Kenyan Election 2013! Was it a Triumph of Democracy? Or was Democracy on Trial?

Okot Nyormoi

The previous Kenyan election had been marred by ugly scenes of wide spread post electoral violence. This time around as Kenyans again went into election gear, the whole world held its breath. By the end of the day when without a sign of violence it was all over, you could almost hear the collective global sigh of relief. To that extent the 2013 election was a success.

Waiting to Vote

Uhuru Kenyatta was afterwards declared winner of the presidential race. Given the circumstances many people came to ask how and why the results were what they were? Why Kenyatta won and why Odinga lost.

Some people attributed Kenyatta’s victory to his advocacy for peace and reconciliation between him and his Kikuyu people and Ruto and his Kalenjin people. Two groups that had locked horns in the aftermath of the last elections.

Others blamed Odinga’s loss on his call for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try alleged sponsors of the 2007 post election violence. And they say that during the campaign he took matters for granted while his competitors worked the vote.

Another view attributes Uhuru’s success to the entrenchment of corruption developed over the four decades of dictatorship under President Moi and Jomo Kenyatta, father to Uhuru Kenyatta.

Yet another view believes that Uhuru’s victory was an African rejection of interference by the West in the internal affairs of Kenya. They say that West was caught supporting the wrong side and that it does not understand African politics.

No doubt there is a little truth to all of the above explanations of the Kenyan election. But individually or collectively these explanations are too simplistic.

In my view, the most important determinant is how the voters perceived the candidates. The one who seemed to best represent their perceived interests got their votes. On this basis, it is safe to assume that local issues trumped national and international issues. Yet there were still other contributing factors.

Some analysts dubbed the 2013 Kenyan vote the ICC election. by which they mean voters were to decide whether the ICC-indicted candidates, that is Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto should have been disqualified from running for the election, or even whether they should be tried at all.

I dare say that for the average voter these were not the issues. For them, the most important question would be whether the indictees committed the alleged atrocities in defense of their interests. If the answer was yes, then they would see such persons as heroes.

The candidates may have presented themselves as victims of the ICC but deep inside, they knew that they are heroes in the eyes of their supporters. From this perspective, support for Uhuru and Ruto would not be based only on sympathy for their claims of being victimized by the ICC, but also because they are considered heroes, being perceived as it were, by their people as having orchestrating the violence in their collective defense, regardless of the truth of the matter.

It is true that Uhuru and Ruto, because of the ICC indictment. became somewhat of political pariahs. However, that was not the critical factor that forced them to reconcile and form the Jubilee Alliance. It was their mutual ambition to rule Kenya that drove them.

The two men share in common the old alliance between late President Kenyatta (Kikuyu) and his loyal Vice-President, Daniel Arap Moi (Kalanjin) who succeeded him in the Presidency. This alliance has ruled Kenya for almost 40 of the 51 years of Kenya’s independence. Even if the ICC indictment was not hanging over their heads, the old alliance would have given them a window of opportunity to win the election.

In many countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, many people do not see the ICC as a fair and just court. They see it as a court that selectively indicts some individuals while others including Heads of States who have committed crimes against humanity walk the corridor of power untouched.

Even in the Kenyan case, some individuals who are believed to have had a hand in the 2007 post election violence were not indicted. Brandishing the ICC indictment against opponents could not resonate with a huge section of the voters who saw it as foreign interference.

But I must say that the claim that Western countries do not understand African politics is at best naive. Western countries live and breathe African politics. They know more about what happens in each African country than the average man in Africa does. What is true is that Western countries like any country have their national interests to protect.

The West may not always side with the winning political party. But it knows that the West will always find a way to work with whoever wins. Because sooner or later such persons will come asking for help.

In Africa is meaningless to elect someone on the basis of his or her claims of being anti-West or anti-imperialist. The African continent is littered with leaders who mouth anti-imperialist rhetoric only to end up sitting at the feet of Western powers.

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But the question remains. Was the 2013 Kenya vote free and fair as some observers have claimed? The fact that there was no postelection violence is obviously edifying. However the fact that there were a lot of technical failures and malfunctions in the election exercise raises a lot of questions. Were these failures and malfunctions manufactured to rig the election in favor of one candidate or the other?

Raila Odinga’s party has since filed a petition in court. The jury is still out on whether the election was a triumph of democracy as Kenyatta claims or a trial of democracy as Odinga has claimed.