Kenyan voters and the ICC factor

Charges of crimes against humanity brushed off at the ballot box by defiant voters.

TNA supporters wait in the sun for President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta to arrive
TNA supporters wait in the sun for President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta to arrive [James Brownsell/Al Jazeera]

Nairobi, Kenya – Prime Minister Raila Odinga drew praise – and laughs – when he said in the country’s first ever presidential candidates’ debate that Uhuru Kenyatta would struggle to govern the nation of Kenya from The Hague.

“The government cannot be run by Skype,” Odinga quipped.

But after scraping a tiny majority in general elections , it looks as though Kenya’s next president and vice-president will be clocking up the air miles, commuting between sub-Saharan Africa and northern Europe.

Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto , face charges of crimes against humanity stemming from the violence which marred the 2007 election .

Kenyatta, from the Kikuyu tribe, is alleged to have met with members of the conservative Kikuyu quasi-cult Mungiki gang to plan attacks against members of Odinga’s Luo tribe in the aftermath of the disputed poll.

Key witnesses in the case have mysteriously disappeared, and are presumed dead . Others, according to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, have been bribed to retract their critical testimony.

Charges against Ruto relate to the massacre of Kikuyu villagers who were burned alive in a church in which they sought sanctuary.

Poll protest

Kenyatta secured more than six million votes in this week’s election.

“All these votes for him are protest votes against Western powers taking him to the ICC,” a Kenyatta supporter named Karanja told Al Jazeera.

The coalition’s leaders will not be inaugurated until the end of March – at the very earliest. And politicians from the rival CORD alliance have said they will challenge the results through the courts, meaning further delays before Kenya’s next leader is legally reinforced.

The crucial question remains whether or not a confirmed President Kenyatta and Vice-President Ruto will continue to co-operate with ICC officials, or whether they will use their status to fight the charges anew.

“There are courts in Kenya,” a Kenyatta supporter named Ann Karoki told Al Jazeera, amid the noise and jubilation of the TNA victory rally at Nairobi’s Catholic University.

“We can handle it here. We have the courts – and we want the ICC prosecutors to come here again. Our president should not have to leave the country to stand trial. We urge the ICC to let the Kenyans deal with their own things. That is what the Kenyans ask.”

The location of the trial is a key factor in the ongoing pursuit of justice for relatives of the 1,400 killed in 2007-08 and for those 600,000 people who were displaced from their homes – many of whom remain in IDP camps five years later.

“I don’t see them co-operating with the ICC,” lawyer and activist Anne Njogu told Al Jazeera. “I think they’ll try to bring the trial back to Kenya or Tanzania, because they think the court in The Hague can’t be manipulated, and they stand a better chance of manipulating the court if it is in Kenya.

“Justice flows like a river. The fact that you want your trial in a particular place means you want to manipulate the process.”

In the dock?

TNA voters expect the charges now to be dropped.

“Uhuru and Ruto were not even contesting the 2007 race,” Benson, an artist from Nairobi, told Al Jazeera.

“We don’t understand why they should stand trial, when the principals of the election [Odinga and President Mwai Mibaki] are the ones who should face trial.”

Other supporters at the TNA victory rally concurred.

Can the ICC deliver justice to Kenyans?

“The ICC will have to drop the cases,” said Wambui Wiamgi. “The evidence must be false. The charges are against humanity, but it is humanity that has elected them – how can they be guilty?”

US officials have said that, while Kenyans must be free to vote for whomever they wish, there would be “consequences” if Kenyatta were declared president.

Furthermore, given statements this week from Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance that railed against British officials – accusing UK High Commissioner Christian Turner of “shadowy, suspicious” moves behind the scenes – diplomatic relations between Kenya and the West are likely to be fraught.

British officials have been at pains to point out that they do not wish sanctions to be imposed on a Kenya under Kenyatta’s leadership. But co-operation with the international court is key to keeping the gates of investment and tourism open.

Sanctions against Kenya – a key Western ally in East Africa – remain unlikely. But top diplomats from the EU, US and UK have inferred they would have “no non-essential conduct” with a government run by people indicted for crimes against humanity.  

Innocent until proven guilty

“There is the presumption of innocence, and the ICC is competent to determine whether they are guilty or not,” said Justus Nyang’aya of Amnesty International Kenya.

At time of publication, TNA officials had not responded to requests for comment on whether or not their leaders would attend hearings.

“They have said they will [co-operate], and we believe they will. That is a good thing, that is a requirement… but we cannot pre-empt what they are going to do,” Nyang’aya told Al Jazeera.

“The court will have to give them the opportunity to prove themselves, and we urge the ICC to give them a fair hearing.”

For now, with both winning and losing candidates urging peace and respect for the rule of law in the wake of the contentious election results, both Kenyans and international observers will have to wait and see how Kenyatta’s Kenya finds its way in the global community.

But amid the broad smiles, the flag-waving, the singing and the dancing at the TNA victory party, many here remain defiant.

“The Kenyans have spoken to show they believe in Ruto and Uhuru,” said Benson, the artist. “We don’t expect them to be tried or found guilty, and we have proved the prosecutors wrong.”

“Kenya is a democratic country,” said Wambui Wiamgi. “We are free to choose our own leaders; we do not want interference from the West.”

Follow James Brownsell on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell

Source: Al Jazeera