“Will Kenya Vote for Impunity?” NYTimes, 8 June 2012
NAIROBI — Uhuru Kenyatta is a busy man. A son of Kenya’s first president is simultaneously deputy prime minister and a member of Parliament, and until recently was finance minister as well as the chairman of the long-ruling Kenya African National Union party (better known as KANU). He has also beenindicted by the International Criminal Court.
With three other heavyweight officials, Kenyatta is charged with crimes against humanity for funding and coordinating tribally motivated violence that killed 1,200 people in the days after Kenya’s disputed election in 2007. Preliminary hearings in the I.C.C. trials for the so-called Ocampo Four are expected to begin in September.
Unbowed, Kenyatta is also running for president. Late last month at the conference center built by and named for his father, he started a new political party: The National Alliance (T.N.A.). Though the move was nominally the beginning of a collective project, one could be forgiven for confusing it with a de facto campaign launch. The rollout was ostentatious: musicians and pyrotechnics at simultaneous events in six Kenyan cities were estimated to cost at least $1.8 million. Massive billboards for T.N.A. now shade the streets of Nairobi, alongside ads for Dark and Lovely hair products or Brookside yogurt.
“We seek to dispel the notion that parties are founded with the vision of getting to power,” Kenyatta said at the launch. “Any party that pursues an individualistic agenda and personality cults has no future in the Kenya of today.” It’s a noble sentiment, but his best hope for winning the 2013 presidential election — if not his court case — rests on the opposite logic.
Kenyatta appears to know this. The creation of T.N.A. is his way of hitting the “reset” button. He is making a clean break with KANU, the party from which he was elected to Parliament and on whose ticket he ran and lost the presidency in 2002. Establishing T.N.A. is also a way of consolidating loyalties. To win in 2013, Kenyatta will need an alliance of politicians outside of his base in the center of the country and among fellow Kikuyu. The appeal of a new party allows him to emerge from the shadow of the departing president, Mwai Kibaki (also Kikuyu), and attract young and hungry politicians from other factions.
In Kenya, politicians often switch parties based on expediency, and so now many parliamentarians are scratching their heads trying to get around the legal requirement that — gasp — politicians serve the parties from which they were elected.
“Everyone who matters in this country is singing the T.N.A. song,” said Kareke Mbiuki, a KANU M.P. who plans to run on T.N.A.’s ticket in 2013’s national election.
The launch of T.N.A. also gave Kenyatta a platform to reject the I.C.C.’s mandate to prosecute him. In a recent speech, he made a pointed reference to “sovereignty,” a popular argument against cooperating with the international court. The judicial system here is among the best in East Africa, but since local courts have balked at crossing Kenyatta and others suspected of involvement in the 2007 post-election violence, the I.C.C. stepped into the vacuum. Still, some Kenyans have proposed setting up a more local tribunal in neighboring Tanzania, grousing about the disproportionate number of I.C.C. charges leveled at Africans.
Kenyatta is now deftly tapping that sentiment — a move that, incidentally, is perfectly legal. Though Kenya’s Constitution nominally honors I.C.C. decisions, it does not prohibit the accused from running for office. William Ruto, another M.P. and one of the Ocampo Four, is also in the race.
Legal or not, though, there’s no way to paper over the potential bind in which both candidacies might place the country. The I.C.C. proceedings are sure to reveal some distasteful acts that may damage T.N.A.’s shrink-wrapped reputation. And should either candidate prevail in the election but not in The Hague, Kenya would be in the awkward position of having an elected president who is also a wanted criminal.
That prospect may be tolerable to the political class here, which notably refused to extradite President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, also wanted by the I.C.C., during a 2010 visit to Kenya. But the country’s political process — to say nothing of international justice — deserves better.