Analysis: Ethnicity and ICC cases heat up Kenya presidential race

Mon Dec 24, 2012 4:11am EST
 

By James Macharia

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Alliances forged by Kenya's main presidential contenders for elections in March are lining up a repeat of a largely ethnic-based contest for political power which exploded into bloodshed in the 2007 vote.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founder president, lead the two main opposing camps for the March 4 presidential and parliamentary elections.

The head-on rivalry between Kenyatta, from the predominant Kikuyu tribe, and Odinga, a Luo, raises the specter of the tribal clashes that followed the 2007 election and killed more than 1,200 people, uprooting thousands more from their homes.

"I don't want to be a pessimist... but, historically, every time the Luo and the Kikuyu have been on different sides there has been violence," said Mzalendo Kibunjia, who heads a national agency formed to reconcile tribes after the violence.

"What do you expect? Our politics are about ethnicity. In Africa, democracy is about ethnic arithmetic not ideology."

Another factor that could lead to post-election instability for East Africa's economic powerhouse is Kenyatta's date a month after the March vote with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The former finance minister faces a trial in the Hague over his alleged role in the election violence five years ago.

Should Kenyatta win the presidency and then travel to the court hearings, a power vacuum could result soon after his inauguration. The ICC accuses him of directing youth from his Kikuyu ethnic community to fight Odinga's Luo kinsmen during the 2007/2008 bloodletting. He denies any wrongdoing.

To win in the March 4 first round, a candidate needs to gain an outright majority from the 14.3 million registered voters. An immediate victory for either contender is not assured, which could then mean a nail-biting run-off in April.   Continued...

 
Kenya's Defence Minister Mohamed Yusuf Haji (L-R), Water Minister Charity Ngilu, former Tourism Minister Najib Balala, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former cabinet minister William Ruto attend an alliance campaign rally in Nairobi December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Noor Khamis