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Key political risks to watch in Kenya

Friday, August 10, 2012
By James Macharia

NAIROBI Aug 10 (Reuters) - Kenya plans to hold its first election in March since an eruption of fighting that marred the last vote five years ago. But mounting problems are raising fears about whether the next vote in east Africa's biggest economy will be fair and peaceful.


By far the biggest fear is whether two leading presidential hopefuls due to face trial in April at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over crimes against humanity will honour their summons a month after a general election.

The Hague-based court will put the two on trial for their alleged role in violence that killed more than 1,200 people in 2007 after a disputed presidential election.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, former finance and higher education ministers respectively, and four others deny wrongdoing and have said they will cooperate with the court.

However, analysts doubt they would agree to appear before the court if elected in March.

Political uncertainty is being heightened further by rights groups which have asked the High Court to stop Kenyatta and Ruto from running for the presidency on the grounds that the charges should make them ineligible for public office.

What to watch:

- Will the Kenyan courts bar them from running?

- Will Kenyatta and Ruto attend the trials?


Kenya's next election is set for March 4, 2013.

The coming polls have raised a host of concerns, including new corruption scams, tribe-based political parties and a possible slowdown in tourism that could stifle economic growth.

Kenya's political allegiances are largely shaped by tribal alliances rather than ideology, and there are signs that rising ethnic tensions could lead to new violence.

Over the past three decades, Kenya has had its lowest growth periods in or just following election years, according to the World Bank. Growth is officially seen at around 5 percent this year, up from 4.4 percent last year.

The electoral commission is currently mired in a crisis over its decision to abandon plans to introduce an electronic register of voters after the tendering process descended into acrimony, raising fears of electoral fraud.


A separatist group has threatened to boycott and disrupt voting if their demand for secession of Kenya's Indian Ocean coastal strip is not met by authorities in Nairobi. This has raised fears of violence in the famed tourist haven.

President Mwai Kibaki has flatly rejected their demand.

The Kenyan High Court lifted a ban on the separatists, but the government said it would appeal the decision and showed no immediate sign of softening its stance toward the movement.

What to watch:

-How will the tension affect tourism on the coast?


Kenya sent troops into Somalia last October to crush al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels, accusing them of attacks on its security forces, aid workers and tourists inside Kenya. Al Shabaab has vowed to retaliate.

Kenya has since suffered simultaneous gun and grenade raids near the border with Somalia, while others have targeted the capital and the coastal city of Mombasa.

Repeated warnings of threats in Kenya by the U.S. embassy have heightened risk ratings by key political analysts.

What to watch:

- Could further attacks deter tourists and investments? (Editing by Mark Heinrich)


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