Kenyatta turned war crimes charge to campaign advantage
NAIROBI (AFP) – Far from having been a handicap, Uhuru Kenyatta’s indictment for crimes against humanity galvanised his supporters, giving the already formidable machinery of his coalition the edge, analysts said.
Kenyatta, 51, was proclaimed president Saturday after an outright win in the first round with 50.07% of the votes, against 43.31% for his main rival Raila Odinga, 68, who has vowed to take his complaint for “massive tampering” to the Supreme Court.
Uhuru Kenyatta should become the first presidential candidate to take power before having to fly off a few months later to appear in a trial likely to last at least two years, at the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
But far from deterring voters, the impending trial seems to have had the opposite effect.
“The ICC process helped” Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who is also indicted for his alleged role in the violence that followed the 2007 presidential poll, said Daniel Branch, an author and academic at Britain’s Warwick University.
“It gave them a powerful message, a real motivation for victory and kept the debate on them the whole time. Odinga was unable to seize the initiative back,” Branch went on.
Kenyatta’s indictment enabled him to spin the narrative that his community had to “mobilise … against the enemy who took our son out of here,” said Musambayi Katumanga, a political scientist from Nairobi University.
The ICC suspects Kenyatta of having paid the Mungiki, a sect-like criminal gang notorious for beheading its victims, to lead reprisal attacks and defend the Kikuyu community when Kenya was on the brink of civil war after the disputed 2007 poll.
The president elect rejects those accusations.
Kenyan voters may have wondered how Kenyatta and Ruto will manage the country from The Hague where they are supposed to appear in court in person, starting May 28 for Ruto and July 9 for Kenyatta.
Ruto, 46, famously explained that he was quite capable of doing the two things at the same time as “we can chew gum and scale the stairs at the same time”.
Even in Kenyatta’s camp, one quarter of his supporters admitted to wondering about the question, an opinion poll by Ipsos-Synovate in late February showed.
At the end of the day voters seem to have overcome their doubts.
The fact that several foreign diplomats and officials raised the ICC as an issue did not go down well with many Kenyans and likely strengthened Kenyatta’s vote.
“People close to Kenyatta reckon that those declarations by diplomats helped them, for Kenyans are very proud and they remember that it is not so long since they belonged to the colonial empire of another power,” said Tom Wolfe, chief analyst at Ipsos-Synovate.
But even if “the ICC cases played a prominent role in the campaigns … more than anything else Kenyatta’s victory was the result of demographic providence and resources,” said Ken Opalo, a political science doctoral candidate at Stanford University.
The alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto appears artificial given that their respective communities clashed violently in the Rift Valley in 2007-08.
But it gave Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition an ethnic bloc of votes that represented more than one quarter of Kenya’s 41 million people.
According to Opalo, 87% of people eligible to vote in Kikuyu and Kalenjin areas registered to vote, against 78% in Odinga’s strongholds.
“Jubilee ran a much better campaign. Ruto has supplanted Odinga as the most effective mobiliser of voters … A combination of Ruto’s skills and Uhuru’s money was extremely effective,” Daniel Branch said.
The fact that he belongs to one of Africa’s richest families, whose fortune is estimated at $500 million by Forbes Magazine, meant Kenyatta was able to throw money at the campaign, going as far as recruiting a British PR firm BTP Advisers.
His opponents, as well as some observers, have also spoken of voters bought, ID cards bought in order to prevent some voters from going to the polls, but it was not possible to verify the claims independently, to measure the scale of the alleged fraud nor to say whether it was the preserve of one camp.