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Kenyans went to the polls in droves yesterday to cast ballots in the first presidential election since 2007, when widespread accusations of vote-rigging sparked violent protests. The current front-runner, Uhuru Kenyatta, was charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity as a result. With 19 reported killed on election day, the country is bracing for the possibility of more violence, as well as “consequences” threatened by the U.S. and other allies if Kenyatta wins.
- Mark Bellamy Warburg professor in international relations, Simmons University; former U.S. ambassador to Kenya
- Ken Okoth Founder, Children of Kibera Foundation (CoKF); Parliamentary candidate, Kibera, Kenya
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, "Who Stole the American Dream" Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith joins us in studio to answer the question posed by the title of his book.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, yesterday millions of Kenyans headed to the polls to have their say in an election that could change the direction of the country. It is Kenya's most complex election yet. Voters will decide who will fill positions that are existing for the very first time, from governor's seats to representatives.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMeanwhile, the global community is anxiously watching. Diplomats and aid organizations are preparing for echoes of the conflict that took place in 2008 when election results triggered ethnic violence that killed thousands of people.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIInternational concern is growing as an early tally shows that one politician charged with war crimes from the 2008 violence actually leads the presidential polls. As they count the votes, we discuss what this means for Kenya and its relations with the United States.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Mark Bellamy. He is Warburg professor in international relations at Simmons University. He was the U.S. ambassador to Kenya between 2003 and 2006. Mark Bellamy, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARK BELLAMYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIMark, Kenya saw record turnouts for yesterday's election. Why and what is the significance of this election?
BELLAMYWell, this is a very significant election for Kenya. You pointed out the debacle in 2007-2008 where, you know, over 1,000 Kenyans were killed and 500,000 were displaced in post-election violence.
BELLAMYThis election takes place after the validation of a new constitution and it's a complicated ballot as you mention, but it really is an opportunity to demonstrate that Kenyans can move beyond that violence, put together a credible election and further consolidate the democracy they're trying to build. So for Kenya, the stakes are high.
NNAMDIWhat are the issues that seem to be defining this election and how Kenyans are voting, Mark?
BELLAMYWell, this is not much of an issues-based election and elections in Kenya seldom are. Elections tend to fall out along lines of ethnicity and tribal identity and personality. And in this election, you have two big personalities, Uhuru Kenyatta on the one side and Raila Odinga on the other, who represent their respective communities. And the election has a lot more to do with these personalities than it does with any specific set of issues.
NNAMDIAnd it's fascinating that the parents, the fathers of both of these two personalities, Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga were like these two personalities at one time allied, another time opposed and now with competing sons in an election...
NNAMDI...against each other.
BELLAMYAbsolutely, absolutely, 40 years ago, their fathers went through this. So, you know, these are men, by the way, who all know each other quite well and Uhuru and Raila Odinga were allies as recently as four years ago, as political allies. So there's kind of an inter-family quality to a lot of this as well.
NNAMDIJoining us now by telephone from Nairobi is Ken Okoth, founder of the Children of Kibera Foundation and a candidate for parliament in the Kenyan elections. He is running with the Orange Democratic Movement.
NNAMDIKen Okoth, the last time we spoke to you was in 2008 after the last presidential election and the violent protests and now you are there in Kenya as a candidate yourself. But before we get to that, could you tell us a little bit about yesterday's election and what the atmosphere was like yesterday and today in your hometown of Kibera?
MR. KEN OKOTHWe have a lot to celebrate and be happy about. The people are very excited for this election. They're ready to turn a new chapter and they voted in peace. The campaigns have been very peaceful and while we were worried that some people might cause violence, there's been nothing like that so I'm very proud to be Kenyan and I'm very proud that all the people in all the places voted mostly in peace and there hasn't been violence directly linked to the election or the election results.
NNAMDIWhen we last talked to you, you were living in the Washington area. How did you come to be back in your native Kenya, back home in Kibera, running for office? What are you running for and why?
OKOTHAs the saying goes, east or west, home is best and a part of me will always be in America where I had very good relationships and friendships, but I realized as a young person it was time to go back to Kenya and use the education and the privilege I'd had to travel and exposure to serve my community and to give back to my country.
OKOTHSo I came back to Kenya in 2009 and actually got a job as a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam and ran a study abroad program there and in 2012, last year I came back to Nairobi to live here full time helping with the Children of Kibera Foundation and I've been running for parliament this year full time.
NNAMDIAnd as a member of what party are you running?
OKOTHMy party is called the Orange Democratic Movement and our party leader is the Honorable Raila Odinga. He's running for president.
