Crimes against humanity trial overshadows Kenya elections

February 24, 2013 6:12 am

— A population divided —

Richard Dowden, director of Britain’s Royal African Society, has called the ICC issue an “exceedingly dangerous factor supercharging this election”.

 

“Those indicted may feel they have nothing to lose and their best bet is to get elected by any stratagem available” in the hope of defying the court once in office, Dowden wrote in a recent article.

 

“A vote in which one candidate has nothing to lose could turn into civil war,” he added, a grim warning many Kenyans might think an exaggeration.

 

At local levels, the issue of the ICC may be less important, with multiple elections for powerful regional governor positions, members of parliament and local councils potentially having more impact that top level politics.

 

But Human Rights Watch warns the risk of political violence is “perilously high”.

 

At least 484 people were killed and over 116,000 fled their homes due to ethnic violence last year, according to the United Nations.

 

Should Kenyatta win as the latest opinon polls suggest, the country could face the absence of its president and vice-president for several months – if not years – in The Hague.

 

Kenyatta’s and Ruto’s cases “could be as much of an issue in Kenya’s 2018 general elections as they are proving to be in 2013,” warned Gabrielle Lynch in a recent paper for Britain’s Chatham House.

 

Even if a victorious Kenyatta cooperates with the ICC – as he has promised – it could be “difficult for many countries to have normal diplomatic relations” while donors might reduce bilateral assistance, the ICG added.

 

However, diplomats say that legal restrictions only come into play should Kenyatta and Ruto end their cooperation with the court.

 

The same issues remain even if key rival Raila Odinga wins, should he then decide for political expediency – for example, not wanting to rile the supporters of a defeated Kenyatta – to allow the ICC indictees to avoid trial.

 

Some speculate Kenyatta may hope that potential sanctions are just rhetoric, since Kenya – currently fighting Al-Qaeda linked Islamists in Somalia – is of strategic economic, security and political interest to the West, Dowden added.

 

Kenya potentially could rely on other partners, especially China.

 

“Again and again over the last 50 years Kenyan politicians have been able to defy Western diplomatic pressure knowing Washington and London needs Kenya more than Kenya needs them,” Dowden said.

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