In Kenya, ICC Ocampo's Arrival Stokes New Look at Election Violence

Article excerpt

The arrival of Luis Moreno-Ocampo to Nairobi today, on paper, is no more than a quick meeting to set up other meetings. But for many Kenyans, Mr. Ocampo's arrival raises hopes that the victims of the 2008 post-election violence - apparently orchestrated by top Kenyan politicians - may finally see some form of justice.

The Argentinian prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague has his work cut out for him. Kenya's political class, having signed in early 2008 an agreement to prosecute the kingpins of the election violence in Kenya or formally request the ICC's intervention, has ended up doing neither.

In his meeting today with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga - the two rival leaders at the crux of the election dispute - Mr. Ocampo will make clear that the ICC will intervene, with or without the government's help.

So while Ocampo - famous for filing war-crimes charges against the sitting president of Sudan for the deliberate targeting of civilians in the Darfur conflict - will almost certainly not fly home with a planeload of Kenyan war criminals, many Kenyans see this as a turning point, where leaders who may have once killed with impunity realize that their actions have consequences.

"Kenyans are divided and confused over all the euphoria of Ocampo's visit," says Wafula Okumu, a Kenya expert for the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa. "Some people will argue that Ocampo is trying to impose his will on the country, but Kenyans had a lot of opportunities and time to put this thing to closure, and ... failed to do so.

"So now, it's going to be very difficult time for the two principals [President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga], who will face pressure from their followers to get out of this mess. And they can't," says Mr. Okumu. "I think Ocampo's agenda is already set. He's going to let them know what will happen next in the carrying out of the investigation. The ICC is investigating in the field, collecting evidence. The process is inevitable."

No rigging, intimidation, looting

Ocampo's visit is just the latest signal to Kenyan politicians that the old manner of rigging elections, intimidating opponents, and looting the treasury are no longer acceptable for a country of Kenya's stature on the continent. Last month, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Kenyan leaders to remind them of the commitments they made to settle the deep issues that set Kenyans at each others' throats, and the US assistant secretary of State for Africa, Johnnie Carson, informed Kenyans that the US had identified and banned top Kenyan politicians from travelling to the US, because of their opposition to reform.

The sustained international pressure underlines that Kenya is too important to be allowed to return to the tense days after the Dec. 27, 2007, elections, when violence by political activists killed some 1,500 people, displaced around 300,000, and cut off key supply routes for food, fuel, and other essential supplies for most of Kenya's neighboring countries, from Sudan to Uganda, Rwanda, and beyond.

"I informed them, in December, I would request to the judges of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and that is the process established by the Rome Treaty," Ocampo said today at a press conference at the president's residence. "I explained to them that I consider the crimes committed in Kenya were crimes against humanity, therefore the gravity is there. So therefore I should proceed."

Kenyans' patience wearing thin

Ocampo's visit comes at a time when Kenyan politicians are exerting pressure on Kibaki and Odinga to slow the process of any ICC investigation, and when progress toward rebuilding a stable government is beginning to halt. The patience of many Kenyans is wearing thin. …