ICC: Why Raila is walking tightrope


Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

What you need to know:

  • The ICC decision committing four Kenyans to trial is the new pivot around which the Kibaki succession will revolve.
  • Mr Odinga was on Saturday mum on the fate of rivals Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto as his wife Ida and lieutenants issued conflicting statements.
  • Mr Kenyatta says he will not resign as deputy PM and maintains he will be in the presidential race. Mr Ruto, too, has vowed to be on the ballot.

The impending trial of four Kenyans at the International Criminal Court is likely to be a pivotal issue in the next General Election with two of the accused already showing their intention to turn it into a referendum on the trials.

At the rallies they addressed in Eldoret on Friday and in Kiambu on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto painted the race to succeed President Kibaki as a battle to stop Prime Minister Raila Odinga from ascending to the presidency.

That emotive pitch to their supporters in their respective backyards is likely to provide the key story line of the succession battle in the months to come.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, who have both said they will be running for president, are in a loose alliance of politicians identified with their opposition to Mr Odinga.

However, they have yet to find a formula to pick one candidate to run against the PM.

The duo have consistently attempted to cast the PM as having something to do with the trials, although they have not provided proof for their claims. (READ: Uhuru blames violence on Raila)

Political analyst Karuti Kanyinga warns that such mobilisation could easily take the country back to the dark days of 2007.

Prof Kanyinga points out that the efforts by politicians to use the International Criminal Court (ICC) as an election issue threatens stability.

“The continuing mobilisation of communities and grouping of leaders along ethnic lines is a stark reminder that this can easily push the country to the precipice,” he says.

“The offhand attitude of the leaders towards the ICC ruling and a similarly cavalier attitude to the new Constitution and its institutions are likely to fail the country yet again.”

On Saturday, a group of ODM MPs defended the Prime Minister against attacks by MPs allied to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto.

Assistant minister Alfred Khangati said these individuals were being dishonest because most of them had supported the ICC process in Parliament.

“They were loud in saying let’s go to The Hague and now they are accusing Mr Odinga of scheming for the downfall of some of those whose charges have been confirmed by the court,” Mr Khangati said during the burial of Paul Luyali Khaniri, brother to assistant minister George Khaniri at Kapsotik in Vihiga.

Mr Odinga was among the mourners. Others who spoke in defence of Mr Odinga were MPs Josphat Nanok (Turkana South), George Khaniri (Hamisi), Yusuf Chanzu (Vihiga) and Justus Kizito (Shinyalu).

They were apparently responding to remarks made by the entourage of MPs who accompanied Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to their weekend meetings.

Mr Odinga meanwhile steered clear of the ICC but instead said he was optimistic that ODM will win the elections decisively and form the next government.

The PM spoke a day after his wife, Ida argued for local trials and expressed her sympathies with the families of the four accused. (READ: Ida calls for local trial of ICC suspects)

The PM’s camp has appeared divided in their response to the ICC issue, with Mr Odinga’s staunch allies James Orengo and ODM chief whip Jakoyo Midiwo initially demanding the sacking of Mr Kenyatta and former Public Service head Francis Muthaura.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, who is seeking the ODM ticket, has been cautious in his remarks about Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto.

And a day after he criticised those calling for the resignation of Mr Kenyatta, Mr Mudavadi asked his supporters to “pray” for the accused because the ICC is a “difficult process”.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto’s dragging of Mr Odinga’s name in the ICC narrative has also complicated Mr Odinga’s path to the presidency in the next elections.

The PM assembled a formidable constituency with the Kalenjin at the heart of it at the last elections and has been seeking to find new allies including in the Mt Kenya region following his fallout with Mr Ruto.

The confirmation of charges against Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto has complicated that effort as the two seek to consolidate an alliance – with their home turfs providing key political pillars – which before the pronouncement by the judges in The Hague seemed to have all but collapsed.

