n Journal of African Elections - International justice vs public opinion? The ICC and ethnic polarisation in the 2013 Kenyan election

Volume 12, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-4700



This article examines a perennial factor in Kenyan politics, that of communal identity, and how it was mobilised in the context of the March 2013 elections. Using survey data it tracks attitudes regarding a unique feature of these elections: the (still-expected, if bitterly challenged) International Criminal Court (ICC) cases of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities, respectively, for their alleged roles in the widespread violence that followed the disputed 2007 election. Remarkably, notwithstanding this ethnic divide at the time, their 'defendant' status provided, first, the personal, and subsequently, the communal foundation for their political union and ultimate triumph over then prime minister Raila Odinga, becoming Kenya's new president and deputy-president, respectively. In exploring this success, the paper uses nationally-random survey data which also reveal the degree to which Kenyans became increasingly polarised as the elections drew nearer. In addition, qualitative material from media coverage and personal interviews suggests just how such polarisation occurred. The conclusion raises several questions about the way various possible scenarios involving the ICC issue could yet reconfigure the ethnic alliances evidenced in this recent and controversial election, and about the salience of ethnic identity in Kenya's electoral politics more generally.

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