A supporter of Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta holds a poster during a solidarity walk through Gatundu town, north of capital Nairobi, January 23, 2012. Kenya’s presidential contenders Kenyatta and William Ruto, and two other men must stand trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity during post-election violence in 2008. Reuters/Noor Khamis
By the time International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo held a press conference in The Hague in December 2010 to announce that he was charging six Kenyans with crimes against humanity, speculation about the names on his list had been rife here for months. At the newspaper where I work, various reporters claimed to have it on good authority that such-and-such a person would be cited as having played a key role in the violence that followed the contentious 2007 presidential election. Security was stepped up in areas thought ripe for a renewal of the fighting, which had left more than 1,000 people dead and brought former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to town to broker a peace agreement. Having lived through the post-election period, I couldn’t help being a bit nervous.
In the end, Kenyans’ good sense prevailed; even the area that had experienced the most vicious attacks remained calm (those attacks, while triggered by the disputed election, can be traced back to longstanding land disputes between members of the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities). But the ICC process—the prospect of which had been roiling the country since Annan threatened to involve the court if Kenya didn’t set up a credible tribunal itself—was only getting started. Now that the country has been plunged into full-on campaigning for the next presidential election—currently scheduled for March 2013, though the date is still being disputed—the ICC looms ever larger in public life.
Every twist and turn of the ICC process has been the stuff of high drama: thanks to live televised pre-trial proceedings, Chief Judge Ekaterina Tredafilova became as well known as Kenya’s top soccer stars, and bitter battles have erupted in Parliament over the question of whether anyone charged by the ICC should be allowed to run for president. This latter is an issue of considerable relevance, since two of the four people now awaiting trial (charges against the other two were not confirmed) are presidential aspirants. One, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, is the US-educated son of the country’s first president. The other, William Ruto, is a prominent member of Parliament. The two have been traveling the country together holding “prayer meetings” at which their supporters portray them as victims of a neocolonial effort to subjugate Africa.
In March the rhetoric ratcheted up another notch when Prime Minister Raila Odinga, believed by many to have been the real winner of the 2007 election and running again for president, accused Kenyatta and Ruto of “damu mkononi” (having blood on their hands), while MP Cecily Mbarire described the ICC as “a slaughterhouse” and urged Kenyatta to ignore any summons to the court. Then, in late April, President Mwai Kibaki launched an effort to get the ICC cases shifted to the East African Court of Justice, a move condemned by critics as a last-ditch attempt to shield the four suspects.
This, in short, is what the impact of the ICC looks like on the ground: front-page headlines, political theater, and nasty exchanges that heighten the tensions between ethnic groups. “The ICC’s actions are now in effect an inescapable element of the political process as Kenya heads to elections,” the International Crisis Group wrote in a January policy briefing.