Sunday, September 22, 2013

Are they saying that it is all about tribe?

The campaign to bring the ICC trials of the President, Deputy President and a radio journalist to a close has employed one of the most sophisticated propaganda machines not seen since the general election campaign that brought Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto to power. Anyone who looks at it as anything less requires a new set of bifocals.

Two events over the past two weeks confirm this. When the Deputy President and the radio journalist winged their way to The Hague, in addition to their families and friend, they were accompanied by a a gaggle of politicians who tagged along "in solidarity" with the accused Kenyans. The politicians along for the trial are a motley bunch; some are pretty intelligent; others barely have the gravitas to order orange juice in a restaurant. What unites them is their determination to impress upon the International Criminal Court that they consider the trial of the Deputy President to be a colossal miscarriage of justice; that they will stand by the Deputy President to the bitter end; and that the people of Kenya approve wholeheartedly with their intentions regarding the trial.

The politicians, many of whom happen to be sitting Members of Parliament, have made asses of themselves at the court. Some of them have been very active in demonstrating their piety on the court steps, praying loudly and emphatically every time the Deputy President made his way into and out of the court during the trial. The Dutch police, and quite rightly too, has put a stop to this. They have directed the prayerful Kenyans to hold their public displays of piety away from the court's doors, or in a specially designated room in the court building. Quite understandably, the MPs are not interested; they are only interested, so far as this blogger can tell, in garnering acres of free press in Kenya's newspapers and hours of footage for the TV viewers back home. That cannot be achieved if the Dutch police shove them out of their preferred prayer zone.

While the antics of these MPs have been comical, what they have managed to achieve in Parliament is anything but. Both the Senate and the National Assembly have passed motions calling for the withdrawal of Kenya from the Rome Statute, a process that will take at least a year once initiated. Outside Parliament, the increasing influential voices of intellectuals and professionals in support of the withdrawal is having a subtle effect on the way Kenyans frame the questions around the trial. In the Standard on Sunday, Donald B Kipkorir makes a sophisticated and lucid argument for the Prosecutor to withdraw the case against the deputy President and the radio journalist. (I implore you Madame Fatou Bensouda, drop these cases, 22/09/13.) On social media, even apparently disinterested intellectuals and professionals have been making the case for the termination of the trials of both the President and Deputy President. Their grounds range from the banal to the cogent.

None of those calling for the withdrawal of the cases has even attempted to argue that the trials should never have been initiated because the accused were innocent, which is very striking. While there is a presumption of innocence in all criminal trials, this presumption only seems to apply when lawyers make a big deal out of it. The rest of us seem to think that to be accused is to be guilty; and the higher your social standing when you are the accused, the guiltier you are. You can't get higher than President and Deputy President.

Instead, many of those calling for a halt in the process have taken to describing the political situation as grounds for the halt of the trials. All of them are obsessed with the idea that Kikuyu and Kalenjin are traditionally hostile to each other and that now that two of their senior-most politicians are sharing power, it is ill-advised to try them for offences that were committed when their communities were ostensibly at war with each other. While they add and subtract different rationales for an end to the trials, this seems to be the principle one. And it is incredibly offensive, especially to victims of the 2007/08 violence who are not Kikuyu or Kalenjin, and who suffered grievous losses and injuries.

The narrative that has been constructed around the two trials is that it is a matter for two tribes; the rest of Kenya does not have a dog in this fight. It is an observer, a bystander without an opinion worth hearing. The argument is that the 2007/08 crisis was an inter-ethnic bloodletting that arose because of the inherent ambitions of the leaders of the two tribes that has now been assuaged because the two tribes share power and that Kenya stands to benefit politically and economically from the union of the two tribes. Whether the Prosecutor has proof that the President and Deputy President have a hand in the events for which they are being tried is immaterial. What matters is that two tribes have reached a rapprochement. The blood of the dead and wounded is neither here nor there.

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