Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Round-Up of Kenya Coverage

For any following Kenya’s general election, it came to a de facto end Friday evening California time, even if Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory over Raila Odinga wasn’t made official until a bit later.  The election proved a nail-biter, because although Kenyatta maintained a hefty lead over Odinga, it wasn’t clear until the end that he would surpass the 50% threshold in the first round (Odinga is preparing to contest Kenyatta’s victory).

Nor was it clear whether or not either of the candidates or their proxies would resort to leveraging supporters to destabilise the count.  Both vice-presidential candidates made murmurs of this sort, but were perhaps pre-empted when officials and media at all levels pleaded with them not to inflame their supporters. 

The announcement of Kenyatta’s victory was greeted by some relief (many people were happy to avoid a runoff, which even some of Raila’s supporters recognised would likely have been more about their man’s badly bruised ego than anything else), and not a little self-congratulation.  Some commentators waxed about Kenya’s attainment of “political maturity”, others crowed about Kenyan voters’ prowess as “myth busters”. 

The ICC cases have garnered a great deal of coverage, and Uhuru will be heartened by the announcement that the court is dropping its case against another indictee, Francies Muthaura.  But Kenyatta scarcely needed this news.  For instead of dodging issue of his indictment (as distinct from dodging the substance of the charges), he embraced the role of the victim, painting the court as a neo-colonial tool—an argument that is a little difficult to contest when one considers that the likes of George W Bush and Tony Blair, two of the biggest mass murderers and inciters of violence and aggressive war in the twenty-first century, are walking free. 

Kenyatta was assisted by the ICC, which announced difficulties with witnesses, foreshadowing the more extensive breakdown which was to come in the following days.  The extent to which Uhuru used the ICC case to posture during the campaign became apparent when he instantly adopted a more conciliatory and cooperative tone once the election was concluded. 

The Cord coalition is making ready to file its case, and some commentators are refusing to join the chorus which says that Raila should have the good grace to accept a loss in what was generally recognised as a fair election.  There were what are called “irregularities”, but I haven’t seen anything suggesting that they would have been enough to tip the balance towards a runoff, let alone in Raila’s favour, although this morning Cord stiffened its criticism, describing what they called “post-election rigging”.

But most commentators seem to have accepted Kenyatta’s victory and are focussing on what it portends and signifies.  In some commentary, there was wry admiration and almost a sense of pride in the political dynasties in the making, as well as a certain ambivalence about whether what they presage for Kenya’s politics is one of the world’s “Good Things”. 

The man who no one is talking about these days was the subject of something resembling a eulogy in the Nation some days before the election.  Kibaki’s legacy will undoubtedly be—and should be—mixed, but on balance, most Kenyans I’ve spoken with over the last several years have remarked favourably on his tenure.  Whether this speaks to transformative achievements, or instead to just how bad things were under the dictatorships is hard to say.  Kibaki did return briefly to the news when he welcomed Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, to State House.

Much U.S. and European writing about the election in its aftermath has focussed on what the election of a man indicted for crimes against humanity means for Kenya’s relationship with western nations, although some commentators sought to put this in broader perspective in relation to international justice.  I’ll hazard a guess that the answer is “not very much”, given Kenya’s centrality to the U.S. war of terror in the east African country’s backyard.  The moment the U.S. commits itself to an alliance of this nature based on security, it basically abdicates its leverage regarding human rights, good governance, and other such matters which are obviously, from the vantage point of the White House as much as the Pentagon, mere niceties set against the fight against “terror”.  There is a very real possibility, however, that the case against Kenyatta will collapse, as that against Francis Muthaura did. 

Other international coverage focussed heavily on the election process, reflecting a broader trend in coverage (guiltily echoed in this blog) which had precious little to say about election “issues” or, more worryingly, about Kenya at all without reference to the U.S. or Europe. 

By and large, Kenyan and international media commentary on the election was guarded, and fairly non-substantive, a point about which I hope to write more later.

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