Voices from Nairobi: Justice for Kenya?

By Tara Capsuto, KF 13, Kenya

Kenyans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Dec 15th when the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the much anticipated list of Kenyan leaders suspected of organizing the violence following the disputed 2007 election that left 1,200 Kenyans dead and an estimated 500,000 more displaced from their homes. The list of 6 includes senior public officials like the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Minister of Higher Education, and the Head of Civil Service. Many questions remain as to whether this particular course of justice is the right one, but here’s what 8 Kenyans had to say about it.

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The disputed 2007 election was largely drawn along ethnic lines between supporters of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (a Kikuyu) and opposition leader Raila Odinga (a Luo). The conflict ended with a power-sharing deal, with Kibaki as President and Odingha as Prime Minister.  Local members of Parliament have so far blocked efforts to set up a local tribunal to try those individuals who orchestrated the post-election violence so justice is being carried out at the ICC. One key indicator that this was the right decision? It’s calm in Nairobi. There were some isolated protests by supporters of the Deputy Prime Minister in Uhuru Park (the main park in the center of Nairobi) following the ICC  announcement, but as one staff member at one microfinance institution (MFI) put it, “If there is no noise from Kibera, no noise from Githurai [two of Kenya’s largest slums], then things are calm.”

“I am proud of Ocampo [ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo] and the ICC. We have to start somewhere. I was directly impacted by the post election violence. I was living in Kikuyu land and I am a Luo. I had to seek shelter for 2 weeks. People I grew up with turned against me. We cannot just move on and pretend that didn’t happen.” – loan officer

“It would be good if we could try them here in Kenya. I think it’s humiliating for our country that we can’t try our own people but it is good that they will be tried somewhere at least. Politicians often think they can get away with anything. Maybe this will show them they can’t.” – Taxi driver

“Kenyans often don’t follow through with what we start. I hope we can follow this through to prosecution.” – MFI staff member

“If you and I have a dispute there should be a third party arbiter. The same thing applies here. If the trial was here it would be all about tribal divisions. You saw when the announcements came [about the 6 people to be tried at the ICC] there was no violence. I’m not sure that would have been the case if we were going to try them here. The ICC is this amorphous thing far away from here. We need that.” – MFI staff member

“Let them go to the ICC! Tara, you are a nice lady, but if you are a criminal then you should go to court. If they go to a local court nothing will happen. Moreno is doing a very good job. He’s the best thing to happen to Kenya in a long time. Even if only 3 of the 6 are jailed it’s better than nothing.” – MFI client 1

“‘Gwinkunya gutu’” as we say in Kikuyu. The politicians must learn that we are watching them and they will be punished” [literally means “to pinch one’s ear”]. –  MFI client 2

“Even if some of them are proven innocent, going through the process of inquiry is important. There are still a lot people who were involved who are not on the list.” – MFI staff member

“It’s good to see Obama supporting Kenya on this. Can you send him over here?! I think we should borrow your president to help with our politics.” – loan officer

The Court’s announcement will ultimately have major ramifications for politics in Kenya, with the accused from both parties still holding high-ranking political positions. Where the country’s divisions are most evident at the moment is in Parliament itself. Several MPs have demanded that Kenya withdraw from the ICC while others have called on the government to help finance the legal fees of the six post-election violence suspects.  Another obvious remaining question is whether the accused should resign from their government posts. All of this amounts to a great deal of uncertainty as to whether the ICC announcement will ultimately lead Kenya to greater political stability. The past week, however, gives Kenyans reason to look forward with cautious optimism.

Tara Capsuto is a Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya working with four of Kiva’s MFI partners: Faulu Kenya, KADET, Juhudi Kilimo, and SMEP.  Support Kenya’s stability from the ground up by making a loan today.

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