PoliticsNews & AnalysisKenya: The UhuRuto question


Posted on Monday, 04 March 2013 10:10

Kenya: The UhuRuto question

By Billie McTernan and Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi

Uhuru Kenyatta (L) William Ruto (R) Photo©ReutersUhuru Kenyatta's unlikely pairing with William Ruto, the popular defiance of their presidential campaign in the face of charges for crimes against humanity at The Hague, and the duo staring down Western diplomats and the Kenyan judiciary, are perhaps collectively the story of the March 2013 Kenyan elections.


The Uhuru Kenyatta-William Ruto pairing would come as a surprise to the uninformed observer.

That the two would be working together five short years after standing on different sides of a bitterly disputed election is not a development many would have foreseen.

That election, in which Uhuru Kenyatta then the leader of the opposition endorsed President Mwai Kibaki's poisoned victory triggered nationwide violence and ripped away Kenya's gentle façade of peace and stability.

In the Rift Valley, Kenyatta's Kikuyu community which had strongly supported Kibaki's re-election, bore the brunt of mass attacks waged against them by William Ruto's Kalenjin community.

This time around, Kenyatta and Ruto are campaigning on a platform of ethnic reconciliation and economic development. They say that they came together out of a need to forestall the possibility of a repeat of the 2007/2008 disaster.

Others would beg to differ. While the duo, who have dubbed themselves 'UhuRuto', have put a respectable sheen to their campaign platform, there can be no doubting that they are joined at the hip by their looming trials at the International Criminal Court for their suspected involvement in perpetrating the 2008 post-election violence.

It is a claim emphatically made by their rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr Odinga, 68, is making his third and perhaps final attempt at winning the presidency.

In 2008, his supporters, who included the majority of the Kalenjin community, arose in protest at what they saw as his stolen victory in the December 2007 polls.

A February 2008 peace deal hurriedly crafted by the international community led by Kofi Annan, gave him an equal stake in the coalition government that has run the country ever since.

The Hague 'fix'

It is both the specifics of that peace deal, including the resolution to form a commission to investigate the violence, as well as Mr Odinga's determination to clean up his international image that led to his subsequent falling out with Mr Ruto.

That neither President Kibaki nor Mr Odinga were implicated at The Hague, indeed that their erstwhile lieutenants appeared to take the fall on their behalf, has been a galvanizing issue of the 2013 election campaigns.

Kenyatta and Ruto – as well as other senior politicians who walked out of Odinga's Orange Democratic Party – have accused the Prime Minister of having a hand in 'fixing' them at The Hague, the better to set a clear path to electoral victory.

'UhuRuto's' charge against the Prime Minister, which has been decidedly thin on the facts, has, however, been remarkably successfully at entrenching their hold over their ethnic blocs.

Kenyatta's Kikuyu supporters have conferred on him community leadership.

In a bizarre appropriation of the brutal liberation struggle for independence from the British 50 years ago, Mr Kenyatta has emerged as something of a messianic figure in a new struggle against perceived Western imperialism.

'UhuRuto' formally came into force in October last year, under the Jubilee Coalition which united Kenyatta's The National Alliance and Ruto's United Republican Party
The pair are faring well in the opinion polls.

Land grabbing allegations

In a survey carried out by Ipsos Synovate Jubilee are placed slightly behind Odinga and the incumbent Coalition for Reform and Democracy, but have gained momentum and support following the country's first live presidential debate, where they discussed key topics in their mandate [Land, Security, ICC, Economy].

The latest Ipsos poll in February gives the Jubilee candidates 44 per cent and CORD 45 per cent.

It was also found that Kenyatta's performance was favoured by the respondents that tuned in to watch the presidential debate, 40 per cent said they would vote for Kenyatta but only 33 per cent for Odinga.

If the first round ends in a stale-mate and are unchallenged – no candidate winning the 50 per cent +1 votes needed from the 14.3mn registered voters- a second round will take place within 30 days after the announcement of the 4 March vote.

The announcement of the run-off will have to be made by 17 April and would push the swearing-in of a new president back from 2 April to 14 May.

If the results are contested a case will have to presented to the Supreme Court and a ruling made by 2 May.

The result of the hearing will be announced in 9 May and the president sworn in on 11 June.

The implications of a Jubilee victory are complicated.

Mr Kenyatta's detractors are convinced that the country would face diplomatic isolation and possible sanctions if Kenyatta were to become president.

Questions about how they would manage the country while standing trial have only added to fears that the pair would not cooperate with the ICC once in power.

It is a charge the two have emphatically denied, repeatedly stating that they would appear to face charges at The Hague.

Such is the strength of their ethnic support, however, that a five-judge bench deferred a ruling against their candidature to the Supreme Court.

That case, as well as an unrelated suit against Mr Ruto for alleged land grabbing, while adding to doubt's on the pair's integrity, has entrenched the persecution complex among their supporters and, ironically, propelled their presidential campaign.

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