The possible trial of Kenyan politicians for election violence is the biggest threat for a repeat of unrest at next year’s vote, the country’s electoral head said, hoping reforms and new technology will ease a “pressure cooker” of tensions. Next March’s election will be the first since a disputed poll in 2007 that triggered a politically-fuelled ethnic slaughter in which more than 1,220 people were killed. Any trouble in Kenya could hit investment, trade and transport in the east African economic powerhouse’s land-locked neighbors, especially Rwanda and Uganda, which rely on Mombasa port for imports of food, consumer goods and fuel. “As we move towards the election, it will become a pressure cooker,” said Ahmed Isaack Hassan, head of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that will oversee the vote. “The issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC) process may bring some tensions. This is the only thing which stands out, we have to wait and see how it will impact the elections.”
Leading presidential contenders Uhuru Kenyatta, the former finance minister and son of Kenya’s founder president, and William Ruto a former higher education minister, face charges of directing ethnic mobs to murder after the 2007 election, along with other crimes against humanity.
The charges against Kenyatta, Ruto and two others have shaken a country where the political elite was once seen as almost above the law, and there is concern that, if the presidential hopefuls stand trial and are blocked from running for office, it may trigger fresh violence. In January, the ICC ordered Kenyatta, Ruto, radio presenter Joshua arap Sang and the head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura, to stand trial for instigating the violence. The four deny the charges and have appealed the ICC’s right to try them.