The effects of the ICC’s weakened influence over Kenya are becoming increasingly apparent. The signs are not good.
If anyone had any doubts that Kenya thinks it has won its battle with the ICC then they were dispelled late last month when the country’s top diplomat, Amina Mohamed, gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post. In it, Mohamed said Kenya was ready to share with Israel its “experience” of dealing with the ICC. Experience, of course, here being diplomatic-speak for Kenya unloading on Israel its guide to stonewalling, artfully smearing and generally frustrating the ICC at every turn to the point of ineffectiveness. That experience.
But Mohamed was not done. In her interview, there was also this tidbit that suggests that Kenya is not just willing to share its “experience” with Israel but with any and all takers unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with the big bad ICC. “We can work together”, she said. “We like to help friends dealing with issues before the ICC.” (I will let other commentators linger on the delicious irony of Kenya trying to thwart the ICC looking into Israel when its shrieked all along that the Court pays too much attention to Africa).
This is what victory against the ICC looks like
That’s where we are. Kenya, having seen off the ICC’s attempts to try Uhuru Kenyatta and now seemingly having the upper hand in the William Ruto/Joshua Sang ICC case is basking in the warm glow of victory. But if this is what victory against the ICC looks like then we should all be worried. The political climate in Kenya right now looks a lot like it did in the run-up the 2007/08 post-election violence (PEV).
Unlike before the 2013 polls when the spectre of the ICC was still a strong deterrence to politics as usual in Kenya, the buildup to the 2017 polls looks like its 2007 redux. Back are the dog whistle appeals by politicians to tribal feeling, the unhinged hate speech on and off social media, and most worryingly, the vow not to settle for anything less than victory in the 2017 presidential polls – even if said victory has to be achieved through political sleight of hand. As Daily Nation columnist Warigi Gitau wrote this week, the worrying signs are all over the place if you know where to look:
“Like then, the political landscape today – across the board – is awash with the same dark language and threats. I don’t think I am alone to sense something sinister that could grow out of hand like in 2007. The signs are not good.”
“Not good” is an understatement. Last week, supporters of the rival Jubilee and CORD coalitions clashed violently in Nairobi’s Kariobangi area over claims of “voter importation” to influence the ongoing voter registration process being carried out by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Kariobangi – dominated by members of the Kikuyu and Luo communities – was one of the hotspots in the 2007/08 PEV.
On Monday, there were by-elections in Malindi on the Kenyan coast and in Kericho in the Rift Valley. Both were marked by claims of rigging and minor incidents of violence. According to The Daily Nation, in Malindi, a number of politicians allied to the ruling Jubilee coalition were “attacked and beaten up badly at various polling stations after they were accused by rowdy youths of vote buying”. Malindi, as you might have guessed, is a stronghold of the opposition CORD coalition. The emotions and events triggered by the two by-elections inspired a disapproving editorial from The Daily Nation on Tuesday, aptly titled “Nip threat of poll violence in the bud”:
“The tension generated in the by-elections does not augur well for the country. From past experience, such tensions easily flare up into full-fledged violence, which is a risk the country must avoid at all costs. Often, it takes just a small matter to ignite fires.”
A practiced amnesia
Yes, Kenyan politics is back to business as usual. Yet we have been here before, and we all remember the results. It would be disingenuous – only eight years on – to accuse Kenyans of forgetting the bloody events of the 2007/08 PEV. They have not. Likewise, the ICC cases might have diminished in significance but they have not completely faded from our collective consciousness as a people. The only problem is Kenyan politics isn’t built for lofty appeals to our common good and talk of “issues”.
The inconvenient truth is that tribal dog whistles work in Kenya. Witness the 2013 elections. Even with the ICC watching disapprovingly over their shoulders, Kenyatta and Ruto still mobilised their ethnic communities to vote for them ostensibly to protect them from the “neo-colonial” court. The opposing CORD coalition made a similarly tribal-tinged appeal to mobilise its voting base.
So make no mistake about it – voting along tribal lines is more of a feature than a bug in Kenyan politics. Therefore, although Kenyans remember the PEV, during every election cycle a practiced amnesia kicks in that makes them think that they can do the same thing over and over again and have a different result. They say “there’s no education in the second kick of a mule”. Kenya should have learnt its lesson in 2007. The country might not survive another kick.
Ishmael Bundi is the pseudonym of a Nairobi-based blogger.
The opinions expressed here are those of their author and are not intended to reflect those of Justice Hub.
Lead image: Post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 (Photo: Boniface Mwangi/Facebook)
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