So what divides the two candidates? Both have good personal reasons to contest the presidential election that preclude compromise. Odinga is 68 years old and there will be few better opportunities to fulfill his ambition to be president. A distant third in the 1997 election, Odinga stood aside in 2002 to allow Kibaki to take victory. He was then narrowly but dubiously defeated by Kibaki in the 2007 election. Kenyatta has even more pressing concerns. Facing charges of committing crimes against humanity, he is due to stand trial at the International Criminal Court. He may well be in prison by the time of the next election.
His case, and that of three other Kenyans accused of crimes against humanity, have dominated this election. Kenyatta, his running mate William Ruto, the former head of the civil service Francis Muthaura, and the broadcaster Joshua Sang will be tried in pairs for their alleged role in perpetrating crimes against humanity during the violence that followed the dispute 2007 election. Many commentators have warned that Kenya faces the prospect of a Sudan-style isolation should Kenyatta be elected and try to use his new status as head of state to escape prosecution. If Kenyatta and Ruto travel to The Hague to face trial as president and deputy president, as they have promised to do, other commentators worry simply about how they will manage to run the country while also mounting their defense.
The ICC cases have split the country in two. Odinga is commonly believed to be supportive of the ICC process, but Kenyatta's supporters accuse Odinga of encouraging the prosecutions in order to remove his main rival from the presidential ballot. Moreover, the ICC and Odinga are depicted by Kenyatta's supporters as vessels for Western interference in Kenyan politics. Such claims are groundless. For their part, critics of Kenyatta and Ruto think that they are standing for election in order to gain some sort of democratic mandate which can be later used as either leverage in negotiations aimed at seeing the charges against them dropped or as justification for ignoring any summonses that may be issued by The Hague.
These are bitter arguments because the election is so close. Although Odinga is the frontrunner, he is unlikely to win an outright majority in the first round of voting. A second round will probably be necessary and the outcome of that run-off is unpredictable. What is clear is that ethnicity will determine voting patterns to a great degree. There are always anomalies, but Kenyatta will have the backing of his own Kikuyu community. His running mate, William Ruto, will bring Kenyatta the votes of the Kalenjin in the Rift Valley. Odinga will be supported by his own Luo community and by Kamba supporters of his deputy, Kalonzo Musyoka. Between them then, the two main candidates have carved up the support of four of the five largest ethnic groups in the country. The unpredictable variable in this is the Luhya voters of Western Kenya. The community is renowned for its unwillingness to vote as a bloc. The main Luhya candidate, Musalia Mudavadi, will almost certainly be eliminated in the first round of voting. Where the votes of his supporters and those of the other minor candidates go in the second round of voting will determine the outcome of the 2013 election. Muddying the waters still further, the ICC trials were meant to begin the day before the run-off -- although the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has now admitted that an adjournment until later in the year may be necessary.
The story so far of the 2013 elections will seem familiar to the casual observer of African politics. It is being contested by two perennial candidates who owe their prominence as much to their fathers as to their own records in government. Ethnicity will be extremely important. Taken together, the experience of significant electoral violence around the 1992, 1997, and 2007 elections, as well as incidents of localized violence stretching back to last year, suggest that the election will not pass off peacefully. Militant secessionists along Kenya's seaboard and the country's own ethnic Somali population, disgruntled by the Kenyan mission in Somalia, both promise to further disrupt the election campaigns. Moreover, the chaotic conduct of the recent primaries points to the institutional weakness of political parties and the electoral commission. These are all reasons for concern.
But there is some good news too. Kenyans are not just voting in the presidential election. As usual, they will vote also for their representatives in the national assembly. But under the 2010 constitution, significant power is being devolved from central government to local authorities. County assemblies with significant powers will be filled by representatives selected in the forthcoming election. Voters will also choose county governors and senators who are to sit in a reconstituted upper house of parliament charged with protecting the interests of the counties. The collective effect of these new institutions will be measurable once they begin work after the election. They may, as critics fear with good reason, increase corruption, drive up the costs of government, and further encourage ethnic competition. But what is clear is that these new elected positions are provoking new sorts of conversations about the suitability of particular candidates.
Writing in The Nation newspaper, the human rights activist, Maina Kiai, argues that devolution has led "to deeper thinking about the qualities required for various positions." The effects have already been seen in party primaries where supporters of all the major parties rejected potential candidates they saw as being too close to the party leadership. Clumsy attempts to impose unpopular candidates were the subjects of protest across the country. In many cases, candidates that secured their party's nomination present choices quite different from those that normally confront voters on election day. According to Kiai, the post of county governors in particular has attracted "a preponderance of professionals, managers, and non-traditional types."