Magazine article New African

Where Hawks Answer Hens' Prayers

Magazine article New African

Where Hawks Answer Hens' Prayers

Article excerpt

Kenya's judicial system is on the mend, following the promulgation of a new constitution, but it is unlikely to offer immediate justice to the victims of the 2007 post-election mayhem, writes Peter Kimani He proposes reading between the lines of anti-imperialist chants against the International Criminal Court (ICC), by men in neat Savile Row suits and Italian shoes.

THE KlSWAHILI PROVERB, DUA la kuku halimfikii mwewe (hen's prayer can never reach the hawk), encapsulates the sage philosophy recognising the limitations of the mighty dispensing justice to the meek. It rarely happens, which is why the English engineer, Peter Poole, is not just famous for shooting dead an African for stoning his dog, behaviour which was rife in colonial Kenya, but for his subsequent hanging for the crime on 18 August 1960.

That date, flashed as a signpost of equality before the law, did not reveal the massive campaign galvanised to spare Poole's life--including 25,000 signatures--or the minor misdemeanours that had been used as excuses for executing some 20,000 Africans during the colonial period.

David Anderson's Histories of the Hanged documents some of those atrocities, although the Oxford historian has declined to offer his support to Kenyan freedom veterans seeking to extract justice from the British government for torture during the Mau Mau liberation war that lasted from 1952 to 1960.

A related quest for justice is taking shape in another European capital, The Hague, in the Netherlands. It involves some well-heeled individuals - four or six in number, depending on the mood of the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo--who are believed to have financed and organised the 2007 postelection violence in Kenya in which over 1,500 people were killed.

The Kenyan government has been giving mixed signals about its cooperation with the ICC, the most recent statement coming from Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo, a fine lawyer. While serving as environment minister, Kilonzo vowed he would be the first person to swim in the Nairobi River (where fish and crustaceans once lived in clean, flowing water, before industrial waste clogged its course), after giving it a decent clean-up.

That didn't happen, of course, but undeterred, the minister soon took to the skies, circling around the city in a chopper to get a feel for the gridlocked traffic, before landing on a helipad atop the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

There was no chance of Kilonzo coming down to earth to experience the choking traffic since, as a government minister, a motorcade with police outriders, their horns blaring and lights flashing, would have cleared the way for him.

These anecdotes illustrate Kilonzo's imaginative mind, which appears to grow fertile at the mention of the ICC. At one moment, he is gleeful in his elaboration of the legal instruments that he says shall facilitate the swift transfer to The Hague of suspects who plotted the post-election mayhem. The next moment he is lamenting why any Kenyans should be tried abroad since Kenya is putting in place an institutional framework to ensure justice for all.

Kilonzo goes further than that. He says Kenya is not a failed state, and its sovereignty is vested in its people, and that a local tribunal would ensure justice for those who lost property or their loved ones in the aftermath of the December 2007 general election. …

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