Media reprieve for Kenyan politicians

With saturation coverage of Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election, Kenyan politicians must be breathing easy as attention is focused away from them.

And with unfolding events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the media has moved its focus from the 33 tanks held by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Clearly, General Laurent Nkunda is a much more flamboyant character than the faceless pirates of Somalia.

For sure, the past one week was a godsend for Kenyan personalities whose names feature in the Waki Report. It was no longer necessary to hold press conferences and rallies to defend their names as the media – and Kenyans at large – were simply not interested as Obamania swept the world.

As excitement with Obama’s victory recedes, Kenyans will refocus their attention on their quasi-leaders. The approaching tsunami sparked by the Waki Report is producing aftershocks as civil society and religious leaders call for its full implementation. Diplomats from the United States and Europe have also supported the recommendations of the Waki Report.

Politicians led by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have stated that they will not implement the Waki Report. Why? Because they and their supporters will find themselves in jail for the rest of their lives after answering charges for murder, rape, incitement to violence, arson and genocide. At the very least, Kenya’s rulers fear being shunted out of the mainstream as a new crop of clean leaders emerge to fill the inevitable void carved out by the Waki recommendations.

Waki proposed that the perpetrators of violence that rocked Kenya early this year be brought to face the wheels of justice. According to Waki, violence in Kenya is a consequence of years of impunity where people commit crimes and walk around freely.

The most blatant cases of impunity were those related to ethnic clashes between 1992 and 1997 and whose deaths have never been documented for fear of antagonizing perpetrators, most of whom were in powerful government posts.

Out of political sensitivity, Waki declined to name the principle suspects in the violence. He handed a secret list of ten names to former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan. It is this secret list that has gotten Kenyan politicians breaking into a cold sweat.

Politicians who just a few months ago were urging Western nations to intervene in Kenya’s politics are now playing the sovereignty card. President Mwai Kibaki, who supported prosecution has changed his mind after his ethnic and business partners were linked to the chaos. People who, in January, dismissed the Kenyan judiciary as incapable of delivering justice now say that there is no need for an international tribunal because our courts are competent enough.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has made several flip-flops of his own. Initially, he was opposed to prosecution but after the Waki Report was released, Raila supported trials for perpetrators of violence. In his statements, Raila recalled the Naivasha attacks where members of his Luo tribe were attacked by the Kikuyu ethnic group, which supported Kibaki. However, Raila eventually realized that the formation of a political crimes tribunal would affect his own supporters in the Rift Valley province.

Rift Valley MPs, many of whom were implicated in violence, say that they were responding to Raila’s urging for country wide protests and that Raila should also face prosecution as ODM leader.

The drama gets more intriguing because the terms governing the Waki Report state that if the Kenyan government fails to conduct trials, the matter will automatically move to the International Court at the Hague. Kenyan politicians will have no say over the international court’s proceedings unlike those of local courts.

Judge Philip Waki led a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violence that followed disputed elections in December 2007. Supporters of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his ODM party clashed with security forces and ethnic groups loyal to President Mwai Kibaki. Over 1,000 people died in the clashes. Half a million were evicted from their homes by gangs linked to politicians.

Reformers in Kenya believe that implementing the Waki Report is the best way of peacefully getting rid of a political class that has run the country into the ground. The alternative would be bloody revolt by a citizenry pushed to the limits.

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