Kenya’s love for asserting its independence and sovereignty over and above foreign wishful thinking was perceptibly evidenced in the outcome of recent elections closely watched in the West with jaundice eyes. Kenyans went to the polls on 4th March 2013 knowing one thing only, their destiny was in their own hands and they did not mince their resolve.
They elected to put Uhuru Kenyatta in the presidential State House in Kenya rather than in an ICC dock in The Hague. They did this despite ominous warnings not to from international heavy weights outside of the African continent. Kenya has come of age!
This was the first time Kenyans were voting under a new Constitution adopted in 2010 to foster peace and unity following horrid bloodshed that ensued in vendetta over results of the previous elections. To win, the Constitution requires a presidential candidate to secure 50% plus one vote in 24 of newly demarcated 47 counties. Eight candidates put themselves forward for consideration. Each of them deemed their candidature and manifesto worthy of a 50% plus one endorsement.
In the lead, however, were two veterans of the Kenyan political entreprise, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. These are no ordinary men. They were until the elections the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively. But their pedigree is not circumstantial, it is genealogical. Uhuru is the son of the first President of independent Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta while Raila is the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the first Vice President of Kenya who also subsequently served as opposition leader.
Simply put, Uhuru and Raila are princes of matters of state. As children they have played within the corridors of power many times over. As adults they have honed the ropes of Kenyan politics with such distinction and with almost equal marks that any race between these two mavericks was always going to be too close to call.
An ICC indictment of Uhuru and his running mate William Ruto provided what seemed to be the penalty in regular time against Uhuru and his Jubilee Coalition. The duo had been indicted for crimes against humanity in the post election violence of 2007. The West, led by the United Kingdom and the United States, served notice of dire consequences should Kenyans ignore such indictment and elect Uhuru and Ruto.
This was, some argued, a tacit endorsement of Raila and his Coalition for Reforms and Democracy. And reports suggest he did not shrug it off either. Instead he mocked Uhuru for seeking to run Kenyan affairs of state via Skype from The Hague. This was a penalty shot over the bar and the Kenyan spectators did not seem very amused. Jubilee accused him of doing the bidding of the West with a possible finger in the ICC indictment. Raila denied this vehemently and described himself as pan-Africanist.
Yet when the election results were declared it was Uhuru fans who went euphoric and with good reason. He received the highest electoral score of some 50.06%. The ICC mud had obviously failed to stick; neither did the churlish warnings from the foreign powers that be. If any or both of them had any impact at all, the damage was too cosmetic to dent the presidential ambition of junior Kenyatta.
On the contrary, there are those who believe Raila did himself in by teasing Uhuru and playing to the ICC gallery. Others believe the noises from overseas irked Kenyan patriotism and played into the fortunes of Uhuru. It was an unnecessary interference and an irritant at that for an independent country to be so admonished. Africans have, after all, always viewed the ICC suspiciously. It is, for many, a disingenuous tool for selective justice, targeted insidiously at Africa and African leaders mainly.
It might still be too early to establish with empirical certainty how much of a role the indictment played for and against these two political princes. And it would be an over simplification to judge the election results with an ICC yardstick only. Naturally, multiple factors must have influenced the verdict of the good people of Kenya, not least the economy, peace, security and possibly the personality or charisma of the candidates.
Kenyans may not even have voted to spite the ICC but certainly they voted in spite of it. Their leadership choices are the sovereign preserve of Kenya and they would not be coward by influences outside of it. The star of Africa “is shining brightly and the destiny of Africa is now in our hands” are the words of Uhuru in his victory speech.
Of course, the ICC has always maintained they represent victims and the election does not necessarily let Uhuru and Ruto off the hook. Yet it remains to be seen how the ICC intend to prosecute a democratically elected President and his Vice without compromising the free will of the Kenyan people. It will equally be interesting to see how the foreign powers patently opposed to their election react or adjust in the face of the vote of confidence reposed in them by their own people.
Whether they drink up or throw up this is entirely the cup of tea of the ICC and the international community. Kenyans clearly have other ideas and they have expressed it pointedly in elections generally touted as free, fair and credible. Uhuru Kenyatta is their President of first choice.
Having won with a very narrow margin and with the results being contested by Raila, a docket on Uhuru somewhere in The Hague is the least worry for Kenyans. Their primary inclination is naturally domestic and they expect Uhuru to heal the divide, unite the nation and move Kenya forward. This is what matters for most ordinary Kenyans and this must be one reason why a record 86% of the electorate queued up to be counted.
Uhuru knows this more than anybody else and has pledged to work in “friendship and cooperation” with his political adversaries. The triumph of the economy, of peace and of security for all is the dividend Kenyans expect and deserve even as they celebrate the triumph of ballot democracy. Uhuru has to deliver Kenyan expectations and his own campaign trail promises sooner than later.
Raila too must deliver and he is not unconscious of this either. He has called for calm and unveiled a peace initiative even as he heads to the Supreme Court to challenge the results and thus submit himself to the rule of law. It has sent the pre-election sceptics and prophets of post-election violence scratching their heads for words while Kenyans are laughing all the way into an embrace with peace and a new era of national consensus.
This is a turning point for Kenya; it is indeed a moment for Africa.