Swathed in coalition colours of red and yellow, supporters sounded their klaxons for Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kenyan politician indicted for crimes against humanity, as he launched his controversial bid for president. The views of some of his supporters at the packed weekend rally reinforce fears that the March 4 presidential polls could destabilize and isolate east Africa’s biggest economy. Kenya is a key ally in international efforts to maintain security in the region.
“These elections are a referendum between the Kikuyu and the ICC,” cried 35-year-old unemployed Bernard Kinuthia, wearing a red top in support of Kenyatta. He was referring to Kenya’s largest ethnic group, of which Kenyatta is a member, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where Kenyatta is wanted on charges related to his role in post-election ethnic violence six years ago.
In 2007, more than 1,100 people were killed in Kenya after the results of the presidential election were announced. Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as president, but peace brokers later negotiated a coalition government that installed his rival, Raila Odinga, as prime minister. As Kibaki prepares to step down after two terms in office, Odinga will face Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president and one of the country’s richest men, in the March 4, polls. Referred to as the Father of the Nation, the young Kenyatta is setting up camp to reawaken his father’s renown fighting spirit.
The immediate fear is that violence similar to that which exploded after the 2007 polls will reoccur. Down the line, should Kenyatta win and subsequently refuse to cooperate with the ICC, Kenya risks international condemnation and targeted sanctions, according to diplomats. These could hit the economy, which has been forecast to grow at five per cent this year if the polls are peaceful, but at three per cent if violence erupts, according to the World Bank.
For the west, a violent election or one that returns two ICC-indicted candidates to power — Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, has also been ordered to stand trial in The Hague — threatens its influence over a critical economic, diplomatic and military ally. Organizations including Google and U.N. agencies have based their Africa headquarters in Nairobi. Kenya is a training ground for up to 10,000 British soldiers a year and a military base for the United States. It is a focus point for efforts to combat the Islamist jihadi threat along the east African coast.