The 2013 Kenyan Elections: Old or New Politics?

Political Rally for the Orange Democratic Movement Candidate, Raila Odinga, in 2007
Image via Christian Science 
As the previous two posts have illustrated, Kenyan politics has had a significant ethnic compenent, particularly because of economic inequality and the issue of land. Yet change might be on its way with this upcoming election now that President Kibaki has served the maximum two terms.

Today’s post is the third installment of these week’s series on the history of Kenyan politics, the upcoming election, and the potential impetuses for political change. Today I focus the constitution reform that took place in 2010 and what it means for politics. I will then highlight the candidates and summarized the political landscape for the for the upcoming 2013 election.

Constitution Reform
After the 2008 election violence in Kenya, incumbant Mwai Kibaki and leader of the opposition party, Raila Odinga created a coalition government where Kibaki would serve as President and Odinga would serve as Prime Minister. This coalition, although temporarily successful(?), only served as a band-aid to a very deep wound that would need another solution, such as constitution reform.

On August 2nd, 2010 Kenyans took to the polls to endorse a new constitution. There was much debate over which system of government Kenya should adopt. Odinga supported a more federalist system, while others wanted a more provincial-level government that coordinates with the central government.

Support for Constitution Referendum by Province
Graph via The Economist
The referendum results decided that Kenya would retain its Presidential system, but with “stronger checks and balances, plus a measure of devolution to 47 new counties”. The support for the referendum was large and was passed by a margin of two to one. But the graph to the left illustrates the different opinions held by the various ethnic groups, showing great polarization across ethnic lines.

For the upcoming election, instead of voting on a single candidate like what was done in the past, Kenyans will this time vote similar to the U.S. for both a Presidential candidate and their running mate (Deputy President).

The new constitution has tried to settle the land issues and has an entire section (Chapter 5 Part 1) dedicated to the issue of land. Furthermore, in Chapter 4 of the constitution which includes the Billof Rights, includes the protection of the right to own property.

Chapter 5 of the constitution ensures that Kenyan territory belongs to “Kenya collectively as a nation, as communities and as individuals”, not that certain areas belong to certain ethnic groups.

However, community land is classified as land that includes “ancestral lands and lands traditionally occupied by hunter-gatherer communities”, which might well be an area where politicians may find loopholes to renegotiate landownership in favor of their ethnic group given the plasticity of ethnic identity throughout history.

Until there are no more vague laws such as this and until the land disputes will be settled once and for all, ethnicity is likely to play a role in politics. However, given the increasing urbanization of Kenya’s population, the issue of land is likely to diminish since it will become less pertinent to many Kenyans. This will help the process of depoliticization of ethnicity. 

Who’s Who in the 2013 Election?
Kenyan presidential elections are always an interesting affair, but when you throw in two candidates who are soon facing trial at the International Criminal Court, things get even more interesting and will surely make the March 2013 election one to keep an eye on.

There are over 15 presidential candidates who have either confirmed their candidacy or who are suspected to run by political analysts. Here is a brief breakdown of some of the contenders:

Uhuru Kenyatta (Deputy Prime Minister): Son of Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta and part of the Kikuyu ethnic majority. Kenyatta ran in the 2007 election but later withdrew and announced his support for President Kibaki. Kenyatta is one of the candidates facing ICC prosecution – with five charges of crimes against humanity for his alleged participation in the 2008 post-election violence that killed 1,500 and displaced over 300,000.
Uhuru Kenyatta
Image via International Business Times
His eligibility for running for president is yet to be determined by the ICC. Kenyatta’s trial starts in mid-April and the presidential election takes place in March. The case to determine Kenyatta’s eligibility has been postponed to September 27.

Kenyatta announced he would be running for president on the ticket of the National Alliance Party, and he claims to be working with the masses instead of the rich and that he refuses to be a part of the politics of the past. 

However, the ‘past’ of the 2008 violence is not too long ago, so the fact of whether or not Kenyatta will be effective enough to rebrand himself (and not just his new party) will remain crucial if he wants to win the election.

Kenyatta is expecting the full support of current president Kibaki in his presidential bid since Kenyatta forfeited his candidacy in 2007 for Kibaki. Kibaki is now stuck in a difficult position since backing up Kenyatta would be the appropriate action to take, but at the same time, given Kenyatta’s ICC indictment, it might well lead to an uneasy situation. Only time will tell how the ICC indictment will affect Kenyatta’s candidacy.

