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International prosecutor in Kenya to press charges

International Criminal Court sends official to hold top politicians accountable for ethnic violence.

Kenya slum-dwellers walk past a destroyed house in the sprawling Nairobi slum of Kibera, one of the most affected areas during the post-election violence in 2008. International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is in Kenya to investigate and press charges against those involved in instigating the political and ethnic violence. (Antony Njuguna/Nairobi)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s shaky democracy is facing a defining struggle as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court begins an investigation into political violence that is expected to lead him straight to Kenya’s wealthy and educated ruling elites.

Argentine prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo arrived here last weekend for a five-day visit carrying with him the hopes of Kenyans desperate to see justice for the deaths of more than 1,100 people in violence that followed the last elections in 2007.

He is not alone in hoping that his investigation and subsequent indictments might end the impunity that has held sway since Kenya's independence more than half a century ago. But his will not be an easy job.

“Let’s be clear,” former anti-corruption chief John Githongo told GlobalPost, “the ICC has met one of the most serious bunches of gangsters on the African continent here in Kenya.”

For two months after the 2007 polls the country was convulsed by violence and riots, pogroms and forced evictions. The security forces cracked down with trigger-happy abandon: More than one-third of those killed were shot by police.

Nobody has yet been convicted in the creaking and corruptible domestic courts: not wielders of machetes, spears and fire, not armed servicemen, not businessmen who funded the gangs and not politicians who incited the violence and gained power because of it.

Since multi-party politics began in Kenya, elections have been ethnically divisive and violent. Hundreds died in 1992 and again in 1997 before 2007 exploded.

“Violence has long been a feature of political life but what happened in 2007 went way beyond anything we’d seen before. If nothing is done we can predict that next time will make 2007 look like chicken feed,” warned Anthony Kuria, coordinator of the Movement for Political
Accountability and a member of a government Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the violence.

That commission, dubbed the Waki Commission after the judge who headed it, produced an exhaustive 556-page report detailing the violence. It also drew up a confidential list of alleged perpetrators that was handed to the ICC chief prosecutor last year after Kenya’s government
failed to deliver on repeated promises to set up its own local tribunal.

The confidential list, as well as the evidence of the Waki Commission and various human rights groups, forms the basis of the ICC investigation.

“The situation was extremely well-documented so we’re all making fairly educated guesses as to who they might be pursuing,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, executive director of the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission.

“The reason that this investigation is important is that Kenya has a history of knowing exactly who is involved in what, and watching them get off with nothing,” said Wanyeki.

Among 19 politicians on a list of 219 alleged perpetrators published by the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) are three cabinet ministers.

Among these are higher education minister William Ruto of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta of the Party of National Unity (PNU). Both are accused of funding and planning ethnic violence for political ends.