobi during the summer of 2007 and remember the intermittent shooting on the streets between the police and masked gunmen as well as the unexpected violence around the city.

The election of 2007 was a nasty affair that ended with Raila Odinga claiming he had been cheated out of the Presidency while the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki’s contended that it was he who had actually won the election and would continue to remain in office as President of Kenya. After months of discussions between the two men and officials in their political parties as well as the involvement of the United Nations in these negotiations, the bloodshed and turmoil continued until a fragile truce was established by the creation a new position for Odinga. And in February 2008, he assumed office as the Prime Minister of Kenya agreeing to run the government along with Mwai Kibaki.

But much has changed for the better in five years. The country implemented a new constitution two years ago that dissolved the office of Prime Minister in this next election and created an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission which was given sole responsibility to implement election rules, polling procedures, and in tallying the official results of the election. The Commissioners appointed an estimated 23,000 official election observers prior to the election who were charged with making sure that nothing illegal transpired at individual polling centers around the country. Meanwhile the Kenyan Media Council implemented rulings and codes of oral conduct that ensured that all local radio stations no longer played songs or delivered speeches inciting tribal groups to violence.

This time around President Mwai Kibaki had chosen not to run in the next election scheduled for January of 2013, but changed to the beginning of March 2013 to create a break in the voting routine. His Prime Minister, Raila Odinga 68, did accept the challenge and was declared one of the front-runners in the serious contest for President of Kenya against Uhuru Kenyatta, 51 son of the first President of Kenya. Anyone who remembers the history of Kenya has heard the last names Kenyatta and Odinga stated in the same breath before this. Jomo Kenyatta began as prime minister of the newly independent Kenya in December of 1963 but by June 1964 when it was re-established as a republic he was automatically named president without having to run in a country-wide election.

His Vice President at the time was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, father to Raila Odinga. He was a Chief of the Luo tribe and an outspoken leader in one of the political organizations that helped liberate Kenya from the British. As Jomo Kenyatta gradually turned Kenya into a one- party system and took control of the country the older Odinga resigned his appointment as Vice President in 1966 and spent the rest of his life in politics opposing Kenyatta’s rule as President. And this time around it is no different. Although tentatively named President of Kenya after the 2013 elections Uhuru Kenyatta should be very careful about how he goes about exerting his authority and must make sure to give Raila Odinga an important role in his new government. If not, like his father before him, Raila will become a strong leader for the opposition party and a thorn in Kenyatta’s side.

Old grudges die hard especially in Kenya. Some of the oldest animosities have lived on since the very beginning of this East African nation. Over time Jomo Kenyatta placed friends and relatives from his Kikuyu tribe in powerful positions within Nairobi and throughout regional offices around Kenya. Other tribes remember this and attribute it to how the Kikuyu came to take over positions of authority in the first place and have always resented it.

Kenyatta also dealt with criticism harshly and has been suspected of complicity in the suspicious deaths of five men who opposed his government or his political agenda; Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, J.M. Kariuki, Argwings-Kodhe, and Ronald Ngala, all of whom died suddenly in some type of accident. Joma Kenyatta died a very wealthy man and his son is now one of the wealthiest men in all of Kenya as well as one of the most powerful land owners. Jomo Kenyatta was not a chief or the son of a chief even though he repeatedly married wives of the daughters of tribal chieftains some say to enhance his station in life. He did not bring this wealth with him but amassed it all in his role as President of Kenya. Stories still circulate about how he resettled weaker tribes in order to claim their village lands in the fertile Rift Valley.

Riala Odinga was raised as a prince, the son of a Luo chieftain whose father had a much different vision for the future of Kenya and who pushed his son to right the wrongs that had been perpetrated against him by a government ruled by Jomo Kenyatta. But Raila Odinga is a member of the Luo tribe whose primary base of power is all the way on the other side of Kenya in the city of Kisumu located in western Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria. It is not in the Kikuyu- controlled city of Nairobi, the capital and financial center of Kenya. And this is what lies at the heart of the violence displayed by many of the smaller tribes against the larger ones such as the Kikuyu. It is as much a testament to their level of frustration with the treatment they have received at the hands of the Kikuyu since Jomo Kenyatta came into power in 1964 and their inability to out-vote the larger tribes and in doing so improve the lives of their own ethnic communities.

