The International Criminal Court ordered four Kenyans, including Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and fellow presidential candidate William Ruto, to face charges of crimes against humanity over post-election violence in 2008.
Francis Muthaura, the 65-year-old head of Kenya’s civil service, and radio presenter Joshua Arap Sang, 36, will also go on trial as suspected perpetrators of the clashes, Presiding Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova told the court today in The Hague in a 2-1 decision. Kenya’s shilling weakened after the ruling, falling as much as 0.8 percent, before paring its loss to trade 0.2 percent weaker at 86.18 per dollar at 6:34 p.m. in Nairobi, while the country’s NSE All Share stock index fell 2 percent.
Kenyatta, 50, who also serves as deputy prime minister and is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and Ruto, 45, have both said they will run for the Kenyan presidency in elections due by March 2013, irrespective of the ruling.
“The inability of the country to handle elections cycles has been one of the biggest drags on the economy since 1992, at the country’s first multiparty elections,” Aly-Khan Satchu, chief executive officer of Nairobi-based Rich Management, said in a phone interview. “People thought for a long time there was no justice against elites and in some ways this puts the end of impunity in sight.”
Kenya was wracked by two months of ethnic violence sparked by allegations of vote-rigging by supporters of then-opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo by ethnicity who heads the Orange Democratic Movement, in the Dec. 27, 2007, presidential vote.
The fighting subsided after President Mwai Kibaki, leader of the Party for National Unity and an ethnic Kikuyu, signed a power-sharing accord that installed Odinga as prime minister of East Africa’s biggest economy and promised political changes.
The fighting caused economic growth in Kenya to slow to 1.7 percent in 2008, from 7.1 percent a year earlier. The East African country is the world’s biggest exporter of black tea and relies on tourism to generate 10 percent of its economic output.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that Odinga’s allies, mainly from the Kalenjin ethnic group and led by Ruto, attacked Kikuyu, Kamba and Kisii people, whom they believe supported Kibaki’s PNU party. Sang is accused of spreading hate messages. Kenyatta and Muthaura engaged the Mungiki criminal gang to carry out reprisal attacks against the Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin ethnic groups, Moreno-Ocampo said.
Kenyatta said today he is innocent of the charges and will cooperate in the ICC process to clear his name, according to a statement posted on his Facebook page. Muthaura also defended his innocence and his lawyer, Karim Khan, told reporters today he plans to appeal the ruling.
The ruling “may be a deterrent for those thinking of using violence in the next election,” said Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the Nairobi-based International Center for Policy and Conflict, by phone today. “This sends a very strong message to people who use violence as a means to acquire their political objectives.”
The court dismissed all charges against Henry Kosgey, 64, a lawmaker, and the country’s former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali, 55, who is now postmaster general, for lack of evidence.
“It is our utmost desire that the decisions issued by this chamber today brings peace to the people of the Republic of Kenya and prevents any sort of hostility,” Trendafilova said in a webcast of the ruling.
Fifty four percent of Kenyans want the ICC to handle post-election violence cases, according to a survey by Ipsos-Synovate of 2,000 adult Kenyans between Dec. 12 and Dec. 29. It had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points. Those opposed said they prefer the perpetrators be tried in domestic courts or by a Kenyan tribunal, or feared the ICC trials could rekindle violence, the survey showed. Moreno-Ocampo initiated investigations into the chaos after Kenyan lawmakers tried and failed to create a dedicated tribunal. All of the suspects have denied Moreno-Ocampo’s accusations of crimes including murder, forced displacement, persecution and rape.
Fadi El Abdallah, spokesman for the ICC, said on Jan. 17 that those ordered to stand trial in the Kenyan case would “remain free” unless the court’s judges decided otherwise. Kenyatta and Ruto have both said they plan to contest the next presidential elections, along with Odinga and former Justice Minister Martha Karua.
“This decision may actually help their presidential ambitions by shoring up sympathy votes,” Macharia Munene, a professor of international studies at United States International University in Nairobi, said in a phone interview today. “They will make voters believe they are victims of the process and convince them the entire process has been politically-motivated.”
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki appealed for calm after the ruling and said he had asked the country’s attorney-general to form a panel to study the decision. He spoke in an address broadcast by KTN, a unit of Nairobi-based Standard Group Ltd.
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, said the ruling was a step forward in the fight against impunity.
“We are pretty satisfied with the decision,” Neela Ghoshal, East Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in a phone interview from Nairobi today. “High-ranking politicians are finally being held to account.”