Here we go again–checking in on Kenya’s presidential campaign

I appreciate your indulgence during an informal hiatus–I am transitioning to my new private law practice (and we have raccoons in the attic at my house, school is out, etc.). It has also been useful to step back a bit from posting to catch up on some long form reading and allow reflection on context and larger themes.


It strikes me that in Kenya we are once again seeing the campaign mode where there is big political news every day, but almost all of it is ephemeral and not really worth writing about separately from the daily news reports. In the bigger picture, there are indications of real uncertainty this time that were not as much present in the last campaign.

Last cycle the action was more clearly organized in two blocs with the early questions being (a) the ODM nomination and whether “the opposition” would stay together in ODM or fragment and (b) who would get the highest spot on Kibaki’s coattails through his choice of a party and otherwise how he would put his re-election campaign together.

It was not until well into September last time that Kibaki’s announced the formation of the “Party of National Unity” as a not quite defined hybrid of a party or a coalition of parties. By about that time, according to the later Congressional Research Service reports, Kibaki insiders acknowledged that he wouldn’t win the election. Nonetheless, what seemed to many outside his inner circle as lethargy, or even indecisiveness and lack of motivation, was likely “quiet confidence”. He controlled the Electoral Commission if he wanted to and as President was master of his own destiny.

At the time of the announcement of PNU as Kibaki’s vehicle in September the latest possible time for the elections was late December, with Kibaki having the option to dissolve Parliament early and have an early election. Compare to this season’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of TNA, “The National Alliance”–there seems to be very little likelihood of a pre-December election and the IEBC has announced a set date of March 4, 2013. Reports have surfaced of discussions of further delay in recognition that the reach of the ambitions for a technologically advanced process may exceed the grasp of the IEBC as a new, internally divided and subsidiary player within Kenyan governance.

So Kenyatta, who is the only “establishment” candidate of who seriously contends with Odinga as the dominant “opposition” candidate in national polls in recent months, is not “laying back” as was Kibaki. In part this surely because he has “heel biting” from various other people from the core and periphery of the Kibaki camp, but I think it also derives from the same underlying underlying uncertainty that leaves some of these others with hopes of becoming themselves the anti-Odinga contender. Will some outside force remove Kenyatta from the race?

Intoxication from the ICC process is giving way to the reality of an “overhang hangover”–the ICC has been clear that it intends to proceed as its track record indicates, with “deliberate speed” during the campaign. It has only been a little more than fours years since the crimes against humanity took place in Kenya’s post election period, for heaven’s sake. From whence came the notion that the ICC process might be near finality before the next Kenyan election unless the result was a dismissal of all charges at an early stage? Nonetheless, there are other possibilities.

For instance, what will Mutunga do? Would he provoke a showdown between Kenya’s newly partially reformed judicial branch and the executive branch and the Kenyatta scion over the standards in the new constitution to qualify for election? And if so, who would win?

Perhaps the most deeply symbolic event in Kenyan politics since the August 2010 referendum on the new constitution was the invitation of Sudan’s al Bashir to the subsequent ceremonies without regard to Kenya’s obligations as an ICC member party. It was as if the “owners” we’re saying to the “reformers”: “you have your new law, just don’t read too much into it”. But maybe they won’t have the final word this time.

Toi Market-Nairobi

1 thought on “Here we go again–checking in on Kenya’s presidential campaign

  1. Pingback: ICC Proceedings–Kenya cases trial dates to be set before July 13; likely for soon after 2013 election | AfriCommons Blog

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