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Kenya’s Moment

July 16, 2009

What will it take to prevent Kenya from returning to violence? That is the question many following the brewing crisis in Kenya are asking.

Last week, Kofi Annan, former head of the United Nations and chief mediator in Kenya’s 2008 election crisis, handed an envelope to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Inside was a list of about a dozen prominent Kenyan politicians and business officials believed to have played a key role in the violence following Kenya’s flawed elections.

Annan’s move comes after the Kenyan government’s failure to establish a local tribunal to investigate and prosecute instigators of the post election violence. In February, Kenya’s parliament rejected legislation which would have authorized a local tribunal in Kenya to investigate and prosecute instigators of the post-election violence.

After the Parliament rejected legislation, Annan told Kenya’s leaders that he would send “the list” to the ICC if the Kenyan government failed to establish a tribunal. In April, the ICC vowed to act swiftly in seeking justice if Kenya’s government fail to act. In June, Annan announced he would give Kenya until August to establish a local tribunal.

It appears August came early.

After a meeting with Kenya’s coalition government in Geneva, the former UN chief decided to hand over the envelope to the ICC early. Why the rush?

Annan says he want to put pressure on Kenya’s parliament to set up a tribunal. Given that the names under investigation are said to include at least two senior cabinet members and others with influence in government, Annan must have figured Kenya’s government needed to feel some heat.

Kenya’s governance crisis comes amidst reports that “leading politicians, notably those representing constituencies in the Rift Valley, which bore the brunt of the violence last year, maintain armed and trained militia units.” But, as the NYT reported today, this time, militias are passing on machetes, and arming themselves with guns.

As FCNL pointed out recently, the failure to address impunity, chronic corruption and achieve necessary political reforms at the senior levels of government, combined with the rearming of militias and disputes over land at the local level, is a combustible mix that could set off violence in the case of a traumatic national event.

What happens if the ICC goes public with the Annan’s list of names? What if Kenya’s next round of elections go badly? What if the extrajudicial killings occurring in Kenya increase?

All of these events could set the stage for another round of ethnic violence, and once again, rip apart East Africa’s island of stability. While Kenya’s violence was brought to an end with the help of Kofi Annan’s mediation effort, and business and civil society groups, the issues which ignited the violence have not been addressed.

As Maina Kiai, a former Kenyan official recently noted, Kenya is not at peace. “It’s a cease-fire.” The decisions taken by key Kenyan officials, international diplomats and Kenyan civil society leaders in months ahead will be critical in paving the way for peace, or leading Kenya back to war.

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