Deputy Prime Minister, prospective presidential candidate, son of independence leader – the list of Uhuru Kenyatta’s claims to fame could go on and on. Oh, I forgot another claim – the accused in the dock facing charges of genocide. And he could become a first – the first indicted person at the International Criminal Court at the Hague to testify personally at their pre-trial hearing. This is what he is now planning to do, for reasons that will presumably become apparent.
Kenyatta is one of six prominent Kenyans – including another possible presidential contender in 2012, William Ruto – who have been indicted on charges relating to genocide following the post-election violence (PEV) in Kenya in 2007-8. At the time of the violence, human rights groups and then the Kriegler Commission (appointed by the Kenyan power-sharing government and international mediators) found that while much violence was spontaneous, there was evidence of significant planning by supporters of Raila Odinga, on one side, and those of Mwai Kibaki, on the other, to organise extensive violence against opponents and their communites.
Over 1,000 people died in the violence – mainly in the RiftVvalley – and hundreds of thousand mores are still living in refugee camps having been displaced by the killings and burnings of homes and businesses. For some time, despite the Kriegler and other reports, it looked as though nothing would happen and that, as is usual with political violence in Kenya, the planners and perpetrators would have been able to act with impunity.
But the ICC came into the picture and conducted extensive investigations, eventually issuing the list of six indictments – three leaders of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement from 2007 and three from Kibaki’s Party of National Unity. It decided that there had been extensive planning, funding and organisation of the violence. Despite opposition from the Kenyan government (as by the time of the indictment in 2010 several of the men, notably Kenyatta and Ruto, were government ministers or senior civil servants), the ICC process is going ahead.
All the evdience points towards the use of communal violence pitting party supporters and groups of one community against another (basically Kalenjin against Kikuyu and vice versa) as part of the attempt to maintain or grab a hold over communities, land, resources and political turf. What appeared as ethnic violence was actually politically directed violence relating to the ambitions of the powerful.
The alliance of political forces in the ODM effectively put the Luo and the Kalenjin up against the Kikuyu – Kalenjin thugs tried to force Kikuyu from the Rift using horrific violence against families. The Kikuyu were organised to fight back – often using the illegal Kikuyu criminal gang the Mungiki as the strike force. kenyatta is accused of organising the violence by the Kikuyu.
The ICC hasn’t got a fantastic record, it must be said. Milosevic died during his long-running and at times farcical trial and the whole Naomi Campbell “blood diamonds” episode in the trial of Charles Taylor of Liberia was an embarrassing shambles, but the key thing is that it demonstrates that politicians and military leaders cannot act with impunity and can be held to account. This, if nothing else, is vital for countries where the rule of law appears not to apply to the rich and politically powerful.
This is very important for Kenya. It has a history of political violence in the run up to, during and after elections. Thousands have died, many thousands more been forced from their homes in what often amounts to political or ethnic cleansing. Why? To meet the insatiable appetites for power and the wealth that goes with it of Kenya’s political oligarchs. These are not ethnic conflicts or clashes of ideology. Ruto and Kenyatta are accused of organising rival gangs and directing killings and ethnic cleansing in 2007 and 2008, but now they are seen in Kenya as potential allies in the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections. Odinga and Kibaki were allies in 2002, enemies in 2005 and 2007 but are now President and Prime Minister, though hardly the closest of friends.
Politics and political violence in Kenya are about power, position, patronage and wealth. What the ICC trial needs to do – presuming the men are sent for trial after the pre-hearings – is to take these oligarchs out of the political system so the elections in 2012 are not dominated by men who may have blood on their hands and to break the mould of rapacious, resource grabbing politics in Kenya.
See also: Will Ross of the BBC on Kenyatta – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14997943