NNAMDIOkay, the results are still unofficial, those that have come in this far. But for both of you, first you, Ken Okoth, what do we know about the outcome of the presidential race right now?
OKOTHThe presidential race right now is very tight and it looks like we're going to a run-off from the results that have announced. Between 60 or 70 percent of the results have been announced and Uhuru Kenyatta of the TNA Party in the Jubilee alliance, he's leading with about 52 percent of the vote and Raila Odinga is at about 43 percent of the vote.
OKOTHSo if none of them at the end has more than 50 percent of the vote, it will go to a second round in which all the other candidates will be eliminated and it will be a run-off between Uhuru and Raila.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that is the voice of Ken Okoth. He is founder of the Children of Kibera Foundation. He's now a candidate for parliament in the elections in Kenya running with the Orange Democratic Movement.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone also is Mark Bellamy, Warburg professor in international relations at Simmons University. He was the U.S. ambassador to Kenya between 2003 and 2006. Starting with you, Mark Bellamy, the front-runner, as was just pointed so far, Mr. Kenyatta is a deputy prime minister who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity. Mark Bellamy, what was he charged with and for?
BELLAMYWell, these charges arose from the post-election violence back in 2008 and Uhuru Kenyatta was one of six Kenyans who were charged by the International Criminal Court with various acts that contributed to that violence and resulted in the deaths of a number of people. His running mate, incidentally, his vice presidential candidate William Ruto, is also indicted by the International Criminal Court.
NNAMDIAnd has that been an issue at all in this election, Ken Okoth?
OKOTHThat has been a major issue in this election. It was contested in the Kenyan courts whether these two candidates would be eligible to run as people facing an indictment and the case at the International Criminal Court, which America is not part of, but -- the United States is not part of the ICC, but Kenya is a signatory to the Rome Treaty.
OKOTHSo basically the courts in Kenya ruled these gentlemen, until proven guilty, were innocent and they can run for the presidency and the deputy presidency and that's a constitutional right for them to run. So they are on the ballots legally and, as Kenyans, with full rights to compete for political power. And the judge put it into the hands of the Kenya voters to choose them or to reject them.
NNAMDIMark Bellamy, is it possible that these international criminal court charges could have actually helped Uhuru Kenyatta garner support in some areas of Kenya?
BELLAMYWell, there are some suggestions that Uhuru Kenyatta's followers and his team tried to do just that by charging that the criminal court was actually working in cahoots with Raila Odinga, that it was a Western plot and I think just, in general, an effort to stir up the sentiment that this is a foreign plot directed at us and we need to push back.
BELLAMYAnd there's some evidence, it seems from here at least, that that did have some traction with voters in Kenya.
NNAMDIKen Okoth, did you encounter that sentiment in Kenya, that the International Criminal Court is a foreign body that is interfering in the internal affairs of Kenya and that it shouldn't?
OKOTHYes, that has been a very successful issue for solidifying the political base for Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Uhuru Kenyatta's father, Jomo Kenyatta, the past president of Kenya, was put in prison by the British when Kenya was fighting for independence so the notion that a foreign court in Europe, run by Europeans, might put the son of the past Kenyan president in prison and stop him from his political destiny has gained some traction and has garnered them some support.
NNAMDIAnd the presidential candidate of your party, Ken Okoth, that is Raila Odinga, says that he was cheated out of the presidency in the last election. He's also from your home, Kibera. Do you expect that there are likely to be protests if he loses and is there a possibility, any likelihood, that those protests could become violent?
OKOTHWe are hoping that there will be no reason for violence, that the election results will be announced and they will be very transparent and credible and that as soon as they're announced and they're credible, we will know if we're going to a round two. And if there are any mistakes, our party, the Orange Democratic Movement and our presidential candidate, Mr. Raila Odinga, have pledged that they will take the matters into the courts and they'll not push their supporters to pursue this issue on the streets through protests.
OKOTHSo we are interested, all Kenyans are very interested, in having a peaceful outcome to this political competition and to use our court system, which has seen major reform since 2007. In 2007, the Kenyan court system was absolutely corrupt and stuck that any case taken to them would not be judged fairly. So this time that's not the case.
OKOTHWe have confidence in the independence of our judiciary and we can take any case and have it debated there on its merits.
NNAMDIMark Bellamy, if, in fact, Uhuru Kenyatta emerges victorious in the presidential race, how can we expect the international community to respond if a candidate who has been charged with war crimes and becomes the president of that country?
BELLAMYYeah, well, this is a delicate question and I think this is behind statements by some western governments that Kenyan voters needed to consider carefully the consequences of this vote and, you know, that's certainly true. It's probably noteworthy that Uhuru Kenyatta has said that he'll continue to cooperate with the court and so as of now, as far as I know, his intention is to appear before the court where he believes he will win his case.
