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Kenya: National Government of Impunity?
Aug 4, 2009 (090804)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
On July 30, only days before this week's visit of U.S. Secretary of
State Hilary Clinton to Kenya, the first stop on her 7-country
Africa trip, the Kenyan Cabinet decided to reject special prosecution of
those responsible for post-election violence in 2007 and 2008,
whether under a domestic special tribunal or by the International
Criminal Court (ICC), to which the case has been referred. Kenyan
human rights advocates have been scathing in their critique of the
Cabinet decision, and will be closely parsing the signals from
the Clinton visit.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a brief commentary by Muthoni
Wanyeki, executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission
(KHRC), excerpts from an extended interview with Maina Kiai, the
former chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
(KNCHR), and links to a number of other related commentaries and
reports. Of the two human rights groups, KHRC (http://www.khrc.or.ke) is a non-governmental organization, and
KNCHR (http://www.knchr.org) is an independent state body
established by an act of parliament in 2002.
For an extended analysis of Kenya and U.S-Kenyan relations see the
transcript of the July 22 speech by Johnnie Carson, Assistant
Secretary of State for Africa, available in full as a supplemental
AfricaFocus Bulletin(on the web but not sent out by e-mail) at
Carson's analysis of the situation in Kenya corresponds closely
with that by Kenyan civil society critics. But he also affirms
clearly that "Kenya continues to be our most significant strategic
partner in East Africa." The implications in practice of the
combined critique and strategic partnership remain to be seen.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins and other background links on
Kenya, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/kenya.php
For strong documentation of the link between economic and human
rights issues in Kenya, see Amnesty International, "The unseen
majority: Nairobi's two million slum-dwellers," June 12, 2009
Michela Wrong, It's Our Turn to Eat: Profile of a Kenyan WhistleBlower,
portrays Kenya through the story of anti-corruption
campaigner John Githongo.
[A summary of the 2006 Githongo report is at
For more books on Kenya, visit
For other recent commentaries on Kenyan issues, see
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Kenya: Cabinet Boldly Upholds Impunity
L. Muthoni Wanyeki
The East African (Nairobi), 3 August 2009
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights
Nairobi - Our Cabinet completely lost the plot with its supposed
decision this past Thursday.
I say supposed decision because it was not a decision -- in the
sense of proactively choosing from realistic options for achieving
justice for the victims and survivors of last year's violence.
It was instead a pandering to the lowest common denominator and an
utterly shameful demonstration of its absolute inability to stand
up against impunity in the face of the obvious personal political
interests of its individual members.
Let us explore the implications of the supposed decision -- to try
suspected perpetrators of last year's violence through the regular
First, the decision implies that all suspected perpetrators will be
charged for existing crimes in our penal code only.
As the International Crimes Act domesticating the Rome Statute was
only passed last year, trying to bring its provisions into effect
with respect to last year's violence would be open to charges of
Kenya's international obligations to the International Criminal
Court, on the other hand, stood as of the moment that it signed on
and ratified the treaty -- regardless of whether domestication had
taken place at that time or not.
What this means is that -- as is usual in Kenya -- only the lowest
levels of perpetrators are likely to face justice.
Second, the decision implies that only lower-level perpetrators of
the initially spontaneous but increasingly organised violence in
the North Rift are likely to face the law. Lower-level perpetrators
of the other two forms of violence -- that committed by security
agencies and the organised counter-attacks in Central, Nairobi and
the South Rift -- will probably be able rest easy. As will
lower-level perpetrators of the sexual violence that cut across all
The Attorney General has yet to make public the breakdown of the
150 or so criminal cases he says he has ready on the violence.
But the outcry from families of those unconstitutionally and
illegally detained last year in respect of these crimes points to
this supposition. As does the trailing off into nothingness of the
task force convened by the Kenya Police into the sexual violence.
Third, the decision implies that the Criminal Investigations
Department will be responsible for investigations into the
The police, together with the Administration Police, of course
stands accused by the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election
Violence of being responsible for no less than a third of the
deaths that occurred -- and a host of other related crimes from
theft to rape during that period. It is also documented as having
turned a blind eye to the ferrying of armed militia into the South
Rift for the organised counter-attacks.
To expect the CID to investigate these accusations is to expose it
to a massive conflict of interest -- and the CID has no great
record of standing for the public interest where conflict of
interest exists--or of concern with accountability of the police
force as a whole. And this is, of course, apart from the
questionable quality of its investigations.
Even a cursory examination of the three criminal cases brought
forward with respect to last year's violence so far demonstrates
The Kiambaa case was thrown out.
The case against the policeman caught on camera in Kisumu has yet
to be concluded.
Only the case of those charged with killing two policemen in Roret
market has been concluded with convictions -- and that only this
Fourth, the decision implies that the Director of Public
Prosecutions under the AG's office will be responsible for
prosecutions -- leaving all cases open to the vagaries and whims
for which the AG's office has become notorious.
Today you see him, tomorrow you don't, depending on whose personal
or political interests have been touched upon.
Fifth, the decision implies that our own judiciary will hear the
cases brought forward.
Its independence is in question, particularly with respect to cases
touching on the personal and political interests mentioned above.
