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Kenyans fear fallout of ICC trials

Concerns of old wounds being reopened are voiced, as president and deputy president prepare to face trial at the Hague.

Last Modified: 09 Sep 2013 07:04
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President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and deputy President William Ruto (R) face charges of crimes against humanity [EPA]

Fears of old wounds being reopened are weighing heavy on Kenyan communities as the country's president and his deputy prepare to keep their date with their trials for alleged crimes against humanity at The Hague.

When Deputy President William Ruto enters the dock at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, to be followed by President Uhuru Kenyatta in November, members of their two ethnic groups fear the course of justice could bring old rivalries to the surface again.
   
Their victory in this year's peaceful election under the Jubilee Alliance has done little to heal rifts on the ground between Kenyatta's Kikuyu and Ruto's Kalenjin clans, which clashed after a disputed 2007 poll, when the two backed rival campaigns.
   
It leaves East Africa's biggest economy, where tribal loyalties have long driven politics or fuelled violence, on tenterhooks.

It also worries the West, which sees a stable Kenya as vital to regional security.
   
For the ICC, the first trial involving a sitting president is its biggest test to date. The institution set up in 1993 faces mounting opposition in Africa, where it is seen as biased for having only charged Africans.
   
"The alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto bought us time," said 34-year-old Regina Muthoni, who lives near the western city of Eldoret, close to where her mother and about 30 other Kikuyus were burned to death in a church torched by a Kalenjin gang.
   
"We don't know whether their union will survive the trials," she said, calming a wailing infant strapped to her back.
   
Adding to the uncertainty, a parliamentary vote last week demanding Kenya withdraw from The Hague court's jurisdiction has raised concerns that Nairobi is building political cover for the two men to halt their participation in the trial, though diplomats see such a move by men who have attended pre-trial hearings as unlikely.
   
Kenyatta, 51, and Ruto, 46, have long insisted they would continue to cooperate to clear their names of charges of crimes against humanity.

"The two believe they can win at trial," said Macharia Munene, a university lecturer in Nairobi. "The court also has a poor record of convictions," he said, referring to its sole conviction to date of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.

Kenya's 2007 elections were marred by allegations of vote rigging, but what began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings and reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of violence since independence in 1963.

Kenyatta and Ruto were fierce rivals in the 2007 vote, but teamed up together and were elected in March in peaceful polls.

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