Uhuru Kenyatta is the president-elect of Kenya. Together with his deputy, William Ruto, he has persuaded just over 50% of Kenyans that with his Jubilee coalition in power there is a strong chance that there will be lasting peace in the Rift Valley. Voters are fully aware of this, and what this election means. International media have missed the point.
For half the country, especially the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, this election has been all about security. Nobody believes, for example, that the international criminal court is serious enough, strong enough or material enough to the political reality in Kenya to make much of a difference. We are not, and have never been, a CNN African country, held together by western pins and glue, pity, bananas and paternal concern.
Three years ago we were ready to succumb. There were bars in Kenya called Ocampo. I saw one in Kisii town called The Hague. The idea of global justice was heroic. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the international criminal court, would swoop down with international investigators in parachutes and uniforms and take away the suspects and try them and we would be fine. How naive.
Today, there is a real possibility that none of the cases will go anywhere. We have come to see the track record of the ICC and doubt it. Bungled Congo. More bungled Sudan. The ICC came swooping when we were deeply vulnerable – at the lowest point in our history. Now, it seems toothless. More than anything, it seems to want to use the Kenya cases to make itself legitimate as a meaningful global institution. We are not keen at all to be playing that sort of experiment.
Of course, we fully intend to co-operate with the ICC: we opted in, and we will see it through. But I and many others no longer have any serious moral investment in its progress as an institution. I propose they go and build their court properly, and then come back and talk to us when it is grown up, when there are a few convictions of people who are not Africans. Kenya is a real place, with real politics.
Over the past five years, we have come to be acutely and painfully aware that our common fall in 2007 and 2008 opened up the possibility that we would be banana-republicked by our compassionate and caring development partners. We know, from our own history, and from recent events around the continent, that the ICC is many things, but it is also the new missionary who comes to save us from ourselves with a compassionate look on his face and a Bible in his hand.
For 45 years, through bad and good, Kenya remained stable, paid its salaries, and sometimes hobbled, sometimes thrived. The humanitarian crisis that followed the 2007 election was uncharted territory, the kind every nation in the world must face – a moment when your very existence is in doubt. We stopped being naive, stopped easily assuming that our existence and vibrancy must always be fought for. We learned, and continue to learn. We are happy, very happy to live in an increasingly multipolar world. As our economy continues to thrive we will choose more partnerships with more countries.
Gone are the days when a bunch of European ambassadors speak in confident voices to the Kenyan public about what we should do, why we should do it. Naughty boys and girls, we are not happy. We look forward to making stronger ties with India, to trading more with China and Brazil. We look forward to being no longer the nice beach-and-safari kind of country we have allowed ourselves to be for too long. The west should expect more defiance from an Uhuru government – and more muscular engagement. That is part of the reason he has won this election. No Côte-d’Ivoireing here thank you. You see what happens to the good-boy countries who do what they are told?
Raila Odinga has challenged the results of the election. His party will go to the supreme court. This is wonderful news. Let our election process be challenged in court. Let our democracy grow and get more muscle. If it should be that his legal claims make him president, I welcome this. He has much to offer Kenya, as president, or in any significant role.
There are many questions to ask of this election, of our new leaders. I want to know what Kenyatta will do about the land issue, in particular, implementing the Ndungu land report. For me, the best thing about this election is none of the major coalitions can ride roughshod over each other, and then over us. Kenyatta will fail if he cannot unite the whole country behind him. He will fail if he is seen to use his position to advance the interests of the Kikuyu at the expense of the rest of the country, especially western Kenya and the Coast province. This election has swept away much of the old deadwood. We have hundreds of bold young leaders from all over the country, and an increasing number of women. Good things are coming, but like any young democracy there will be messiness, and awkward collaborations.
Most of all, I am so relieved that this is ending, I just want peace. My sharp pen wants to be very critical, but today I will say well done, Uhuru Kenyatta, you show real promise. You just may be a leader we will remember. Now, soon I plan to make dirty jokes about Uhuru on Twitter again. I am sick and tired of putting on a happy face for peace. I just want peace.
Binyavanga Wainaina is the founding editor of the literary magazine Kwani? and won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002. He has written for the New York Times, the Guardian and National Geographic. He is the director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College.