Early handicapping in Kenya’s presidential campaign

David Throup, in a commentary up on the Center for Strategic and International Studies website, handicaps the impact of the ICC charges on the Kenyan presidential campaign.  In a nutshell, Throup posits that Raila gets elected easily if Uhuru and Ruto are allowed to stay in the race as Uhuru is not popular enough, broadly enough to pose a strong challenge.  If Uhuru and Ruto are disqualified, this would allow Saitoti to come to the fore as the establishment (non-reformist) alternative and that Saitoti could give Raila a run for his money, so to speak.

Will the decisions of the ICC and the Kenyan court make any difference to the election battle? Perhaps, but not in the way that many people think. The banning of Kenyatta and Ruto is more likely to work against Raila Odinga, current prime minister and election frontrunner, than to weaken his opposition. It is becoming increasingly evident that Kenyatta is unelectable. .  .  .

Ruto may personally be willing to endorse Kenyatta—after all he was his presidential campaign manager in 2002, and relations between the two men remain good—but Kalenjin community elders are unlikely to agree, especially as the Kikuyu and Kalenjin fight over the political spoils in the new Nakuru County, a major center of violence in 2007–2008. Local Kikuyu leaders are demanding almost complete control, precluding any agreement between the communities. As a result, at least two-thirds of Kalenjin voters will end up supporting Odinga in the second round, whatever Ruto says.

.  .  .  .

On this calculation, the winner of the presidential election seems likely to be Prime Minister Odinga, who since he first contested the presidency in 1997 has built up a broad coalition, centered on his Luo ethnic group. Odinga commands the support of 40 to 45 percent of voters, stretching from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean and from the isolated Somali-populated Northeastern Province to bustling Nairobi. He is the frontrunner, and neither Kenyatta nor Ruto is capable of effectively challenging his momentum.

.  .  .  .

If Kenyatta is banned from contesting the presidency, Saitoti seems likely to emerge as the frontrunner to take over the mantle of Kikuyu candidate. His 20 years in Moi’s government, moreover, means that he has good relations with many Kalenjin leaders, stretching far beyond the former president’s inner circle. Thus, Saitoti could bring together the Gikuyu-Embu-Meru and the Kalenjin-Maasai-Turkana-Samburu in a formidable challenge to Odinga. An Odinga-Saitoti contest would be a closely fought two-horse race, and it is difficult to predict who might emerge victorious. Odinga would present himself as the candidate of reform, while Saitoti would clearly represent the old order.

Saitoti’s profile is certainly raised by the war Kenyan troops are fighting in Somalia while he serves as Minister of Internal Security.  Certainly this Ministry played a key role in the 2007 election campaign and the immediate aftermath.

It’s interesting to reflect back on Saitoti’s appointment by Kibaki along with Kalonzo Musyoka and the rest of the “half cabinet” during the post election violence.  Here is Xan Rice in The Guardian, January 8, 2008 “Fury as Kenyan leader names ministers”:

“This is simply another attempt to undermine the mission of John Kufuor,” the opposition leader’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said. “It’s not only a blow to the peace process, it shows that Kibaki is has no intention of even starting the process.”

Analysts agreed. Mutahi Ngunyi, a political scientist, said the move was in “bad faith”. “He has already concluded peace talks before they have begun,” he added.

Mwalimu Mati, a civil society leader, said the appointments – especially that of the internal security minister, George Saitoti, who is deeply unpopular in Kenya and was forced to resign a cabinet post in 2006 over links to the country’s biggest-ever corruption scandal, was “like raising a red flag to a bull – and the bull is going to charge”.

However, Amos Kimunya, a key Kibaki ally who was reappointed as the finance minister, denied the move would further alienate the opposition.

“The critical ministries of the government have to run,” he told the Guardian. “Other players can join the government at a later stage, and the president can change his mind on his ministers any time.”

One thought on “Early handicapping in Kenya’s presidential campaign

  1. Pingback: Helicopter crash in Nairobi’s Ngong Forest kills Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and Asst. Minister Orwa Ojode | AfriCommons Blog

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