Let me be clear that I have always supported the pursuit of the ICC cases for the 2007-08 post election killings in Kenya. Not because the ICC was necessarily a good option but because it was that or nothing. My country, the United States, officially as a matter of foreign policy articulated by the State Department, always supported prosecution of the post election violence by a “local tribunal” in Kenya. Which is quite exactly like being in favor of Santa Claus bringing a cure for Ebola in Sierra Leone. In no way am I against either, but there are obviously more challenging questions begged by the devastating facts presented in these situations. (See “Christmas Shopping–For Sale: Brooklyn Bridge, Ocean Front Property in Arizona, Local Tribunal in Kenya”)
In the context of the “don’t be vague, go to The Hague” vote by Kenya’s Parliament, our U.S. position has been inevitably opaque. We are not and have never been a member state of the International Criminal Court. As a general proposition under U.S. law our officials are not to be involved in supporting ICC prosecutions, subject to certain potential exceptions. Nonetheless, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council the diplomatic strategy of the Kenyan government in the second Kibaki administration put us to a decision as to whether or not to support Security Council intervention to interrupt the ICC prosecutions in the two Kenyan cases. We declined to do so, to our credit in my opinion.
How to understand what has happened with the pre-trial decisions by Prosecutor Bensouda to drop the charges against the two defendants in the Government/PNU case, Muthaura (on 11 March 2013) and Kenyatta (on 5 December 2014), while the trial in the Opposition/ODM case proceeds?
Almost seven years after the post election violence we are left with complete impunity on the side of those who initiated the conflict by stealing the election and employed two of the three types of large scale killings at issue in the charges of “crimes against humanity”. ICC Prosecutor Ocampo’s Government/PNU case originally included Kibaki’s Commissioner of Police, Major General Hussein Ali, but the Pre-Trial Chamber declined to confirm the charges against Ali, as it declined to confirm the charges against Henry Kosgey on the Opposition/ODM side. The greatest cause of death as identified by the Waki Commission report was gunshot wound – understood to be primarily administered by the General Service Unit, Administrative Police and Kenya Police Service forces under Ali’s command. The “body count” of those who were identifiable by tribe as reported by the Waki Commission was greatest among the Luo–those targeted primarily by the Government side rather than by the militias associated with the Opposition.
So whatever happens with the Ruto and Sang case, the winners of the post election conflict–those on the side of those who stole the election in the first place and who killed to keep and enforce power–remain comfortably immune from any negative consequences, as well as with the benefit of what they have “eaten”. No more than two individuals face any charges of the many people involved in raising and facilitating the ethnic militias in the Rift Valley that killed innocent Kikuyu in revenge for Kibaki’s election theft and to some extent for leverage in a post election political dispensation, as well as to remove future Kikuyu votes and occupy land as in 1992 and 1997 (when Kenyatta and Ruto were partnered in KANU as now in Jubilee).
Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008
I do not necessarily blame Ocampo for having tried and failed. He took on what was perhaps inevitably a nearly impossible task given his lack of actual power. I do very much fault him for raising expectations and seeming to believe as well as play to his own press, and then quitting before the end. I am inclined to think that he simply had no realistic understanding of what he was getting into in going after Kibaki’s closest lieutenants on their own turf and was tone deaf to learning. He seems to have believed that the perceived global stature of the International Criminal Court and his office meant a lot more than it actually did in the warrens of power in Nairobi, no matter how many painted his face on the side of a matatu or a duka. It is hard to imagine how he could have failed to seriously pursue Kenyatta’s telephone and bank records before he left the prosecutor’s office in July 2012. Or how he could have seriously convinced himself that he or his successor would somehow get the records through some notion of “cooperation” from the second Kibaki Administration in which Kenyatta was a key Minister throughout, from his initial appointment during the post election violence on January 8, 2008, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister from April 2008. Did he pursue evidentiary assistance formally from the United States under those potential legal exceptions I mentioned?
For details on the cases, as I wrote in a post in October ahead of the ICC Status Conference, “Susanne Mueller’s article from the Journal of East African Studies earlier this year, “Kenya and the International Criminal Court (ICC): politics, the election and the law”, perhaps gives the clearest account of how the game has been played so far.”
I do not doubt that Ocampo showed personal courage in the prosecutions of Argentina’s ex-generals and compatriots in establishing the credential that led to his appointment as the ICC’s first prosecutor. Nonetheless, the key distinction in that case was a change in government that made such prosecutions feasible. That did not happen in Kenya because the stolen election was allowed to stand, with an eventual settlement that if anything made the situation harder by adding the perpetrators on the Opposition side into that Government as more junior parties, helping to maintain unity for impunity.
As for my country, we tried to have it both ways by supporting impunity for the theft of the election–having at the very best “actively looked the other way” while it was happening– then notionally supporting “justice” for the killings that followed. Not an idea that was ever likely to fit down a real chimney in Kenya.
And yes, I do have more stories for “the war for history” series. For instance, yes, the State Department did know before the vote in 2007 that the Kibaki Administration had dispatched the Administrative Police to opposition strongholds in support of the Kibaki re-election effort. Of course if the “AP” hadn’t gotten caught by those Kenyan television journalists it wouldn’t have been such a problem; certainly we Americans did not say anything publicly. Now that Kenyatta’s grasp on power is that much firmer with the ICC case over, I don’t doubt that he will further ramp up his efforts to formally and informally undermine the new Constitution and shift power back to the Presidency and away from the media, civil society and the citizenry at large to avoid such inconveniences going forward.
This week I got an email from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor with a Request for Proposals for “Countering Closing Civic Space in Kenya and Uganda”. It’s a nice idea to support those trying to hold on to the freedoms they have won, and the amount of money–as much as $841,000.00 for a regional program for the two countries–would not have been trivial if it weren’t for the many millions we spent on the Kenyan IEBC during its 2012-13 “#Chickengate” binge, and on helping to sell its incomplete at best results to the public in the last election, for instance, among many other examples of the things we keep doing to contradict ourselves on support for rights, reform and democracy. And of course our much deeper overall long term “partnerships” with the Museveni and Kenyatta governments.
I may be the one showing naivete now, but I do actually believe that by and large most people in my government, as with the other Donors, do wish for better for Kenyans in terms of justice versus impunity, and for the protection of rights and the establishment of a meaningful democracy where voters have agency. All other things being equal, they would like Kenya to be a country in which powerful killers go to jail and votes count. It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to make the hard choices or take the risks required.