Kenya Election 2013: Alleged War Criminal Could Be Country's Next President

Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, both of whom have been indicted for crimes against humanity and face trial at the International Criminal Court, have an early lead on Wednesday in the presidential elections, and could very well be Kenya’s next president and vice-president.

Kenyatta, who with a little more than 40% of the vote counted, is ahead at 53% to 42% over his main opposition, Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Kenyatta has been accused of organizing death squads to target rival ethnic groups after the last presidential election in 2007. Following the election, claims of vote fraud and ballot-rigging had led to a nationwide war between Odinga’s supporters, the current prime minister who had lost the presidential bid back then, and President Mwai Kibaki’s supporters. Over 1,200 people had been killed in clashes until a power-sharing agreement was reached, in which Kibaki assumed his role as president and made Odinga prime minister. Kenyatta, who belongs to Kibaki’s political party and ethnic group, was given the role of deputy prime minister.

Ruto, Kenyatta’s running mate also faces charges for crimes against humanity from the same election — though, surprisingly, the two men were not fighting on the same side in 2007. Despite the fact that most voters align themselves with political parties that are rooted in their own ethnic or tribal line, Ruto is not ethnically related to Kenyatta’s clan, but Odinga’s instead. And, in 2007, as a supporter of Odinga, was accused of leading the violence that was directed at Kibaki’s supporters.

Now, as Odinga is poised for yet another loss, the voters rightfully fear that the country may slip into massive violence again following the 2007 election. Voters also fear that if Kenyatta wins, the country will face sanctions  which will hurt Kenya economically. The U.S. and other Western allies of Kenya have warned of the “consequences” Kenyans face if Kenyatta is elected.

If Kenyatta and Ruto win, it is also possible that the president and vice president of Kenya could be absent due to trial for years. Odinga has said that his opponent plans on running a “Skype-government” from The Hague but Kenyatta holds that if he is elected, his and his running mate’s indictments won’t affect their ability to do their jobs.

"I don't think that's an issue that anybody should be concerned with … I have been a member of the government and I've still been able to execute my duties. I still believe I will be able to execute my duties as president once selected,” he said.

He also added that the international community should not threaten the nation with sanctions and as allies of the country, should respect their sovereignty and the will of the Kenyan people.

Despite both Odinga and Kenyatta’s public vows that there would not be a repeat of the violence in 2007, Kenyans are still fearful of what lies ahead for them as more and more votes are counted.