The International Criminal Court dropped its charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday, a decision that took six years to make but only moments to ignite exuberant celebrations in the streets of Nairobi.
“It has been a long wait and we are going [to] celebrate until morning,” says Bernard Chege, a local flower vendor who was waiting to close his stall so he could join. “We knew from the beginning he was wrongly accused. This is a big relief and is going to unite the country.”
President Kenyatta faced charges of crimes against humanity in connection with violence that erupted in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 election and led to the deaths of more than 1,200 people. The mass crimes listed on the ICC charge sheet include rape, murder, and the forcible transfer of populations.
But on Friday, a prosecutor at The Hague in the Netherlands announced that the evidence in Kenyatta’s case was not enough to prove the president's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, making it one of the court's biggest failures to convict in its 11-year history. The president's supporters have said the faltering case was proof of his innocence, or that the ICC was politically driven and conducted poor investigations.
While many Kenyans have praised the ICC’s decision to drop the charges, Kenyatta’s critics argue that justice has not been delivered. They claim the court faced widespread obstruction from Kenya’s government and that witnesses against Kenyatta were bribed, threatened, or worse, forcing some to recant.
Kenyatta said that he was “deeply relieved by the decision” in a statement, adding that his conscience was clear.
In Nairobi, hundreds of his supporters took to the streets Friday. Some held signs that proclaimed Kenyatta's innocence. Others could be heard singing, "Uhuru is finally free."
“We’re happy and pray to God that he will protect [Kenyatta’s] leadership,” says Samuel Njoroge, a young motorcyclist near Nairobi's city market. Mr. Njoroge prides himself on the many prayers he and other Kenyans recited for the president during his indictment, including some by traditional elders in a shrine on top of Mt. Kenya.
The general mood on the streets of Nairobi was one of relief after the court's decision. But some government supporters voiced their concerns for Deputy President William Ruto, who remains under investigation by the ICC for his alleged role in the 2007 election violence.
“I can only be sure of a peaceful Kenya if Ruto’s case is also ended,” says John Miere, a local businessman. “I think we still have a long way to go, since this can easily tear apart the ruling coalition.”
Not all Kenyans welcomed the ICC’s announcement, especially those closely affected by the ethnically fueled violence that start in late 2007 and continued into early 2008.
“This [withdrawal] is not fair,” says Maria Nazra, a local college student. “People died and someone has to be [held] accountable. There should be some kind of punishment for the deaths.”
Mike Odhiambo, a shoe shiner who works outside the Jamia Mosque in downtown Nairobi, strikes a helpless tone when asked about the court's decision.
"I don’t see why I should celebrate,” Mr. Odhiambo says. “I don’t [think] this court will ever give Kenyans justice."