With finance minister at Hague, Kenyans still divided


In Kenya’s Rift Valley region, the wounds from the violence that followed a presidential election four years ago have yet to heal.

On the surface, all seems well in the tourist town of Naivasha, home to people from various tribes.

But Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s appearance at the International Criminal Court yesterday has exposed how deeply divided Kenyans remain over who is to blame for the deaths of 1,220 people after the election in December 2007.

In Naivasha and Nakuru, another Rift Valley town, more than 100 people were killed in clashes when mobs from the Kikuyu tribe attacked Luo and Kalenjin communities, burning houses and dragging people off buses if they belonged to rival tribes.

The army sent in helicopters firing rubber bullets to disperse armed crowds in early 2008, at the heart of Kenya’s moneyspinning flower and market garden industry.

Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu tribe and a 2012 presidential hopeful, is accused of mobilising the Mungiki, a local militia, to target members of the Kalenjin tribe who had sparked violence in the Rift Valley province targeting Kikuyu.

Naivasha’s residents gathered at hotels and bars on Wednesday to see Kenyatta appear at The Hague to reject charges of crimes against humanity. For Luos, the hearing which will help determine whether Kenyatta is sent for trial, marks the beginning of achieving justice after a long wait.
“This marks the greatest day in the country’s history as the powerful and mighty have been arraigned in court,” said Joel Ochien’g, a Luo, at the Silver Hotel’s bar.

James Otumba, a 46-year-old deputy principle at the D.N. Handa secondary school, earlier recalled how the violence cost him his worldly belongings, and almost his life.

Recalling how he was shot in January 2008 and forced to flee with his family to a nearby prison for safety, Otumba said:
“Blood flowed down my stomach. What came to my mind was ‘I may die’,” he said in his office. On his desk lay a navy blue and gold-edged notebook imprinted with the words “Office of the Prime Minister” — a gift from fellow Luo, premier Raila Odinga.
“I feel good he’s taking the stand,” Otumba said of Kenyatta’s appearance at The Hague. “Should the judges find him guilty, I want him to face the full measure of justice.”

Other Luos were relieved the pre-trial hearings for the six high-level accused were being held outside Kenya, to ensure the judicial process would not be politically influenced.

George Obala, a 48-year-old tailor in the lakeside town of Naivasha, said Kenyatta deserved the maximum punishment.
“I want him to be jailed because I believe he was responsible for killing people,” said Obala, as he worked a sewing machine outside a small shop he opened after losing his first one in the post-election violence.
“It’s good he’s in The Hague. This is justice. If the case had been held in Kenya, there would be no justice.”

Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, ran in the 2007 election. After the violence that followed the announcement Kibaki had won, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan brokered a deal which made Odinga prime minister of a coalition government. But it has struggled to overcome partisan politics and is split on whether the six suspects should be tried at The Hague or in Kenya.

As Kenyatta recounted in his defence that he had campaigned for national unity and denied allegations he planned attacks, some supporters back home were confident he would not face trial.
“It’s a fact that many died, but the ICC prosecutor for unknown reasons decided to frame Uhuru Kenyatta at the expense of the real suspects,” said businessman James Mwaura. “It’s a matter of time before he is exonerated of any blame.”

Other Kikuyus who were forcibly displaced by the violence and have settled in refugee camps dotted across the Rift Valley, say Kenyatta is a victim, wrongly accused.
“Uhuru saved us. He provided vehicles for us to escape from Eldoret,” said 27-year-old Ezra, who fled the mostly Kalenjin town and lives in a tent at a displaced camp in Gilgil.
“Raila is the one who should be there.”

Some Kikuyu refugees said Kalenjin and Luo tribesmen used petrol bombs and fires to destroy houses and businesses in Karichu, forcing them to escape.

Families of eight or more are now squashed in tiny huts and babies sleep in crates.
“It’s very painful because the people who did these acts, they’re not in The Hague. But the man who called for peace, he’s in The Hague,” said Rose Wanjiku, who escaped from Karichu, a mostly Kalenjin Kikuyu town.

She complained that her complaints had not been heard by the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. “Ocampo didn’t come to us to get information from the victims,” she said as she sat beneath a tree outside a tidy estate of corrugated iron and wood houses that is now home to about 1,000 Kikuyus.

While many Kenyans hope a trial at the ICC would be a lesson to leaders before the 2012 presidential election, some foresee a return to violence because the underlying issues of tribalism and a sense of wrongful victimisation have not been addressed.

Samson, a driver, watched as Kenyatta, who is the son of Kenya’s first post-independence president, spoke at The Hague: “If he goes to jail, we won’t have peace in Kenya,” Samson said. “People will be very angry.”