Bureau Chief, East Africa, Nairobi
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Nov 5, 2009

ICC prosecutor to meet Kenyan leaders over trials

NAIROBI, Nov 5 (Reuters) – International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will hold talks with Kenya’s leaders on Thursday about how to prosecute the suspected masterminds of post-election violence in 2008.

Ethnic clashes after a disputed presidential election killed at least 1,300 people and uprooted more than 300,000, shattering Kenya’s image as a stable, regional economic powerhouse.

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the leaders of the coalition born out of last year’s violence, will meet Moreno-Ocampo to thrash out what happens next.

Crisis mediator Kofi Annan handed over a list of the main suspects to Moreno-Ocampo in July. Political sources say it names influential cabinet ministers, members of parliament and businessmen.

Annan said during a visit to Kenya in October that he expected a few "big men" to be prosecuted by the ICC.

According to a letter Moreno-Ocampo sent to Kibaki and Odinga, quoted by local media, he said they could either refer the cases to the ICC — or he could initiate proceedings.

In the second case, Moreno-Ocampo would need to get authorisation from the pre-trial chamber at The Hague to start investigations, a step he has not taken in other cases.

The Standard newspaper said Kibaki and Odinga agreed after meetings on Tuesday to let Moreno-Ocampo pursue the second option — to cushion themselves from any backlash.


The problem for Kenya’s leaders is that they were the rivals for the presidency. The killing started after the electoral commission declared Kibaki the winner, and Odinga cried foul.

If they are now seen to be the ones giving up former party allies accused of mobilising deadly ethnic militias, the coalition could fall apart and tribal violence could flare.

Kenya had promised to deal with the masterminds. But numerous attempts to kick-start the process have floundered and many Kenyans are sceptical powerful individuals will be arrested and charged because of widespread impunity among politicians.

"The problem is that the people who funded the turmoil are in power now. I’d rather we get an independent body to oversee this," said Bernard Gitau, 50, who is living in a camp in the Rift Valley housing 500 families uprooted by the violence.

Tension is running high in the fertile Rift Valley north of Nairobi, which was the epicentre of the bloodletting and there have been reports that rival tribes are rearming.

Annan has warned that unless those responsible for the killings are brought to book, there is a serious risk violence will erupt again during the next presidential election in 2012.

"We welcome Ocampo, he should come and take immediate action," Musa Muthumbi, chairman of a camp for displaced Kenyans in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, told Reuters.

"We have had this problem, not once, not twice, but every election year since 1992. They have been doing this to us and getting off scot-free. This man should just come in and whoever is guilty should be taken to The Hague." (Additional reporting by Ben Makori in Nakuru; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Nov 4, 2009

Kenya’s attorney general eyes action against U.S.

NAIROBI, Nov 4 (Reuters) – Kenya’s attorney general Amos Wako said on Wednesday he planned to take legal action against the United States because the reasons it gave for revoking his visa were defamatory. The United States confirmed on Sunday it had issued Wako, who has been Kenya’s top government lawyer since 1991, with a travel ban because he was considered an obstacle to the fight against corruption in east Africa’s biggest economy.

"In view of the reasons given, which are clearly defamatory, it is my intention to seek legal advice with a view of instituting legal proceedings in the United States of America.

"I want to take the war there, in the United States of America," he told a news conference

Ending a culture of impunity in a country where corruption is almost endemic is seen by international donors has a crucial step towards avoiding a repeat of last year’s post-election violence at the next presidential election in 2012.

Wako has been criticised for failing to prosecute the perpetrators of the post-election violence that killed at least 1,300 people, and for not nailing the architects of several audacious corruption scams worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wako said the letter he had received revoking his visa accused him of "corrupt actions which have adversely affected the national interests of the United States of America".

Wako defended his record, saying he had consistently been a driver for reform within government, even during difficult times, and that the U.S. decision had been made in "bad faith".

One of the most infamous graft cases is the "Anglo Leasing" scam in which Kenyan state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were awarded to non-existent firms.

The scam involved payments of government money to shadowy foreign companies for services ranging from forgery-proof passports to naval ships and forensic laboratories — which never materialised.

Kenya asked Britain’s Serious Fraud Office to investigate some of the fictitious contracts but it ended the probe because Kenya failed to provide evidence.

In February, the head of Kenya’s anti-graft body accused the high court of blocking its efforts to fight corruption by ordering a halt to the Anglo Leasing investigation.

Wako also blamed the United States for hindering the Anglo Leasing investigation by failing to secure the cooperation of potentially key witnesses who are American citizens.

"This is already a case of double standards where the bigger and more competent brother is demanding more from the younger brother, than he the bigger brother can deliver," Wako said. (Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Richard Williams)

Nov 1, 2009

U.S. banned Kenya’s attorney general: envoy

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s attorney general Amos Wako was the senior government official handed a travel ban by Washington last month, the U.S. envoy to Kenya said on Sunday.

There has been intense speculation in Kenya over who had been banned, with Wako high on most lists given that Washington has criticized him several times for not cracking down on corruption during his 18-year tenure.

