“Indictee for President!” Michella Wrong writes in the New York Times Latitude blog on how “being prosecuted by the ICC helped Uhuru Kenyatta’s chances in the Kenyan election.” I would go a little further back and identify the ICC indictment as the impetus for Uhuru’s launching of his TNA party and his run for President in the first place, through his emergence as the dominant Kikuyu candidate. In other words, absent the ICC factor, I doubt Kenyatta would have run, or at least run seriously, and if he had, I doubt he would have gotten very far early on.
GWEN IFILL: After all the violence in 2007 and 2008 after the last presidential election, we were all bracing to see if the same thing would happen this time. And so far it has not. Why do you think that is?
JENDAYI FRAZER: Right.
Well, I think the Kenyans learned lessons from 2007. And the civil society very much was guarding their country and guarding against future violence.
They also had this election under entirely new institutions. There’s a brand-new constitution. There’s a de-evolution of power from the center, from the presidency, to governors of 47 counties. There’s county assemblies. And so I think the diffusion of power, the expectations about their new institutions and the lessons learned from 2007 account for the lack of violence this time.
Frazer is right in identifying why the situation in 2013 was different and “the same thing” that happened in 2007-08 was not going to happen this year. There is an irony, however, for her to invoke the work of Kenyan civil society, and the reforms of the new Constitution, in the context of her advocacy now in regard to this election when William Ruto was the leader of the “reds” who campaigned against the Constitution and Uhuru Kenyatta was seen as a “watermelon”, nominally “green” or pro-Constitution on the surface, but “red” in substance. The “Uhuruto” Jubillee Coalition took the position pre-election that it wished to restrict civil society if it took power.
Otherwise, there is much that is very telling in this solo interview about how the American media covers politics in the “developing world” and Africa in particular, and much that is telling about America’s official and unofficial interaction with foreign politicians and leaders.
It should be noted that for someone that served only a short time in the State Department, Frazier has positioned herself as a dominant figure in the Washington media in commenting on this election. A plausible reason for this relates to the fact that she has deeper roots in the Kenyan scene than her service as Ambassador to South Africa and then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Bush Administration. These roots, however, are not discussed publicly in the context of her commentary on this Kenyan election. By reputation in Kenya, Frazer is identified widely but privately as a close family friend of the Kenyattas, Read the following exchange in this context:
GWEN IFILL: Uhuru Kenyatta, you have met him. You know something of him. What do we know about him, other than he’s the son of a very famous leader of the country, a very wealthy man and now is under this cloud?
JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, he’s also very much a person who respects the West. He was educated in the United States. He’s been pro-Western in his outlook.
He’s been the minister of finance before and the deputy prime minister. He’s always had strong relations with the United States. Now, the case against him is problematic. And as it was stated, it’s falling apart. The co-conspirators have all — that were charged with him are charged with attending a particular meeting at statehouse and in that meeting planning reprisals against the violence that was being meted out against the Kikuyus.
But the key eyewitness has now said that he lied and he’s been changing his testimony and has — and even said that he’s taken bribes. And so the case is falling apart.
There is much that is unsaid that may be of vital import. One question is simply whether Dr. Frazer, especially as a private citizen engaging with this is in a position to be objective about Kenyatta personally beyond describing the basic relationship to the U.S. Second, and relatedly, there is much more involved here than just the actual status of ICC prosecution’s case: there is also the bigger moral question of whether or not Kenyatta, and his running mate Ruto, are in fact innocent of being directly involved in deliberate killing of innocent Kenyans on the basis of their ethnicity for instrumental political reasons.
From a standpoint of pragmatic realpolitik, as well as for Western private and business interests, it might be convenient now for the ICC cases, especially the case against Kenyatta, to “go away” to protect the ability to do “business as usual”. Frazer is right that Kenyatta has had ties in the U.S.–he would have been a favorite of some others in the U.S. but for the post-election violence in 2008. But I do not believe that there are very many Kenyans at all–whether Kenyatta voters or not–who do believe that both Kenyatta and Ruto did not in fact do in essence, if not in exact detail that can be proven in court now, what they are accused of doing in terms of engaging in leadership of “militia” killings. Kenyatta’s appeal in fact relates to the notion that the use of the Mungiki to kill in the eastern Rift Valley was in some notion “defensive” of Kikuyu killed by members of other tribes in other places further west in the Rift Valley (what Ruto is accused of being involved in).
Part of what is happening here is that by attacking the shortcomings of the ICC and the Western media among others, some are seeking to relieve themselves of some of the moral tension associated with the haunting question of whether “peace” is being bought by the (possible) election of “killers”.