ICC to investigate Kenya election violence. Will leaders cooperate?

The International Criminal Court has told Luis Moreno Ocampo to investigate the role of senior politicians in 2008 Kenya election violence. But some are already suspected of working to undermine the ICC.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters
The International Criminal Court's (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo addressed the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels March 23. Ocampo has been told by the ICC to investigate the role of senior politicians in Kenya's post-election violence in 2008.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, has given its prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo the green light to investigate the role of senior politicians in Kenya's post-election violence that killed 1,300 Kenyans in 2008.

The decision allows Mr. Ocampo to take the next step, which would be passing down indictments against senior Kenyan politicians, some of whom are thought to be ministers and cabinet members in the powersharing government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

The presidential and parliamentary elections of Dec. 27, 2007 – considered by international observers to be deeply flawed – were followed by communal violence that also displaced nearly 300,000 Kenyans from their homes.

“The ICC ruling today will give Ocampo the green light to continue his investigations, and it signifies that Ocampo has substantial evidence to bring charges against Kenyan politicians,” says Wafula Okumu, a Kenya expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane (as Pretoria is now called).

While neither the ICC nor the prosecutor, Ocampo, have released names yet, a previous investigation of the post-election violence – carried out in Nairobi by Kenyan magistrate Philip Waki – laid the groundwork for the ICC’s investigation.

Kenya refused to investigate violence

Kenyan parliamentarians refused to set up their own special tribunal to take up the investigation of organized violence, which prompted the ICC’s Ocampo to pick up the investigation from The Hague. Numerous eyewitnesses to the violence have come forward, some of them receiving death threats, and the United States government has given guarantees of protection to any Kenyan witness who agrees to testify before the ICC court.

Initially, the violent reaction to the December 2007 election results – Mr. Kibaki was initially declared the winner before the election commissioner admitted that he didn’t know who won – started in the Rift Valley city of Eldoret, where supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement claimed that the election had been “stolen.”

The reaction was fierce and divided communities along ethnic lines, with mainly Kalenjin supporters of the opposition attacking mainly Kikuyu supporters of President Kibaki. In one fiery incident, hundreds of villagers outside of the Rift Valley city of Eldoret set fire to a small church packed with Kikuyu women and children, burning more than 30 of them alive.

'Working to undermine the ICC'

Ocampo’s investigations have given many Kenyans the hope that such violent cycles can finally be put to a halt, and that politicians who set violence in motion will finally be held accountable. Yet some Kenyan political analysts say that Kenya’s leaders are busily working to undermine the ICC investigation, both with their fellow African nations in the African Union, and with their own laws at home.

“They are working with the AU to undermine the ICC,” says Mr. Okumu. “Already the Truth and Justice Commission is having credibility problems, because of the past history of its chairman, and the Parliament is moving to disband it. And now the government is talking with the African Union to ask them, why are they using Kenya as a test case, and the anti-ICC mood is beginning to grow.”

The international credit crunch has also played a role, giving Kenya the ability to stand up to the West – which has anyway begun to cut back foreign aid – and to turn to China and other nations of the East which have been less affected by the global economic meltdown.

“They are telling the West, why do we listen to you when you don’t put food on our table,” says Okumu. “In any case, Kenya is mainly paying its own bills from its taxes, and is less reliant on the West for aid. These are changing times.”

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