Oct 4, 2009

Kenyans want action from government, Annan says

NAIROBI, Oct 4 (Reuters) – Kenyans want their coalition government to take concrete action on impunity and political reforms to avoid a repeat of last year’s post-election violence, former United Nations chief Kofi Annan said on Sunday.

Annan chaired weeks of negotiations last year to end the ethnic violence that killed at least 1,300 people and uprooted 300,000 after opposition leader Raila Odinga disputed President Mwai Kibaki’s election win.

Kibaki remained president and Odinga became prime minister in the deal to form the coalition government. But they have been dogged by accusations that reforms promised to avoid a repeat of the violence have been delayed — and those behind the blood-letting are no closer to facing trial.

"The challenge is to achieve these reforms before the country enters the next electoral cycle in about one year or 18 months’ time. That is what I will be discussing here, starting with the two principals," said Annan, who will meet Kibaki and Odinga on Monday.

The coalition government has pledged to bring in a new constitution, reform the police, judiciary and electoral process, as well as tackling festering disputes over land ownership that fuelled much of the violence.

But Annan’s frustration with the slow pace of progress became evident in July when he handed over a list of the top violence suspects to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

"Clearly the Kenyan people are expecting more from the coalition government, more unity of purpose, more progress on the reform agenda and more concrete action to end impunity and combat corruption," Annan told reporters on Sunday.


While Kenya may still have the option of setting up a local tribunal to try the main perpetrators, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo seems to be running out of patience.

He said on Sept. 30 he would pursue charges against top suspects behind the violence and make Kenya an example to the world on dealing with impunity. Moreno-Ocampo is due to hold "decisive" talks with top Kenyan officials in the coming weeks.

Many Kenyans are also growing frustrated with the government’s performance and the lack of progress in prosecuting the big fish. Surveys show the majority would like some suspects to face the ICC. The influential Sunday Nation newspaper said in an editorial it was right that The Hague should take over.

Annan steered clear of the debate over how, or where, the suspects should face prosecution. "With a sense of urgency and a national spirit it can be done, and done in a reasonable time. Achieving reforms would also depend on the strong commitment and political will, I repeat political will, of the coalition parties and parliamentarians," he said.

Oct 1, 2009

Q+A-Kenya violence leaders may face ICC trial

NAIROBI, Oct 1 (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court said on Wednesday it intends to pursue the masterminds of Kenya’s post-election violence last year that killed 1,300 people and uprooted more than 300,000.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is due to hold "decisive" talks with top Kenyan officials in the coming weeks and has pledged to make the east African country an example to the world on dealing with impunity.


The violence shattered Kenya’s image as a stable regional economic powerhouse, brutally exposing decades-old ethnic rifts. It also brought home to the watching world that some in the political elite were prepared to take extreme steps to cling onto power, without any obvious fear of retribution.

As part of a power-sharing deal to end the violence, the new coalition government promised to try the main suspects at a special tribunal. A commission headed by a Kenyan judge investigated the mayhem and came up with a list of the top 10 suspects accused of funding or fuelling the killing.

Crisis mediator Kofi Annan made clear that if the government failed to set up a tribunal he would hand over the names to Moreno-Ocampo and the ICC would take over. He did this in July after parliament flung out a bill to set up a tribunal and the cabinet repeatedly failed to agree on how to proceed.


The ICC has been asked to pursue suspected war criminals by Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The Hague court has also indicted Sudan’s president. But some are surprised that Kenya, a relatively stable nation despite last year’s trouble, has been targeted so quickly.

Essentially, donor nations see Kenya as being too important to fail — for its economic significance and as a regional buffer against other potential flashpoints.

Kenya is by far east Africa’s biggest economy and home to some 38 million people. Its Mombasa port is a key trade route for landlocked neighbours like Rwanda, Burundi, south Sudan and Uganda — the latter two both have substantial oil deposits.

It also shares a long porous border with the failed Horn of Africa nation of Somalia. Insurgents with links to al Qaeda control the territory the other side of the frontier. Western nations, and Nairobi, fear they could destabilise the region.

Without decisive action on Kenya, donor nations fear the culture of impunity in east Africa’s most corrupt state could become even more entrenched — increasing the risk that violence could flare either before or during the 2012 election.


The 10 names held by Ocampo have not been revealed. Analysts and local media say the list includes prominent sitting cabinet ministers, members of parliament and business people on both sides of the country’s political divide.

Analysts say the ICC already has reams of evidence gathered by some very thorough lawyers and that once it decides to act, warrants could follow quickly.


The international community is walking a fine line.

On one hand, major donors such as the United States and the European Union are stepping up the pressure on the coalition leaders — President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga — to get their feuding coalition partners to work together.

They want it to pass constitutional reforms, resolve festering land issues and stem the endemic corruption that has hamstrung a potentially rich country for decades.

According to surveys, most Kenyans — frustrated by creaking public services and infrastructure, rampant crime and grinding poverty in city slums and rural areas — want the ICC to try some big fish in the hope it will be a catalyst for change.

But if a few political heavyweights are taken to The Hague, there could be major repercussions. Will they go quietly? Will they mobilise notoriously violent allied militias? Or will they try to take down others too?

Given that powerful ministers are thought to be in the ICC’s crosshairs, that could pose a serious risk to the already fragile coalition government.