There have only been two sitting Presidents of Kenya between Jomo Kenyatta’s tenure and the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and both of them were closely connected to the Kenyatta legacy. Daniel arap Moi succeeded Kenyatta and was Jomo’s man. He had always planned for Uhuru to assume the Presidency of Kenya after regulations stipulated in the constitution forced him to step down. Although Uhuru did run in the next election he lost to Mwai Kibaki, the third President of Kenya but Kibaki was his godfather who some said thought the young Uhuru too inexperienced to run the county and lead the Kikuyu political party so stepped in until he felt that Uhuru was prepared to lead the country. And Uhuru was given a great deal of leadership experience in Kibaki’s government. He held positions as a Member of Parliament, Minster of Local Government, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Finance a critical position for a President to assume and has been credited with doing an admirable job in each one of them.

Who really knows what the citizens of Kenya want anyway? Out of a current population of close to 40 million Kenya has only over a little more than 14 million registered voters; that means that only 35% of the people get to elect the officials who govern the country and make the rules. And in this election not all 14 million eligible voters participated in the process. In this 2013 election it was worse. Even Uhuru Kenyatta was forced to admit this uninspiring conclusion in his Inauguration Address. Only 12.3 million votes were cast in this last election a little over 43.28% of them were cast for Raila Odinga and 50.07% were cast for Uhuru Kenyatta. That meant that Uhuru Kenyatta was elected President by only the slimmest of margins- 8,100 votes. The winner had to collect over 50% of the total votes to avoid a second run-off election in April.

Although Mr. Kenyatta  was officially inaugurated as President of Kenya this Saturday, March 16th, 2013 and gave a humble and moving inauguration speech, Mr. Odinga has already filed a Supreme Court appeal against Uhuru Kenyatta’s narrow victory in the March 4th elections and charged that he can prove that certain electoral officials “willingly manipulated” the election results. And as if a portent of things to come one hundred Odinga supporters gathered outside of the Supreme Court building standing vigil as he presented this appeal. After asking the group to disperse, city police fired tear gas into a crowd once they refused. When asked by the KTN- TV about his appeal Odinga warned them to expect a new election with no “monkey- business” involved.  But this time around all of the international observers selected to monitor the 2013 election stated that it was “free, fair, and credible.” They found no fault with the electoral commission and testified that its members conducted all meetings and procedures in “an open and transparent manner.”

This literal vote of voter confidence does not show that the majority of Kenyans see Uhuru as the man they want to lead their country. Out of the forty-two different tribes currently recognized in the country of Kenya as of 2013 some candidates have always had a distinct advantage.  Votes have always been cast according to tribal commitments by the members of most of the tribes. If you belong to a specific tribe you vote the way your leaders tell you to or else. Many say that Kenyatta chose William Ruto as his running mate as Vice President because Ruto could provide Kenyatta with the powerful Kalenjin vote which is usually cast as one voting block and could increase  his chances of winning considerably on election day.

But what will happen now as the new President and Vice president face charges of crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court ( ICC) located all the way in the Hague, Netherlands? Especially since the man who made the indictment has left his position in the ICC. Will they agree to attend the trial or will they refuse? Both men used their “victimization” to their best advantage over the course of these elections and introduced terms such a “foreign interference in Kenyan affairs” and “world bias against African nations”in their speeches around the country and many Kenyans agreed with them.  Will the United Nations make them attend this trial?

Kenya has the largest economy in East Africa and provides a crucial business market for the rest of Sub-Saharan African. It is the one country that ensures peace in a region that includes the highly unstable and violent Somalia and the politically unpredictable newly-formed governments of Khartoum and South Sudan. Kenya has always been a major ally of the United States especially in the war against Al-Qaida and other Islamist militants in Somalia. It is the soldiers of the highly efficient Kenyan army that currently man postings in Somalia and in the Sudan. They are a vital peacekeeping force and an important member of the African Union. Will the United States and Britian risk alienating Kenya by demanding that the Presdent and the Vice President  of the country stand trial?

But the essential question remains: Are they guilty of these charges?

The answer to that question will have to wait until my next posting.

Kat Nickerson                     Kingston. R I                 USA

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