Kenya faces its date with history

Posted on February 3, 2012

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Firstly, an apology for my long silence (even though I suspect many of you may have welcomed it). I started 2012 by taking what amounted to a frivolous month off, catching up with friends and family in the UK and getting away from the rat race that is journalism in East Africa. Immediately upon my return to Nairobi, however, I was back in the midst of political drama that most of the Western world could only imagine.

Days before my return, the ICC announced that four of the Ocampo Six will face trial for crimes against humanity related to the post-election violence in 2007-08. These included Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, also Kenya’s richest man, and former minister William Ruto, both of whom plan to run for president in the upcoming elections. Both were on opposing sides at the last election and thus will stand trial in separate cases, Kenyatta alongside cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura and Ruto with radio presenter Joshua arap Sang. Charges against two further officials were not confirmed by the court.

The fact that the cases have been brought separately reflect the tribal and political divisions that remain in Kenya. Politically, Kenyatta and Ruto are the most important figures involved. Though Kenyatta, somewhat admirably, has resigned as Finance Minister, both men insist they will remain in the presidential race. Kenyatta’s resignation owed a lot of pressure from Prime Minister and presidential rival Raila Odinga, with the Deputy Prime Minister seen as a major contender for State House and clearly in no mood to withdraw from the race. This leaves Kenya’s political future very unclear. As the politicians have so far shown little but scorn for the ICC process, appealing the decision to go to trial and refusing to launch an enquiry of their own, it will be left to Kenya’s people to make the final judgement on their tainted elite. If Kenyatta and Ruto remain in the race, as it appears they will do, voters will be faced with a decision that will have far-reaching repercussions for Kenya and perhaps Africa as a whole.

Should Kenyatta and Ruto stand and lose at the election, then the people of Kenya (who largely support the ICC process even as their politicians fight it) will have sent a message that those standing trial for crimes against humanity have no place in domestic politics and certainly no hope of winning high office. If either should win, Kenya will shown it is a country that lets those accused of the most serious crimes progress their careers with impunity, a country that still believes politicians facing trial at the ICC are good enough to be president. The choice faced by voters is massive and crucial.

None of this should distract from the fact that many of those involved in the post-election violence have faced no sanctions and that many of the victims have received no justice. But at least, finally, some of the alleged perpetrators have been brought to trial and Kenyans too will have the opportunity to stand in judgement of them.

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Posted in: Politics