Many Kenyans will go to the polls on 4 March 2013 with a sense of trepidation. Three of the country’s four elections since 1992 have been accompanied by significant violence, with 2002 the exception. On each occasion politicians used local grievances over land and inequality to label supporters of rival candidates as ethnic “outsiders”. Militias were then used to force those same voters from their homes. Thousands of people were killed in violence around the 1992, 1997 and 2007 elections and tens of thousands more fled. Some of these supposed “outsiders” never returned to places where their families had lived for decades. No wonder, then, that many Kenyans see elections as something to endure rather than to celebrate. In light of this history, anyone of a nervous disposition might have hoped that this would be a straightforward election with a clear result. That looks unlikely, as on the eve of the vote the final result is too close to call. President Mwai Kibaki is retiring after two terms in office, and prime minister Raila Odinga is the frontrunner. But Odinga’s lead in the opinion polls is narrow, and he will almost certainly be denied an outright majority; in that case a run-off will be held in a few weeks’ time.
Odinga’s main rival is Uhuru Kenyatta, who, if successful, faces the prospect of governing the country while mounting his defence at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. He and his running mate, William Ruto, are accused of orchestrating the violence that followed the December 2007 election. Rather than standing aside, both decided to exercise their right – confirmed recently by the Kenyan courts – to contest the election, apparently in order to gain a position of greater strength vis-à-vis the ICC. They promise they can run the country and mount their court defences remotely, by using technology.
The rest of the world only began to notice the 2007 election until violence broke out during the suspiciously prolonged counting process, and quickly escalated. In the first two months of 2008, nearly 1,200 people lost their lives. An effect of those tragic events is that this time, Kenya has held foreign attention for months before voters go to the polls. But both foreign and local observers are nagged by a simple question: has enough been done over the past five years to avoid a repeat of the eruption?
There are some good signs, most notably independent inquiries into the management of the election and the subsequent violence, a new constitution and an ongoing reform of the judiciary. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that these reforms are not enough to guarantee a peaceful election. A collective psychosis has therefore gripped many, if by no means all, local and foreign commentators.
Full Article: Kenya, between hope and fear | openDemocracy.