‘Political gangsters’ on list of suspects over Kenya poll violence

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

Armed mobs embarked on two months of tribal warfare and forced evictions (Ben Curtis/AP)
Armed mobs embarked on two months of tribal warfare and forced evictions (Ben Curtis/AP)

Not since it gained independence from Britain half a century ago has Kenya’s ruling elite faced such a serious challenge to its grip on power. When he arrives in Nairobi today Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentine chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), will set the scene for a titanic struggle that could decide the fate of Kenya’s shaky democracy.

He will take on the country’s politicians on behalf of the desperate people still seeking justice, more than two years after at least 1,100 died in post-election tribal violence.

“Let’s be clear,” said John Githongo, the former anti-corruption chief. “The ICC has met one of the most serious bunch of gangsters on the African continent here in Kenya.”

For two months tribal violence, riots, pogroms and forced evictions convulsed the country after disputed elections. The security forces cracked down with trigger-happy brutality: more than a third of those killed were shot by police. Nobody has yet been convicted in the domestic courts.

Since multiparty politics began in Kenya, elections have been ethnically divisive and violent. Hundreds died in 1992 and again in 1997.

“Violence has long been a feature of political life, but what happened in 2007 went way beyond anything we had seen before. If nothing is done we can predict that next time will make 2007 look like chicken feed,” said Anthony Kuria, the co-ordinator of the Movement for Political Accountability, and a member of a government inquiry set up to investigate the violence.

That inquiry, dubbed the Waki Commission after the judge who headed it, produced a 556-page report. It also drew up a confidential list of alleged perpetrators that was handed to the ICC last year after Kenya’s Government failed to set up its own tribunal.

The list, as well as the evidence of the Waki Commission and various human rights groups, forms the basis of the ICC investigation.

“The situation was extremely well documented so we’re all making fairly educated guesses as to who they might be pursuing,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, executive director of the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Among 19 politicians on a list of 219 alleged perpetrators, published by the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, are three Cabinet ministers in the coalition Government. Among them are William Ruto, the Higher Education Minister and member of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and Uhuru Kenyatta, Finance Minister and leader of the Party of National Unity. Both firmly deny the allegations and have taken legal action in Nairobi to have their names removed from the list.

Awaiting judgment
In Eldoret Kalenjin supporters of the ODM turned on Kikuyu neighbours after the re-election of their candidate, President Kibaki. In one of the worst cases, 35 Kikuyus were burnt to death in a church on New Year’s Day 2008. Jackson Kibor, 76, a Kalenjin elder and former politician, is listed as an alleged perpetrator. “If there are witnesses who can positively link me to any act of incitement or violence, I’m ready and willing to face The Hague,” he said. “I hear people saying my name is on [the] list. If it is there, I’ll be tried and the judge’s decision is final.”