The world keenly watched Kenya’s elections on 4 March 2013 for a variety of reasons. The polls were a litmus test of Kenya’s constitutional reform process, and were also the first following the disputed 2007-8 presidential elections and the subsequent violence in which 1 200 people died and many more were displaced. Questions were also asked about whether presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, William Samoei Ruto, would be elected given that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has charged them with crimes against humanity that characterised the 2007– 08 post-election violence. The elections, which were applauded for being the most peaceful in the country’s history, delivered a president-elect and a vice indicted by the ICC.
Anton du Plessis, acting executive director of the ISS, chaired the seminar at which Dr Westen Shilaho (Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Johannesburg), Andrews Atta-Asamoah (senior researcher at the ISS) and Ottilia Anna Maunganidze (researcher at the ISS) discussed the election outcome, key challenges for Kenya’s next president and the implications for international criminal justice.
It was noted that while Kenya’s constitutional reforms have been largely successful, the country is not out of the woods yet. Although the elections were peaceful, the outcome of the court challenge of the results and the eventual ruling could possibly trigger violence. This calls for circumspection from both the president-elect and Prime Minister Raila Odinga in their pronouncements, as well as respect for the outcome of the court proceedings. While most Kenyans believe that those responsible for the 2007–08 violence should be held accountable, the two candidates facing charges at the ICC (though they remain innocent until proven guilty) managed to secure a majority of votes in an election that had an unprecedented high voter turnout.
It was argued that the election results reflect the major role that ethnicity still plays in Kenyan elections. Since the 2007–08 post-election violence, Kenyan politicians have continued with the ‘cynical manipulation’ of ethnicity. Given the ethnic arithmetic, it is almost impossible for a candidate from one of the smaller ethnic groups to be elected president.
In contrast to the 2007 elections, this year’s elections were relatively peaceful. However, the election results were contested. For the moment, the stability of Kenya depends on the political maturity of Raila Odinga in preventing his supporters from taking to the streets in the event that the Supreme Court rules against his application. Should the Supreme Court uphold the outcome, the challenge will lie in uniting and building the nation, bearing in mind that Odinga is likely to play a significant role in the country’s politics despite his loss at the polls.
In discussing the significance of international criminal justice to the Kenyan elections, the importance of domestic prosecutions was highlighted. These are integral to sustainable international criminal justice. To date, Kenya has shown a commitment to the ICC and international criminal justice in a variety of ways. However, considering that the president-elect is accused by the ICC of complicity in international crimes, the situation may become complicated once he assumes office. It will be difficult for a president to stand trial in The Hague while executing the duties his office requires. Further, it remains to be seen what the developments in Kenya will mean for the country’s long-term commitment to international justice and whether the Kenya and the president-elect will continue to cooperate with the ICC.
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