The ICC confirmed the charges against William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, but they are rallying their ethnic bases in order to fight the charges and prepare for August 2012 elections.
The 23 January confirmation of charges of crimes against humanity for four Kenyan suspects, two of whom are presidential candidates, puts the country on the course for a tumultuous election year.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) accuses broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang, former Orange Democratic Movement minister William Ruto and senior members of President Mwai Kibaki’s faction of the ruling coalition Uhuru Kenyatta and Francis Muthaura of fanning the flames of ethnic violence after the December 2007 presidential elections that displaced more than 600,000 people.
The four men face trial, but it is the entire political establishment – the participants and beneficiaries of a mostly unbroken half century of elite rule – that is on trial.
Since the government of national unity came into power in 2008, the more than 1,300 families that lost their members and the 650,000 others that were displaced have not been compensated.
A progressive new constitution was promulgated in August 2010, but it was more the product of activism from below and outside than it was from a deliberate reckoning with the country’s future from the clientelist elite families.
The ICC cases will loom over the presidential campaignin elections that are scheduled for August. Civil society groups filed a case with the Constitutional Court as soon as the ICC delivered its decision and its judges will now rule on the validity of Ruto and Kenyatta’s candidacies.
Kenyatta is determined to succeed President Kibaki. In the polls he now ranks second only to prime minister Raila Odinga in the succession race and he has been endorsed by the broad swathe of the Kikuyu community. Election calculations in Kenya are still often based on identity politics rather than political programmes.
Kenyatta is using his ethnic support as a bulwark against the ICC charges. If nothing else, it could ensure him some sort of martyrdom, transforming his role during the post-election crisis into a massive persecution complex.
Kenyatta and Ruto were hard on their respective campaign trails in their ethnic strongholds within days of the ICC verdict. As a bargaining chip with the ICC, the strategy is unlikely to go very far.
However, the jingoism of their campaigns and the painting of Odinga as a political bogeyman have been effective in galvanising supporters.
Preaching peace and invoking the Almighty at every given opportunity, they have ratcheted up political tensions to the alarming levels witnessed in the days before the 2007 elections.
The risk of a return to violence is higher than ever before.
This article was first published in the November edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.
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