While the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a chance to inaugurate a new era of accountability in Kenya, misperceptions could also amplify ethnic tensions ahead of the 2012 elections if its work and limitations are not better explained to the public.
Kenya : Impact of the ICC Proceedings, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns that although the mayhem following the disputed December 2007 presidential elections seemed an exception, violence has been a common feature of the country’s politics since the introduction of a multiparty system in 1991.
To provide justice to the victims, combat pervasive political impunity and deter future violence, the ICC brought two cases against six suspects who allegedly bore the greatest responsibility. There are fears that if charges are dropped for suspects of one ethnicity and confirmed for those of others, ethnic tensions could increase sharply, regardless of the legal merits, noted Crisis Group.
“The ICC proceedings will have enormous political consequences for both the 2012 elections and the country’s stability”, said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Analyst. “Developments in the court will not be viewed by many Kenyans simply as legal decisions, and the timing and framing of proceedings and rulings will inevitably have an impact in heightening or damping down tensions”.
Political jockeying and alliance formation have already begun, in part as a response to the ICC proceedings. The two most prominent suspects, Uhuru Kenyatta (the deputy prime minister, finance minister and son of Kenya’s first president) and William Ruto (the former agriculture and higher education minister), as well as the vice president and many other like-minded politicians, are exploring the possibility of uniting behind one candidate. The ICC is expected to announce in late January whether it has confirmed charges against each of the six suspects. If the court, as is expected, hands down a decision on all charges on the same day, this could be a crucial step to help defuse a rise in ethnic tensions.
But if the ICC process is to contribute to the deterrence of future political violence in Kenya, both the court and its friends must explain its work and limitations better to the public. While still popular, approval of the ICC has been declining, due to deft media manipulation by the suspects and their lawyers. In order to counter misrepresentations of the court’s decisions, the ICC and its supporters, including civil society and other friends, should conduct greater outreach to explain its mandate, workings and process.
Furthermore, Kenya’s government must complement the international process with a national process aimed at countering impunity and punishing ethnic-hate speech and violence. It should direct the deputy public prosecutor to investigate and prosecute in domestic courts other individuals suspected of involvement in the post-election violence. It should also support Willy Mutunga, the new chief justice, in his efforts to reform the judiciary and restore public faith in Kenya’s system.
“To many Kenyans, the ICC’s involvement sends a signal that entrenched impunity for wealthy and powerful politicians will not be permitted to endure”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “For a political class used to impunity, this is a likely game changer for how politics are conducted in the country”.