photo: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the founding president Jomo Kenyatta, was elected by Kenya this week and officially confirmed by the EICB five days later. This year’s election happened peacefully and to an international standard despite glitches with the new electronic vote transmission system which crashed. The Kenyan election this year received a considerable amount of press due to the ethnic violence involved during the last election in 2007, however a major effort by the media and politicians seem to have kept it to a minimum. Although media self-censorship was to some extent positive in minimizing violence, one should question whether it is altogether a positive step forward. To some extent this self-censorship meant that important issues were not discussed in the media or by politicians.
This has come as no surprise for Mutahi Ngunyi who has seen the Kikuyu Kenyatta as the clear winner as early as December when voter registration closed, arguing that Kenya would vote along ethnic line. This was for example seen to some extent in the rift valley, a predominately Kikuyu area, where 98% of the Kenyans voted for Kenyatta. This is certainly not the whole picture, as Kenyatta-Ruto’s Jubilee Alliance only made up 39% of the ethnic population. Other factors were also involved, such as the historic and highly emotive issue of land distribution and internally displaced population in Kenya.
As one of the largest land owners in the lush rift valley which has a rich soil it is unlikely that Kenyatta with will land reform. The land inherited from his father who came into power when Kenya became independent from the British in 1963. Despite British fear of handing power to Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya African National Union nothing was done to reform the individual freehold title registration system which was in place during colonial times. The Kenyattas and the Kikuyu tribe settled in the rift valley and acquired a vast amount of land legally through the World Bank-supported settlement transfer funds scheme in 60’s and 70’s. Although in no way illegal, many feel this essentially amounted to simple land grab. This was reflected in the agriculturally land poor coastal region of Kenya where Uhuru Kenyatta gained less than 10% of the votes.
There is greater controversy regarding the dubious origins of William Ruto’s wealth. Kenyatta and Ruo were heavily promoted by the Moi presidency; Ruto was in charge of financing the youth kanu club support for Moi in 1997 elections. It has been alleged that Ruto sudden wealth came from the money skimmed of the youth group. This close association is reflected in the nickname of the Moi youth club that Kenyatta and Ruto have acquired in the press.
Another factor which may have contributed to Kenyatta’s lead over his competitor is ironically his impending International Criminal Court (ICC) trial. Kenyatta is alleged to have fomented violence in the 2007 election. Many Kenyans lost their lives in the post election ethnic conflict, and the scars were still felt today by many more in this past week’s election. The ICC and the international community (primarily United State Ambassador Johnnie Carson and the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan) repeated warnings about electing Kenyatta, spurred many Kenyans to equate that a vote for Kenyatta was a vote for nationalism. In the words of Edward Kirathe, a real estate developer and a passionate Kenyatta supporter “Kenyans may be tribalists but we are also nationalists”. Kenyatta is hopeful that the charges will be dropped like Muthaura but if not he has offered to rule Kenya via Skype during his trial in July.
Kenya is an important logistic hub in Africa for journalists, humanitarians and businesses as well as being an important ally for western countries. Kenya has been significant in fighting the Al-Shabba terrorist group in Somalia. Alongside his ICC trial and the fact that Kenyatta campaigned on an anti-west platform, it is still unlikely that trading, donor or diplomatic relations with the west will end anytime soon.
The troubling issue that will almost certainly arise is the ethnic conflict that seemed to be dormant during the election. Voting strongly along ethnic lines and for political dynasties reflects upon a weak institutional government. The ICC trial will be more damaging during the summer when a Kalenjin Ruto and Kikuyu Kenyatta go on trial bringing ethnic tension to the coalition.
Moreover another source of ethnic tension within the coalition is the issue of devolution, Ruto being strong supporter of devolution and Kenyatta staunch supporter for strengthening central government. This will be exacerbated by the development of mining, gas and oil, which strongly encourages inequalities between class, ethnicity and regions.