University of Nairobi political science lecturer Adams Oloo says Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto will seek to rally their supporters to their side by any means possible, including a campaign of disinformation.

“What the two are telling their supporters that the PM has something to do with the trials in The Hague is purely propaganda.

“It is a matter of public record that the President and Prime Minister pushed for a local tribunal. The suspects and MPs allied to them agitated for The Hague route.

“The Waki commission had nothing to do with Mr Odinga nor did the report compiled by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. It is far-fetched to believe that the PM has anything to do with the trials.”

Dr Oloo believes that the campaign by some groups to stop Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto from contesting the presidency may have a negative effect on Mr Odinga’s quest to succeed Mr Kibaki.

“From my own perspective it would be in Raila’s interest that they both run. The more divided they are the better for Raila.

“If they are both on the ballot they would split their votes but if they are forced out they can unite behind another candidate which would present a major challenge for the PM.”

That option of rallying behind a candidate to take on Mr Odinga is said to have been seriously discussed behind the scenes within Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta’s camps.

Although some see Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka as the most likely to benefit from the absence from the ballot of the two accused, the pair’s surrogates have long expressed distrust of the VP.

That sentiment was captured in a statement sent to the press on Saturday by assistant ministers Nderitu Muriithi and Kabando wa Kabando protesting the stand taken by Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo, also the secretary general for the Wiper Democratic Movement.

The assistant ministers accused Mr Musyoka of being in a conspiracy with Mr Kilonzo to undermine Mr Kenyatta and demanded that the VP petition the President to fire Mr Kilonzo if he was genuine in his alliance with Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta.

But Mr Kilonzo has said he has strictly been referring to the law in his comments and that he was not speaking on behalf of anyone.

Mr Musyoka has also sought to distance himself from the comments made by Mr Kilonzo.

Some allies of Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta appeared to suggest that Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa may emerge as a possible compromise presidential candidate if Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are barred from contesting.

Mr Wamalwa and New Ford-Kenya officials Soita Shitanda and Musikari Kombo are said to have had lengthy talks with both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto in the last week.

University of Nairobi political scientist Joshua Kivuva said the fallout from the ICC will pose a headache for Mr Odinga.

“Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are telling their communities they have interests both historical and immediate.

“They are telling them that the immediate interest is in having someone friendly in power after the next elections and saying that when you have a common external threat you can’t fight one another.

“That is why someone like Kalonzo might benefit. They say that Kalonzo is weak. We are better off with him because he won’t come for what we have. He is already satisfied with nothing,” said Dr Kivuva.

Despite the seeming headwinds in his direction, Mr Odinga remains the most popular contender for the presidency going into the next elections.

He has led in the popularity stakes in every opinion poll since the last elections, is a formidable campaigner and the most experienced political hand among the serious contenders seeking to succeed President Kibaki.

His agility and ability to spring political surprises are also legendary.

The developments in The Hague, however, are likely to make for uncomfortable relations within the coalition going into a period in which the government has to accomplish the task of passing key legislation related to the elections and to ensure the economy does not go into a downturn as it often does during election season.

The fact that President Kibaki seems to have a personal stake in the ICC process with the judges having agreed with the prosecutor that he attended a meeting with the Mungiki further complicates matters. (READ: Kibaki attended Mungiki meeting at State House, says ICC)

Dr Oloo says that it would be a mistake to read too much into the unfolding political drama after the ICC decision because centrist voters may ultimately decide how the election goes.

“There are three groups of the electorate. There are those who have decided who they’ll vote for. Those with Uhuru and Ruto are already convinced that their man should be the next President. Then there are those who are diehard Raila.

“There is another group that are undecided. These will look at both sides objectively. They will consider how (ICC judge) Ekaterina Trendafilova conducted the hearings.

“They will look at the evidence presented, they will look at issues like the assets of the accused being frozen and other such developments. All this will come into play and they will make a decision which will determine who becomes President.”