Public support in Kenya for the International Criminal Court (ICC) process has dropped since last year, raising concerns ethnic calculations continue to be a key driver of politics more than three years after the post-election violence in which more than 1,000 people died. Independent research firm Synovate released an opinion poll Friday that showed public support for the ICC process had declined to 56 percent in July this year, compared to 68 percent in October 2010.
The decline in support for the ICC process is not a countrywide shift. It is explained by a significant decrease in support for the process in the areas where the six prominent Kenyans suspects and their allies come from. The areas in question are the provinces of Central, Eastern, Rift Valley, and North Eastern.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, one of the suspects, has his political base in Central province where his father, Kenya’s first president and independence hero, Jomo Kenyatta, held sway for decades. Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Kirimi Muthaura, another suspect, calls Eastern province home. Eastern province is also home for Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, a key ally of all the suspects. Rift Valley is home to suspects William Samoei Ruto, Henry Kiprono Kosgey, and Joshua arap Sang. Former police chief, Hussein Mohammed Ali, even though he grew up in other parts of the country, is considered a son of North Eastern province, where most members of his Somali ethnic group live.
These provinces registered 60 percent and above backing for the ICC taking on the Kenya cases in October last year. This was before the ICC’s list of suspects was known. Once their names became public in December then the ICC started losing ground in those areas.
“Here we are talking about tribal politics coming to play,” says Maggie Ireri, Synovate’s Managing Director.
She attributes the shift in the four provinces to campaigns led primarily by Musyoka, Kenyatta, and Ruto to popularize the idea of a single candidate to contest next year’s presidential election against Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Ireri says because of the ICC’s gag orders, the three have sought to move focus away from the court process. This is in contrast to before Kenyatta and Ruto’s initial appearance in April when they held rallies questioning the credibility of the ICC prosecutor and the court itself.
“If you’ve been gagged, the easiest thing to do is to change the agenda,” Ireri says.
As Kenyans go to the polls next year, it appears as though the electoral field is open because President Mwai Kibaki is serving his second and final term in office and has said he has no favorite. However, Odinga has an advantage over the others because of his strong showing in the botched 2007 presidential poll, hence Musyoka, Ruto, Kenyatta, and others forming an anti-Odinga alliance to compete with the prime minister.
Despite a new constitution and other changes in Kenya since the country went to the brink of war in early 2008, Ireri says it is difficult to say whether Kenyans have learned the lessons of that violence.
“I’d say we’re pretty divided. We cannot conclude we have learnt or not learnt (from the post-election violence). At 56 percent, it is a 50-50 chance that we’ve learnt (the lessons),” Ireri says.
The Synovate opinion poll was conducted between June 30 and July with pollsters interviewing face-to-face 2,000 men and women countrywide. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percent.
Ireri says she does not foresee opinion in the four provinces reversing so long as the suspects face the possibility of trial. She, however, pointed out that what has lacked is a consistent effort at educating the public about the ICC process.
“The ordinary Kenyan, what they know is what they see in the media, what their politicians say,” Ireri observes.