letters from nairobi


What the ICC Ruling Means
January 18, 2012, 13:39
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On or before Monday, January 23rd, the International Criminal Court is expected to rule on the fate of the “Ocampo Six.” In Kenya, a collective breath is being held in anticipation of the ruling, which, many believe, will be a crucial moment in the current and future political climate of this country.

Admittedly, I find the complexity of the situation a little confusing. I’ve been trying to unravel the many strands of political, tribal, and historical affiliation that comprise this knot – this blog entry is my way of attempting to understand the situation and its implications. So, bear with me. Or skip it. (I’ll never know!)

The charges against the defendants stem from events that occurred during the post-election violence of 2007-2008, when tribal clashes pitted neighbors against each other and ripped apart villages and communities. To oversimplify the sequence of events as I understand them: the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared winner of the presidential election despite widespread reports of vote rigging and election fraud. The controversial result sparked a countrywide explosion along ethnic and tribal lines – Kibaki is from the Kikuyu tribe and his disputed win ignited tensions between the Kikuyus and his political opponent’s tribe, the Luos.

The Luo and Kalenjin tribes were, for political purposes, affiliated; united in opposition to Kibaki and, by extension, the Kikuyus. When Kibaki was declared winner of the election, the Luos and Kalenjins rioted. Kikuyu houses and shops were burned to the ground, people took to the streets with clubs and machetes, and hundreds of thousands fled their homes. In one oft-cited attack, young Kalenjins locked 30 women and children inside a church on New Year’s Day and set it on fire, killing everyone inside.

In response to these attacks, the Kikuyu retaliated against both the Kalenjin and Luo tribes and violence raged in communities throughout the Rift Valley. By the time then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan stepped in to broker a truce, approximately 1,300 Kenyans had been killed and more than 660,000 displaced – thousands of whom still live in temporary settlements, far from their homes.

So who are the “Ocampo Six” and what does this have to do with them?

The “Six” are a group of high-profile Kenyan politicians and leaders who are charged with committing “crimes against humanity” by allegedly masterminding the post-election violence. They are accused of, among other things, murder, rape, forced transfer of population, persecution, and other “inhumane acts during chaos.”

What’s most crucial to understand about the “Six” – and what makes the upcoming ICC ruling so potentially explosive – is that the defendants hail from a mixture of tribal and ethnic lines. Who the court decides must stand trial at The Hague will undoubtedly have a ripple effect throughout the country, where tribal tensions are muted but smoldering.

The “Ocampo Six” (“Ocampo” refers to ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo) are Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta; former cabinet minister William Ruto; Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura; former national police chief and current head of the Postal Corporation, Hussein Ali; former government minister Henry Kosgey; and radio executive Joshua Arap Sang. Both Kenyatta and Ruto are currently planning to run for the office of president in the next election – many analysts are questioning what, if any, affect the ICC ruling will have on each’s presidential ambitions.

The ethnic breakdown of the “Six” is as follows: Kenyatta and Muthaura are Kikuyu, Ruto, Kosgey, and Sang are Kalenjin, and Ali hails from Kenya’s formidable Somali community – but, for the intents and purposes of ICC observers, is grouped with Kenyatta and Muthaura as a Kikuyu ally.

The ICC’s forthcoming decision could indict none of the defendants, all six of the defendants, or any number in between.

The likelihood that none of the suspects will be brought to trial is thought to be slim – Reuters’ James Macharia says it would be a “serious embarrassment” for Ocampo – but whether one, two, or all six individuals will be brought to trial remains to be seen. The most important factor, in terms of political backlash and possible consequences, is the ethnic balance of the suspects. If only Kikuyus, or only Kalenjins, are held responsible for the violence, many fear that ethnic tensions will ignite once again; however, if an equal number of Kikuyus and Kalenjins are charged, observers hope that both communities will be somewhat pacified.

With the next round of presidential elections looming on the horizon, the consequences of the ICC’s ruling will no doubt be far-reaching. The post-election violence of 2007-2008 is not merely a scar on Kenyan history – it is an open wound. Whether it will heal or fester in Kenya’s volatile political climate remains to be seen.

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2 Comments so far
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Very interesting! Luis Moreno Campo is a good friend of Sara’s and Carlos’s –I met him when he gave a lecture for us. An impressive person with a real interest in not just being a typical prosecutor, although I thought his role in Libya was way too political. But I understand that he is stepping down shortly — when, exactly, I’m not entirely sure. You should interview him if he turns up there!
Good description of some of the complexities!

Comment by Richard Rubenstein

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