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Opinion: Kenyatta Trial and lesson for African leaders

By wale Oyewale

The trial of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto by International Court of Justice for crime against humanity after the duo accused of pitting their communities against each other in campaigns of ethnic cleansing and murder in early 2008 that left a good 1,300 people dead.

Uhuru Kenyatta

Uhuru Kenyatta

Although, many international political analysts opine that nobody is above the law and law must always take it course but some believes that the trial of Kenyatta and his deputy might lead to political crisis and instability.

Five years after a violent election that drove Kenya to the brink of civil war, some of the alleged leading perpetrators are at last to go on trial. The duo five years after pitting the their tribe the Kalenjin group(Ruto) and Kikuyu tribe (Kenyatta) against each other in 2008 post election crisis teamed up last year to win parliamentary and presidential elections held this March, partly by stirring up national and tribal feeling against the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, where they are to be tried.

Kenyatta and Ruto face long prison sentences if convicted. Their trials may last several years and could keep Kenya’s leaders away from government business for long, disruptive periods. Strains are already showing. Some witnesses who had previously agreed to testify against Mr Kenyatta are unwilling to do so now. Their reluctance has resulted in the dropping of separate charges against Francis Muthaura, the former head of the civil service, one of several other people originally indicted.

James Gondi, who campaigns for legal rights, says the country’s leaders are conducting a “propaganda war” and parading themselves as heroes defending their communities. But he still hopes that once the trials get under way Kenyan consciences will be pricked by the gravity of the charges against the president and his deputy.

“A perception game is afoot,” says Elizabeth Evenson of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby, and so far the ICC has been doing badly. The court looks feeble after dropping charges against one of the accused and failing to protect witnesses. Kenyan victim groups say they have been warned against watching the hearings on television. Mr Ruto is to travel to The Hague with 100 MPs to show he has popular support. They will try to force Kenya to withdraw from the Rome statute, though that would not affect the trial. Judges must wonder if the accused will eventually stop turning up, making a mockery of the new system of international justice. Whether Kenya or the court would look more isolated is moot.

The ICC’s wheels of justice grind too slowly. The court at The Hague, as distinct from the temporary tribunals that have judged people in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has convicted only one person, a Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga. That took six years. Some fear the Kenyan trials may take even longer

Meanwhile, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta had alternatively asked for permission to be part of the trial through a video link in the event that the first request to be excused from the trial failed to scale through.

Kenyatta’s lead counsel, Steven Kay had requested that the accused be conditionally excused from continuous presence at the trial.

The counsel requested that Kenyatta should only appear at the opening and closing as well as delivery of judgments before the ICC.

Kay said in the application that“ in the alternative, Kenyatta should be allowed to attend the trial continuously by means of video link”.

“Kenyatta’s election as President of the Republic of Kenya on March 4 constituted a significant change in circumstances that necessitated the fresh consideration of the issue, particularly in light of his extraordinary and exceptional roles and responsibilities as an incumbent Head of State.

“The people of Kenya were fully informed about the ICC proceedings when they elected President Kenyatta to lead the nation, and, having done so, they have a legitimate expectation that their country’s democracy should be respected by the wider international community,“ the counsel said in the application.

However, African leaders under African Union (AU) are currently strategizing to stop Kenyatta trial by ICC, 34 leaders threaten to pull out ICJ if the ICC proceed with Kenyatta trial. They feared that the trial would have multidimensional effect on Kenya and Africa as a whole. Noting the trial might lead to crisis or civil war in Kenya, a mess they says AU will have to clear.

Kenya’s parliament dominated by Kenyatta and Ruto’s political alliance, passed a motion last month “to suspend any links, cooperation and assistance” to the ICC. Kenya’s withdrawal from the statute would preclude future prosecution for crimes committed in othe country but not abort the Kenyatta trial.

Minority leader Francis Nyenze, who opposed the resolution, warned, “We’ll be seen as a pariah state, we’ll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way.”

The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, alleges that the scale of interference with witnesses in the Kenyan cases has been “unprecedented.” Over the last year, relatives of witnesses have been continuously approached with bribes and threats intended to motivate disclosure of witnesses’ whereabouts. And in recent weeks, several key witnesses in the Ruto case have said they will not testify against the Kenyan leaders, citing family pressures and security concerns.

As African leaders battle ICC to stop the trial of Kenya leaders, they must learn to put interest of the masses first in all their activities. Kenyatta and his deputy would not being in this mess, if they had view politics as call to service and not ‘Do or Die affairs’.

Opposition parties should understand the dynamic of politics in emerging democracy like ours, as mobilization remain the key towards getting majority support.

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