Last Wednesday, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo kicked up a political storm in Kenya when he announced his intention to charge six Kenyans with murder, rape, and other related crimes.
The intended charges arise from the violence that followed the disputed 2007 elections. Nearly 1,300 people died and more than 500,000 fled their homes in the violence.
The six are Henry Kosgey, Minister for Industrialisation; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Uhuru Kenyatta; William Ruto, suspended Education Minister; Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura, former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali and Joshua arap Sang, a journalist with Kass FM, a community radio based in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret that broadcasts in the Kalenjin language.
In the peace deal that ended the violence and resulted in a power-sharing coalition government between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, it was agreed that its perpetrators would face justice in Kenya or at the ICC in The Hague.
However, Kenyan MPs shot down any attempt to set up a local tribunal. Now, the same legislators who rejected a local solution to the Kenyan situation want the government to withdraw from the Rome Statute that created the ICC.
Ocampo’s release of the names of what has quickly become known in Kenya as “The Ocampo Six,” couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Kenya political class.
It points to an ongoing but unspoken, fundamental shift in power in Kenya that could fracture the political elite and dynasties that have ruled the country over the past 47 years.
“What is so interesting to me in the heat and noise of the ICC’s announcement is the reaction of the political class; the Ocampo Six being named, though anticipated for weeks now, somehow seems to come as a surprise,” said Martin Kimani, a writer, in a post to a listserve that circulates among Kenyan intellectuals, “A surprise to power that has been so insular and free of challenge that its owners are unable to believe that control could ever leave their hands, or that any process against them could possibly succeed.”
In the past two weeks, US diplomatic cables leaked by the whistleblower site Wikileaks have revealed scathing criticism of the Kenyan leadership.
Kenya is referred to as a “swamp of corruption” and the Cabinet as easily being Africa’s most corrupt, and all them crooked. The cables portray a country with a political system partly fuelled by drug money.
The leaks also demonstrate an elaborate plan to break the political elite’s grip on power by fanning a democratic revolution by the youth.
America’s ambassador in Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, speaks of how the “culture of impunity” perpetuated by Kenya’s political and economic elite that links directly to President Kibaki and Raila, continues to frustrate genuine reforms, warning that this could lead the country back into a civil war situation in 2012.
“While the culture of impunity and the grip of the old guard political elite on the levers of state power and resources remain largely intact, hairline fractures are developing in their edifice which — if we continue to work them intensely — will develop into broader fractures and open up the potential for a peaceful process of implementation of fundamental reforms,” he wrote.
This stung both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga to attack Ranneberger and what they termed American hypocrisy.
Ocampo’s list and the WikiLeaks revelations have together undermined the collective Kenyan political class and, more shocking, revealed that the Americans are working on encouraging a total different crop of youthful leaders to oust the old guard.
The WikiLeaks cables, in particular, blew apart a common assumption in politics — that Prime Minister Raila was, somehow, the blue-eyed boy of the West, particularly the Americans, and their diplomatic machines were all primed to ensure that he becomes president in 2012.
However, the US cables surprised many when they put Raila and Kibaki in the same boat as patrons of corruption.
In addition, though Ocampo said the ICC was not going after Kibaki and Raila because it did not have a mandate to prosecute those who might have “political responsibility,” in the same breath he said that if indeed that was the standard, then the two men would be in the ICC noose.
Obsevers though, consider that the inclusion of Muthaura, Kibaki’s right hand man with whom he has a special bond, was slapping a charge on Kibaki by proxy. Likewise, for Raila, whose right hand man in the 2007 elections was Ruto (although they have now fallen out), and whose place seems to have been taken by Kosgey, was equally repudiated by having his close allies on the list.
Indeed, many MPs on the Kibaki side of the Kenyan divide have lately been arguing that Raila, who called for “mass action” following the election dispute, should be dragged to The Hague. On the other hand, the Raila camp is arguing that Kibaki, who they say stole the election and thereby caused the violence, should be taken off to The Hague.
Ocampo’s list, and the WikiLeaks cables, therefore, could limit the ability of the Kenyan political dynasty to maintain its grip on power by handing over to an anointed successor.
Unlike its East African Community partners, Kenya’s politics feels like a monarchy. Raila is the son of Kenya’s first vice president, and the father of the country’s opposition politics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Uhuru is the son of the country’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, whose vice president for a while was Odinga.
Kibaki, who won’t be eligible to stand in 2012 because of the two-term limit, has his son Jimmy Kibaki and daughter Judy Kibaki angling to join politics — one of them will possibly inherit his Othaya constituency.
Raila has been grooming his son Fidel to join politics, and currently he is his father’s fixer, and has been in the news doing deals with fringe political groups.
If the ICC and the intentions of the Americans revealed in the leaked cables damage this political elite, it could scuttle their attempt to build a political dynasty. Some analysts say that would be a good thing, because it would “finally free Kenya.”
But other presidential palaces and State Houses in East Africa should worry too. For there is a pattern in the ICC indictments. Farther north, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the western Darfur region.
In DR Congo, warlords Jean Pierre-Bemba, Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, are currently being tried at the ICC for war crimes.
Northern Uganda rebel Joseph Kony, who heads the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, which is now a roving bandit force sowing terror from Southern Sudan to the Central African Republic, has also been indicted.
Kony was indicted with nearly all of his military command; his deputy commanders Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and like their boss, remain at large. Another, Raska Lukwiya, died in August 2006.
There has been, and there continues to be pressure by international groups to have Ugandan officials and military officers tried in the ICC for war crimes in eastern DRC. Between 1997 and 2008, the armies from the two protagonists occupied, or made frequent military invasions into eastern DRC.
They are partly blamed for the direct and indirect death of, going by conservative estimates, 3.9 million Congolese.
Humanitarian organisations put the fugure at 5.4 million, but critics say this number has been inflated by aid agencies to attract funding.
As one observer put it: “If the ICC has gone for six Kenyans for the death of just over 1,200 people and the displacement of 500,000; and Bashir is indicted for the death of about 250,000, it becomes difficult to continue ignoring calls to bring Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to book for the death of 5 million.”
The observer also noted that “Burundi, where tens of thousands of people were killed in much the same circumstances as in Kenya, should also be a country of interest to the ICC.”
In that sense, Kenya could be a “soft entrance.” One reason could be that it, and Tanzania, are the only civilian-led countries in the EAC.
Rwanda and Uganda are ruled by military men who came to power as the head of guerrilla armies, who have tried to convert themselves into civilian rulers through limited elections and transforming their military parties into regular political organisations.
According to this view, the ICC hand is slowly closing in on Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda like a horse shoe, having dispatched DRC and Sudan’s perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
Recent Wikileaks suggest that Museveni’s currency is diminishing in American eyes. They quoted US diplomats criticising him for tarnishing a good record by turning rogue, rigging elections, and condoning corruption.
Rwanda and Uganda have escaped censure for their role in the DRC in the UN Security Council in the past, because they were able to leverage their close strategic alliance with the USA and the UK to block it.
But with the USA getting jaded with Museveni, and its global clout beginning to wane, the ICC will face less big power obstruction in pursuing them for the DRC atrocities. Burundi, might, for that reason, be an easier pick than Rwanda and Uganda.