ICC, Rift Valley, media, land, politics, economics — and peace

The ICC is currently holding pre-trial hearings on the Kenyan cases. These hearings will determine whether there is enough evidence for the cases to go to trial. The defendants – referred to as the “Ocampo Six” by Kenya’s media – are Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Francis Mathaura, Mohammad Ali, Henry Kosgey, and Joshua Sang. They are each accused of various roles in instigating and organizing violence after the disputed December 2007 presidential election. The resolution of the violence led to a coalition government, in which the incumbent Mwai Kibaki remained president and the challenger Raila Odinga became prime minister, and to the passage of a new constitution by referendum last year.

I’m living and working in the Rift Valley Province – the epicenter of the post-election violence. Discussion of the trial is ubiquitous. People are watching it closely. From the news coverage and informal conversations, I’ve noticed three dimensions worth commenting on. They are as follows:

1. Politics – Justice

Let’s start with the fact that two of the accused (Kenyatta and Ruto) have stated their intentions to run for president next year. Kibaki is term-limited out. Odinga will also run for president. It should be clear that Odinga benefits from the prosecution of Kenyatta and Ruto. Naturally, the domestic politics surrounding the ICC process are complicated; see Daniel Branch’s recent article for more.

The ICC exists for cases that national judicial systems are “unable or unwilling” to deal with. The conceit is that an international justice mechanism can rise above national politics and institutional weaknesses. Many Kenyans seem to agree: in a recent survey, 62% support trying suspects in the Hague rather than in Kenya (an increase from 52% in 2009, before the suspects were named).

On the flip side, this also means that a sizeable minority of Kenyans do not support the ICC process. I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that this minority is concentrated in the Rift Valley, where William Ruto’s support base in the Kalenjin community also largely rejected the 2010 constitutional referendum. Even among those who do support the international justice process, there is skepticism that it’s somehow apolitical. The thinking goes: “The US, UK and other foreign powers have been happy to influence Kenyan politics through other instruments, such as World Bank conditionalities or bilateral aid. So why not the ICC?” Even if this is false, if Kenyans believe it then the process automatically becomes intertwined with Kenyan politics.

2. Media – Peace

It’s been hard to avoid ICC news in the past few weeks. KTN, KBC and Citizen TV have been showing live feeds from the Hague whenever the hearings have been in session. The only story to cut in regularly was coverage of the World Athletics Championships in South Korea (where Kenya won 17 medals, behind only the USA and Russia).

One Kenyan organization is trying to increase the reach of the ICC coverage by distributing free TV sets to communities at the border of the Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces. The hope is that better information on the process will counteract any distortions or misinformation spread by politicians. This would reduce the chance that the ICC trials could be used to incite future violence.

However, some Kenyans worry about the opposite effect. Focusing too much on the trials may remind people of the fissures that they have been trying to heal for the past three and a half years. For example, the prosecutor claimed that Ruto and Kosgey met with supporters to identify the homes of opponents a full year before the election. Such information (not yet verified through a legal process) could be fuel for those who wish to promote further division.

3. Justice – Economics

Many of the youth who participated in the post-election violence were paid to do so. Politicians used small payments to encourage youth to cause havoc. This would be a lot harder to do if the Rift Valley and other areas had enough economic opportunity to reduce youth’s dependence on handouts from politicians.

One part of the economic problem stems from how communities have been treated over decades. Much of the interethnic tension in the Rift Valley results from the fact that certain communities see others as outsiders. This is especially pronounced between the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities. Many of the Kikuyu communities in the Rift Valley moved there after they were displaced from central Kenya during the colonial era. As colonialism ended, the new Kenyan elite seized control of huge tracts. Large parts of Kenya are still owned by the Kenyatta family. Meanwhile, the poorer Kikuyu remained in the Rift Valley, living on land that some Kalenjin consider theirs.

As communities grew, that initial injustice – the displacement of Kikuyu communities – had increasing economic effects. Land became scarcer. Economic development increased, but not enough to provide opportunity for youth. In the wake of a disputed election that saw different ethnic communities aligned behind opposing candidates, the tension over land and the economic situation of youth were both exploited by those who saw political gain from sparking violence. This is a story about one injustice (displacement) leading to another (lack of economic opportunity) enabling another (political violence).

The continuation of politics by other means?

I often write about how everything is political. Think an issue is economic? It’s probably political. Think justice is blind? It’s probably political. Sometimes, it’s necessary to reverse that thinking. Sometimes the ostensibly political is driven by economics, and the economics are driven by injustices.

Filed under: yes-things-really-are-that-complicated.