Justice, the ICC and Kenyan Politics

A panel of judges at the ICC will issue their ruling tomorrow afternoon on whether or not six accused Kenyans will stand trial. The six include two declared presidential candidates. Either way the ruling will have a non-trivial impact on the pursuit of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post-election violence (PEV). It will also significantly shape the politics of coalition building in this year’s general elections.

Because of the ICC process, the Kenyan justice system has put on ice its own process of holding the perpetrators of the PEV to account. A non-confirmation of the charges against at least some of the six co-accused will add the 2007-08 PEV to the long list of crimes against Kenyans, many of which have been committed by the high and mighty, that have gone unpunished.

Justice is political. Therefore, there is no doubt that if the process of prosecuting the crimes committed in the PEV returns to Kenya none of the big fish will be held accountable. That is the sad truth.

This is why despite the noisy political environment, a majority of the PEV victims (and other Kenyans) still back the ICC process. At the very minimum they want justice to appear to be served.

At the moment the problem of justice remains a worry largely monopolized by the 300,000 or so Kenyans in IDP camps and the relatives of the over 1,300 who were killed. [The media and the political class are squarely to blame for this shameful situation.] For the rest of the country, focus has shifted to the politics of the general elections due later this year. To this we now turn.

Two of the accused, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta have declared their interest in the presidency. Mr. Kenyatta is currently the second most preferred presidential candidate after Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr. Ruto, while not as popular nationally, still commands a sizeable chunk of the votes in the country’s most populous province – the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley has also been the hotbed of political violence in country’s history, most of it over land.

A confirmation of the charges will seriously dent the presidential ambitions of Messrs Ruto and Kenyatta. It will make it harder for either of them to sell their candidacy outside of their immediate ethnic constituency. It will also give their opponents (and there are plenty) an opportunity to hold themselves as the clean candidates that ought to succeed Kibaki. Needless to say, a non-confirmation would bolster the duo’s campaigns. What will this mean for the general election?

It is common knowledge that the man to beat in the 2012 election will be Mr. Odinga. The two scenarios above will impact the outcome of the election mainly through their influence on the coalition building abilities of the anti-Odinga crowd.

More on this tomorrow in reaction to the ICC ruling.

Uhuru wins latest round in battle for central supremo

The just concluded Kirinyaga Central by-election was not an ordinary one. The actual contest between Messrs Gitari and Karaba was secondary to the meta-contest between Gichugu MP Martha Karua and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Karua backed Karaba while Uhuru campaigned for Gitari.

Given the high salience of ethnicity in Kenyan politics, the latter contest will determine who emerges as the chief voice of the Central Kenya voting block ahead of the 2012 general elections. Mr. Kenyatta must be happy with the latest score in Ms. Karua’s backyward given his own drubbing a few months ago in his own backyard in the Juja by-election.

Reacting to the loss Ms Karua twitted: “We have lost the battle not the war. Congrats to our team no retreat no surrender. Narc kenya marches on!”

Mr. Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president and very much an establishment candidate, is hoping to succeed President Kibaki as the ethnic chief of Central Kenya when the latter retires in 2012. The ultimate insurgency candidate, Ms Karua is an outsider and relatively new money who is increasingly championing the cause of the central Kenya underclass who have been marginalized by the region’s old guard elite since independence.

This blog has previously confessed a soft spot for Ms Karua, a rare breed of a principled fighter among Kenyan politicians. Mr. Kenyatta has been accused by the ICC to be among the masterminds of the 2007-08 post-elections violence that killed 1300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. He also has tons of money.

kenya: a model of conservative revolution?

An ambitious project is in the works to build a new city from scratch in Kenya, a sign that things are indeed changing in the economic engine of the wider eastern African region. The stock market voted for the new constitution with a bullish run on the eve of the ratification of the document. Investments in property – the property class has outdone most asset classes in the last two years – serve as a sure marker that Kenyans are confident in government’s commitment to protection of property rights. I am one of those who remain optimistic that Kenya is on the verge of take-off. And here is why.

Not long ago the idea of a cabinet minister resigning in Kenya was a pipe dream. Even more improbable was the idea of parliament defying the president. But these days ministers resign and the Kenyan parliament routinely defies State House. More importantly, the august house has continued its march towards independence from the executive – both functionally and financially. By controlling their own budget and calendar and building a functioning committee system, members of The House have acquired enough muscle to expose lapses in the management of public affairs – including the present scandals involving the Kenyan foreign ministry and the Nairobi City Council.

The biggest question, however, is whether the reforms embodied in the new constitution will last. My answer is yes they will, for two reasons. Firstly, the reforms are not as radical as some commentators think they are. The Kenyan establishment still stands to gain the most from the institutional reforms embodied in the new constitution. Land ownership, taxation, regulation of business, among other topics of interest to the elite are still firmly in the hands of the conservative centre and their provincial allies. Secondly, the emerging culture of bargaining, as opposed to Nyayo era “wapende wasipende (like or not) politics,” provides opportunities for amicable settlement of disputes resulting in self-reinforcing deals. No single political grouping can force its will on Kenyans. Mr. Kenyatta needed to only convince the Kiambu mafia for his policies to fly. Moi only needed a small group of collaborators. The new dispensation, however, requires that a significant number of elites, with varied political interests, buy into an idea before it can fly. This is progress. It is stable and sustainable progress.

Kenya’s dark hour in early 2008 was an eye-opener to the political and economic elite. The more than 1300 deaths will forever be a reminder of the evils of strongman rule. The broader legacy of the 2007 election will however be positive. The elections showed the core conservative establishment that they cannot run the country on their own, and that the peripheral elites also have significant de facto political power. By forcing the elite into agreeing to a self-enforcing arrangement, the regrettable events of 2007-08 facilitated elite compromises culminating in their new Kenyan constitution. The yet to be established supreme court will provide the final piece of the foundation needed for sustained institutional development in a predictable environment. Paradoxically, the biggest plus of Kenya’s new constitution is its conservative bent. And for that reason it will endure beyond the current teething phase. A more radical document would have been eviscerated just as the Kenyatta and Mboya amendments decimated Kenya’s independence constitution.