William Ruto (MP for Eldoret North Constituency): Ruto is the other presidential candidate facing ICC charges. His eligibility to bid for presidency will also be determined by an ICC trial like Kenyatta. In attempts to defer ICC charges, Ruto, Kenta, and Vice President Musyoka founded the ‘KKK’ alliance (referring to the ethnic groups they represent: Kalenjin, Kikuyu, and Kamba), which later formed into the G7 (Group of 7). The reason to create this alliance was for serve as a bulwark against their common opposition: Raila Odinga. As explained by Al Jazeera: “The alliances in their shifting formations are aimed at crafting an ethnic vehicle capable of capturing the state”.
William Ruto
Image via The Guardian

Despite its objective in serving as strong opposition to Odinga, the G7 alliance is beginning to fall into disarray due to distrust among members. All members seem to be suspicious of each other - Kenyatta and Mudavadi particularly, since both are dependent on substantial votes from central Kenya. 

Both Ruto and Kenyatta’s political fate hangs in the balance of the ICC. And in response to Hillary Clinton’s statement to the Kenyan government that Kenyatta and Ruto should not run given their ICC indictments, Rutu said: “She has also hinted that America will impose sanctions on us if we participate in the polls and win. This is dictatorship”.

Raila Odinga (Prime Minister): Raila Odinga formed a coalition government with President Kibaki after the disputed 2007 election. Before the constitution referendum, Odinga expressed his preference to a more federalist, devolved system of government “because it offers [him] a better chance at power”.

Odinga poses a large threat in the upcoming elections, which is precisely why Kenyatta, Ruto et al created the G7. The 2007 election results are proof in themselves that Odinga has a wide supporter base.

Odinga is Luo, the third most populous ethnic group in Kenya, yet he manages to win the support of many non-Luos. According to the Economist:
 Mr Odinga has argued that, because he bangs a more egalitarian drum, he can woo voters from across the tribal spectrum, even including poorer Kikuyus. In the latest election he managed to attract many non-Luos.

This election will determine once and for all whether Odinga has enough cross-ethnic support, because if he does, then he will easily win. Furthermore, who votes for Odinga (outside of Luos) will illustrate whether Kenyans are beginning to vote outside of ethnic lines.

Musalia Mudavadi (Deputy Prime Minister): Part of the disintegrating G7 alliance, recently split from his original Orange Movement party - which was partly blamed for the 2008 violence - and aligned himself with the new United Democratic Front party.

Mudavadi stands for “creating a fundamental restructuring of Kenya’s political economy, to make it relevant to the needs of all 40 million of us” instead of focusing on politics based on personalities and ethnicity. According to the official UDF website:
[Mudavadi] said Kenyans must remain united and avoid being divided along tribal lines by opportunistic political leaders ahead of the general elections to create ethnic tension with the potential of violence similar to the one of 2007. ‘I will engage to my brothers William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta and others to preach peace and conduct civil campaigns because the decision on who will be the president will be made by Kenyans based on our policies. We should never allow political differences to lead to conflict among our people’.

Whether or not these are empty words and promises or a genuine desire to create a new political environment has yet to be determined. It would seem in Mudavadi’s best interest to want to reach across ethnic lines because without outside support, he has no chance in winning. But if he does win the election, what he does in office will determine whether or not he  truly stands for Kenyans.

Many Kenyan newspapers are stating that Mudavadi serves as Kenya’s best hope for a new dawn of Kenyan politics that seeks more to unite Kenyans in shunning ethnicity rather than divide them along ethnic lines.

Ndiritu Muriithi, a Kenyan MP stated:
…The way to develop this country is not to make a candidate a tribal chief. It is to make your candidate a national leader. I think UDF being one of the top three, is the party to watch. If you want to help your candidate, sell him to all Kenyans. A candidate should avoid people who make him look like a tribal chief,” he said.

Kenya’s Own Obama
According to the Kenyan newspaper, the Sunday Nation, the top five contenders of the 15-or-so candidates include: Odinga, Musyoka, Kenyatta, Mudavadi, and Ruto – with much hanging in the balance of the ICC’s decision on whether or not Kenyatta and Ruto can run. If they do not, they are likely to form an alliance behind another candidate, probably Mudavadi, which would put him in a significantly good position against Odinga.

Many Kenyans are saying that they want their own version of Obama, someone who can unite the country along nationalistic lines instead of tribal lines.
 ‘We need our own Obama’ is a popular mantra among millions of frustrated Kenyans enthralled by the sight of one of their compatriots, as they see him, elected to the most powerful post in the world. Alas, they have yet to find someone who can definitively transcend tribe and class—an Obama of their own.

The 2013 Kenyan election will be the test to see if (the new generation of) Kenyans is really ready to move past ethnic politics. Several things can lead to the distancing from ethnically-driven politics, such as development projects which encourage a feeling of national unity, which will be the topic of tomorrow’s post. 


Post a Comment

Hello there! Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment! I moderate and approve all comments just to make sure they aren't spam, because let's face it, we get enough spam in our lives as it is. So as long as you're a human being, you should see your comment up here in a few hours along with a response. Cheers!