Post-election violence struck Kenya four years ago

A report from Human Rights Watch says that Kenya’s police and judicial system have failed to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes connected to the country’s 2007-08 post-election violence.

Questions:

1. Do you agree with the conclusions of the above mentioned report or is it too harsh?

2. How would you describe an impact of the post-election violence on the Kenyan society after almost 4 years?

Answers:

David Anderson, Professor of African Politics, Fellow, St Cross College, University of Oxford

1. HRW has highlighted an issue that many Kenyans continue to be deeply concerned about. The failure to prosecute is a major impediment in the effort to rebuild a constructive politics in Kenya following the  violence of 2008, and with the 2012 elections now approaching it will surely be shameful if the government cannot find a way to bring these prosecutions. Six leading figures are currently before the ICC on charges relating to the violence, but the government of President Kibaki had promised to initiate local prosecutions of others implicated in the violence. But Kibaki has no political will to take this forward, and too many members of his cabinet would prefer to ignore this issue. As Kenyans joke, this has become a government of national impunity – unwilling to confront the sins that its own members may have committed.

2. The violence remains as a dark stain on Kenya’s national consciousness. Those who perpetrated the violence remain at liberty, and this fact is a dreadful indictment on Kenya’s political system.  There is no political will to enforce the prosecutions.  the police have no motivation to do so, and their inefficiency and corruption are so entrenched that successful prosecutions may prove very difficult even where evidence is abundant. The judiciary has undergone some important reforms recently, but without the police to build case files and with political resistence to prosecution the judiciary cannot act alone. The fact of the matter is that the Kenyan judiciary is not yet strong enough to take on the government on this issue, although i am sure the recently appointed chief justice would very much like to do so.

Nic Cheeseman, University Lecturer in African Politics, Hugh Price Fellow, Jesus College, Oxford University

1.I think in general the report is accurate. It was the failure to begin a credible domestic process which resulted in Kofi Annan handing the envelope of ‘suspects’ to the ICC. The deadline for the creation of a domestic tribunal to hear cases was consistently extended, and yet the government failed to come up with a credible plan that secure sufficient votes in parliament. As a result, people have not focused as much as they might have done on arrests and the collection of evidence – which has somewhat let the police off the hook for doing so little in this regard.

2. It is hard to say – in some ways we will only find out at the next election. But I think it has clearly made people more fearful, which has had two effects. First, it has made people more determined to better defend and strengthen Kenya’s vulnerable and limited democracy. Second, it has made people more reluctant to trust people from rival communities, and so has encouraged a process of mental and physical balkanization. At the same time, those afraid of violence appear to have armed themselves so that they can better defend themselves if conflict breaks out again.

Daniel Branch, Associate Professor, African History, History Department, University of Warwick

1. I agree with the report from Human Rights Watch. Far too little has been done to investigate and prosecute both the instigators and the perpetrators of the post-election violence. The main reason for this is that the country’s leaders have little to gain from any such investigations or prosecutions. It is also important to recognise that it is not just the violence that followed the 2007 election that has been poorly investigated, but also similar episodes surrounding the 1992 and 1997 elections.

2. Looking back after four years, it’s clear that there have been various different impacts on Kenyan society of the violence. For some people, particularly in civil society groups, it represents a moment that should never be repeated and a source of inspiration to fight against a culture of impunity. For others, the violence seemed (and I stress seemed) to prove their worst fears about ethnic groups that they consider to be their enemy. So for some Kenyans the often competing identities of Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin were consolidated by the violence. It should also be remembered that several thousand of those forced from their homes during the violence are still living in camps.

Without effective prosecution of the perpetrators of such violence, there is a few disincentives for politicians and others to use violence during elections to further their interests.

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