On Thursday and Friday of last week, six Kenyans appeared in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged these men with fomenting post-election violence in 2007-2008. The legal proceedings will continue for some time, but for now the “Ocampo Six” (so named for the ICC’s chief prosecutor) are back home. One of the first steps two of the suspects, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and suspended minister William Ruto, took yesterday was to headline a rally. The tone of this event contrasted with earlier events, but the rally still underscored how politicized the trial has become in Kenya.
Before attending the ICC hearing, Kenyatta, who is also deputy prime minister, and Ruto had criss-crossed Kenya holding raucous rallies calling for their cases to be held in Kenya. They accused their political rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, of implicating them.
The ICC barred the suspects from making “dangerous speeches” to incite violence or they would face arrest. Kenyatta and Ruto took a conciliatory stance in their speeches at the rally, a far cry from their comments before their ICC appearance.
The ICC can take heart from Kenyatta and Ruto’s new tone. But one question that came to my mind was whether the politicization of the trial – or the outcome – could negatively affect Kenya’s 2012 elections, in which Kenyatta may be a leading candidate. Legal proceedings, after all, are not isolated from politics, especially in this case. And Kenya remains divided:
Kenyans thronged to the rally by bus and on foot. Police estimated the crowd at about 35,000.
“If the cases are confirmed and go ahead at The Hague, there could be big problems. Without Uhuru, we won’t have elections,” said a Kenyatta supporter, John Waweru, 30.
Despite the heroes’ welcome from supporters, most of the east African country’s 40 million people backed an ICC hearing, while support for the case to be heard at a local tribunal had dropped since a previous survey in December, according to a poll published last week.
“Tuko Pamoja!” (We are together), said one placard; “Uhuru for president in 2012” said a slogan emblazoned on the torso of one shirtless supporter who had painted his body white.
The return of Kenyatta and Ruto has already prompted some violence, as NTV Kenya reports: