Kenyans accused in 2007 post-election violence head to The Hague

How Kenyans react to the appearance before The Hague of the men accused in Kenya's post-election violence will indicate whether the trial will exacerbate simmering ethnic and political tension.

By , Guest blogger

September will mark a new phase in the International Criminal Court's (ICC) legal proceedings against six Kenyans accused of fomenting post-election violence in 2007-08. From Sept. 1- 12, three of the six (William Ruto, Joshua Arap Sang, and Henry Kosgey) will attend “confirmation of charges” hearings in The Hague, where the ICC will determine whether enough evidence exists to go forward with a trial. Later in the month, the three remaining suspects (Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, and Hussein Ali) will undergo the same process.

A key question going forward will be whether, and how, the ICC case affects Kenya’s internal politics.

Profiles of all six suspects are available here, but two suspects, Ruto and Kenyatta, are prominent candidates in the 2012 presidential race, and are also participants in key struggles taking place in the present. Ruto is the head of a dissident faction within the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Odinga has moved to kick Ruto out of both the party and the new cabinet. The ICC indictment may have weakened Ruto’s position politically, but Ruto remains defiant, saying that he will run for president even if the trial is still ongoing. Kenyatta, meanwhile, survived the cabinet reshuffle, keeping his position as Finance Minister and remaining a major player in Kenya’s inflation crisis. President Mwai Kibaki may have been willing to sacrifice Ruto for a better relationship with Odinga and a shot at a legacy less tarnished by the 2007-2008 violence, but Kenyatta, ICC indictment notwithstanding, seems “too big to fail.” And though, asReuters points out, Odinga has a lead in the polls, “his rivals’ combined support could unsettle him.” One source argues that a Kenyatta-Ruto “coalition of the damned” could beat Odinga, and put someone else – presumably Kenyatta – into the president’s seat next year.

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As Ruto, Sang, and Kosgey head to The Hague this week, it will be important how their constituencies react. Ruto’s prayer rallies have generated press coverage, as have his remarks calling on other ODM leaders not to support the ICC case. These remarks underscore the potential of the ICC case to heighten tensions within and between parties, and between the country’s different ethnic groups.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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