BELLAMYSo, you know, I think that's going to be the key question. As long as he continues to cooperate with the court, it may make it a little bit easier for the United States and others, if not to deal with him, you know, in the same effusive way we might with another candidate, at least be able to have some semblance of normal business with the new government in Kenya pending the outcome of the court.
NNAMDIHow can you run a country if you're running back and forth to The Hague to face charges?
BELLAMYYeah, that's a good question. That was, I think, a question that his opponent Raila Odinga put to him during one of the presidential debates. I don't know exactly how the court will work it and how much time he may have to actually spend in the Hague and whether there will be a lot of back and forth. But it is a big question. Probably a big question on the minds of some Kenyans.
NNAMDIKen Okoth, is that a bit question on the mind of some Kenyans?
OKOTHIt is a big question on the minds of Kenyans and it will be very impractical to expect the president and his deputy, both of them who have a case to answer this Hague, to be shuttling back and forth or to be running the country by Skype. So we really hope that the (word?) option, if the case must go on, that the case -- in the case that Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto win the presidency of Kenya, that the cases might be actually adjudicated in Kenya or that the cases could be done in Arusha in Tanzania.
OKOTHSo bring the cases closer home for the interest of justice and also for the practical recognition that these people are now the heads of state of a country. And as long as they're willing to cooperate, we should make it easy for them to cooperate so they can discharge their duties and also clear their names in the court system. But, you know, I believe if Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto win the elections legitimately, they'll be the legitimate leaders of Kenya. And it's not helpful for Western nations to threaten Kenyans and say there'll be consequences.
OKOTHKenyans are smart enough to consider all facts and to choose their leaders without foreign interference.
NNAMDIKen, the last election was complicated by accusations of vote rigging by the then incumbent. How much confidence is there in yesterday's vote?
OKOTHWe have not had any allegations of vote rigging. People are hoping that the technology and the voter registration system, the voter registers are cleaner and clearer this time. And the barometric identification system to prevent fraud, that's been built. And there was some features pulled off this nationally and majestically has happened even in the United States. But I think the voting went off very well in most places, if not all places. And we just hope that the results will be released quickly to avoid the unnecessary tension and speculation taking over.
OKOTHThe country's been peaceful and we haven't had any allegations of outright rigging as we had last time.
NNAMDIMark Bellamy, how much do relations between Kenya and the U.S. depend on the outcome of this election?
BELLAMYWell, the United States doesn't have a candidate in this election and, you know, I think we -- the U.S. made that sort of clear from the outset. And I don't -- you know, what matters is, as Ken said, that this is a clean and credible result that most Kenyans believe to be legitimate. And if that occurs, you know, my expectation is the United States will be able to -- will live with that result and will continue to build on what has historically been a very strong bilateral relationship.
BELLAMYThere will be this -- somewhat this complication we talked about a little bit earlier if it is Uhuru Kenyatta and is in front of the ICC. But I think they can find the motives for working with that.
NNAMDIKen Okoth, you sound awfully calm for a man who is running for a member of parliament in Kenya for the first time. Is there something you know that we don't? Do you know the outcome of your race as yet?
OKOTHI know I was in the race. I was in it to win it and we have all indications that I've won it. We are waiting for the official results. We are concerned that it's taken the electoral commission a little bit long to declare results in Nairobi. All of Nairobi County is a stronghold of our presidential candidate. So the results are dripping out too slow. He's perceived to be lagging behind and we want the public psyche not to be messed with unnecessary delay.
OKOTHBut in my race I was in it to win it and I did everything I could to talk to the voters and gain their support. And they have indulged me with their vote and I'm honored to serve them. And I'm just waiting for the official result to be declared today or tomorrow.
NNAMDIWell, when we hear the official result ourselves, we'll probably make a phone call to you, Ken Okoth. Thank you so much for joining us.
OKOTHThank you very much and I send a shout-out to all my people in Washington, D.C., especially at the Potomac School in Georgetown University. I love you all.
NNAMDIKen Okoth is founder of the Children of Kibera Foundation and the candidate for parliament in the Kenya elections running with the orange democratic movement. Mark Bellamy, thank you for joining us.
BELLAMYThank you, Kojo. It's been my pleasure.
NNAMDIMark Bellamy is Warburg professor in international relations at Simmons University. He was the U.S. ambassador to Kenya between 2003 and 2006. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith joins us to answer the question raised by the title of his latest book "Who Stole the American Dream?" I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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