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Kenya: Coalition of the damned

By Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi
Posted on Tuesday, 8 March 2011 10:04

Those indicted by the International Criminal Court and those wedded to the old order have formed an alliance to take on Raila Odinga

Since the unveiling in mid-December 2010 of the six suspects whom International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo intends to prosecute for their roles in the 2008 post-election violence, President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) has gone into overdrive to protect them, ensuring the interests of the Kikuyu elite are protected once his term ends.

The strategy involves two initiatives: one domestic, the other diplomatic. Capitalising on an unexpected windfall in the National Assembly, where rebel Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) members led by William Ruto joined forces with the PNU, Kibaki’s allies have attempted to subvert the pending trials. Soon after Ocampo’s announcement, parliament unanimously voted for Kenya’s withdrawal from the ICC. When informed that this would not in any way affect existing cases, Kibaki’s PNU began a search for alternative solutions, including asking the African Union to call for a delay to the trials.

In mid-January, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto – both indicted by the ICC – together with the vice-president, Kalonzo Musyoka, formalised their “KKK” alliance at a rally in Eldoret, the nerve centre of Kalenjin politics in the Rift Valley. President Kibaki attended the rally, and it marked the creation of an alliance to form a bulwark against Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s presidential campaign.

The KKK, which represents a Kikuyu-Kalenjin-Kamba ethnic alliance, could beat an Odinga presidential bid. Odinga, widely regarded as the lead contender in the Kibaki succession, continues to enjoy very favourable ratings in opinion polls. One at the end of January, soon after the Eldoret rally, gave him an approval rating of 46%, more than the combined ratings of Kenyatta, Ruto, Musyoka and Kibaki.

Kibaki’s approval of the KKK alliance also appeared to be a tacit endorsement of the “No” camp from the August 2010 constitutional referendum. While Kibaki campaigned for a “Yes” vote, he is surrounded by anti-reformists. The “No” vote was led by Ruto who helped garner a 30% vote and is said to have been backed by the conservative elite close to Kibaki – the “watermelons” who control the civil service, the security forces and the PNU wing of the coalition.

“What is happening is not entirely surprising,” says Duncan Okello, regional director of the Society for International Development. “It is one of the risks that come with structural transition without a corresponding change of agency. We changed the rules of politics, but we did not change the faces of those who are implementing the new rules. You must also realize that although we had structural transition, it faced serious opposition from within. The watermelons, confused by Kibaki’s endorsement of the draft constitution, had sleepwalked into a new order before they fully understood its implications.”

The contest over the new constitution aside, there remains a strong instinct within the Kibaki camp to protect “the coalition of the damned” – the suspects on Ocampo’s list. At pains to demonstrate a commitment to judicial reform and prove that the necessary domestic infrastructure exists to try the “Ocampo Six” at home rather than at The Hague, Kibaki precipitated a storm by unilaterally nominating three key members to the judiciary without fully consulting Odinga.

While Kibaki’s breach of the National Accord is nothing new, what is notable is the widespread condemnation the nominations received. Criticism came from unexpected quarters, notably from the justice minister, Mutula Kilonzo, his predecessor, Martha Karua, outgoing chief justice Evans Gicheru and outgoing attorney general Amos Wako.

The fate of the government is unclear. PNU chatter about quitting the coalition has been matched by tough-talking ODM legislators saying they are ready for an election. But the electorate consistently votes out 65-75% of sitting MPs. Perhaps this fear will keep the unhappy marriage together.

This article was first published in the March 2011 edition of The Africa Report

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