If Kenya’s presidential debates were meant to encourage voting along policy or ideological lines instead of ethnic allegiances, they failed, the Daily Maverick’s Greg Nicholson writes for the Guardian Africa Network.
“Uhuru Kenyatta (right), Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth, James ole Kiyiapi, Mohamed Abduba Dida and Paul Muite were set to debate the economy, foreign policy and land issues,” he notes:
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan warned at the weekend that electoral violence and ethnic rivalries could once again undermine the elections. Despite a new constitution and improved role of the judiciary, Annan sent a clear warning to the presidential hopefuls, some of whom arrived at the debate in helicopters. “Intimidation, electoral violence and ethnic rivalry have the potential to undermine and jeopardise the whole process,” Annan said in a statement. “And that is why recent violent events and increasing tensions in the run-up to the elections are deeply worrying. Kenya cannot risk a return to those dark days.”
“[But] if the presidential debates were meant to offer Kenyans a chance to evaluate candidates so they could vote along policy or ideological lines instead of ethnic allegiances, they failed.”
The son of the country’s first president and reputedly Kenya’s wealthiest individual, Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court in relation to his complicity in the 2007-08 post-election violence, prompting international actors to express concern at his likely election.
“Choices have consequences,” US assistant secretary of African affairs Johnnie Carson said earlier this month:
Analysts said his comment was a deliberate attempt to row back from a statement by Barack Obama, who said this month the US was a strong friend to Kenya and voters were free to choose their leader. Mr Kenyatta’s team interpreted the US president’s comments as being supportive of them.
A western diplomat said if Kenya refused to co-operate with an ICC arrest warrant for Mr Kenyatta then all financial transactions through government could be submitted to checks to determine that beneficiaries were not indictees.
“It’s not even a threat, it’s what we are bound to as our legal obligation,” the diplomat said.
A well-informed political observer said: “The ICC is the making of Uhuru as president – without the ICC, Uhuru is a very anaemic personality.”
“They’re already treating the ICC like they treat our courts, which is delay delay delay,” said Maina Kiai (left), formerly head of the National Human Rights Commission that investigated much of the violence after the 2007 election.
He added: “There is a price to pay for any decision that favors alleged … criminals.”
A violent breakdown of political order in Kenya “would have major economic consequences in the region and jeopardize other US objectives,” according to Joel Barkan, a Kenya expert, author of a recent report for the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Two major US foreign policy goals in the region – preventing Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and nurturing peace between Sudan and South Sudan – could be compromised,” wrote Barkan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.