Sixth, and importantly, the decision says nothing about the safety
of witnesses in such an arrangement.
It is already clear that the Witness Protection Act, placing
responsibility for this under the AG's office, simply cannot apply
to witnesses to last year's violence -- at least if we value their
In short, the supposed decision implies nothing less than a
repudiation of the mediation agreement. A repudiation of the CIPEV
[Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence] report [also
known as the Waki report]. A repudiation of the very notion of rule
We must not accept this appalling stand in favour of impunity. We
must insist that the ICC's prosecutor reject it when he is reported
to in September. We must insist that the ICC commence its own
investigations -- with or without referral by the government of
Kenya, on the initiative of the prosecutor himself.
The victims and survivors of the violence deserve more than this.
The supposed decision acts as though they do not even exist -- but
they do. They do. And the ICC must stand for them since our own
Cabinet clearly does not.
For related commentaries on the Cabinet decision see also
Makau Mutua, Chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, "Nothing
Could Be More Insulting to Citizens," in The Nation (Nairobi), 1 August 2009
CISA [Catholic Information Service for Africa], "Shocked Churches
Call on Government to Resign," July 31, 2009
NCCK [National Council of Churches of Kenya] called Cabinet
ministers "a terror rather than an asset to this nation". They are
driven by greed. "By supporting the decision not to dispense
justice with regard to the post-election violence, you have taken
upon your hands the blood of the 1,300 Kenyans who died in early
2008 and the suffering of Internally Displaced Persons which
continues up to date".
Kenya: Impunity and the politicisation of ethnicity
Pambazuka News, 2009-07-30, Issue 444
[Excerpts: full text available at
* Maina Kiai is the former chairperson of the Kenya National
Commission for Human Rights.
* Firoze Manji is editor in chief of Pambazuka News.
In the wake of a UN report on extrajudicial killings, the prospect
of intervention by the International Criminal Court on
post-election violence and the formation of a Truth Justice and
Reconciliation Commission, Maina Kiai, former chairperson of the
Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, speaks to Pambazuka
News's Firoze Manji about what the future holds for Kenya. As long
as politicians operate under the notion that 'the big man makes the
country' rather than institutions, cautions Kiai, it will remain
impossible for the country to end impunity without outside
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: There have been three events related to Kenya which
have drawn some public attention. I wonder if you could tell us
what you think is the significance of the report by Philip Alston,
the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or
arbitrary executions, on extra-judicial killings in Kenya; the
submission of the so-called 'envelope' by Kofi Annan, former UN
Secretary-General, to the International Criminal Court; and the
more recent announcement of the formation of the Truth, Justice and
Reconciliation Commission. What has brought all these things about?
MAINA KIAI: I think that the main thing that's brought them about
is a systematic and concerted push by Kenyans, especially led by
civil society, to end the culture of impunity. The Alston report on
extrajudicial executions is something that has been outstanding for
really the last fifteen, twenty years in Kenya regarding how the
police use force. This was the first international confirmation of
what Kenyans know and what Kenyans have been saying for years. So
it was important because for a long time the government has been
'pooh-poohing' the reports of national civil society, of national
institutions, including the Kenya National Commission on Human
Rights, saying that it is not true that there have been such
extrajudicial killings. But then when it was vindicated, not only
at an international level but also by the UN Special Rapporteur, it
confirms to everybody what everybody's been saying. So it puts the
government in a spot, in the sense, that not only do Kenyans know
that the police have been killing Kenyans extrajudicially without
the proper process, but now also the whole world knows that this is
a government that simply doesn't care for life. Although the
problem isn't new, it's useful that it has come out now and after
concerted efforts and a push by Kenyans to have this issue dealt
with. The police, even though they are combating crime, whatever
they're doing, have to obey the law: There's a process to it and
once the police begin breaking the law like any other criminal,
then they fall into the same category of ordinary criminals that
break the law.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: While you were chair of the Kenya National
Commission for Human Rights, I recall you published a report - just
before the 2007 elections - claiming that there had been more than
500 extrajudicial killings by the police. How far do you think that
report influenced the UN special rapporteur's decision to carry out
MAINA KIAI: I don't know, but I only know that he certainly saw it,
and I know that he read it and it was a very concrete report. It
was based on facts. We tied - or linked - the dots together, if you
wish. There was real evidence about it but, most of all, one of the
clear things was the admission on national television, in
September, by the then minister of foreign affairs, Raphael Tuju,
basically saying that the government has killed off 400 or 500
youth and that nobody's saying anything. So there was an admission
from them. It's only that it looked like the admission was done by
mistake, or by accident, by the minister for foreign affairs. But
we got it. And so, we had evidence tracing bodies that had been put
there. We had evidence tracing people who came to tell us that they
had seen their relatives being abducted and the next time they saw
them, they find them dead, and had been put that way by the police.
There was a systematic pattern in the manner in which they were
being killed and there was a clutch of silence, there was a whole
sense of fear. And because the government was using the rationale
that they were dealing with crime, with this illegal, militia force
called Mungiki, there was a sense, first of all, of fear but there
was also a sense amongst Kenyans that, 'Hey! You can do whatever
you want to get rid of crime and get rid of these guys.' But there
was no way of knowing whether the 500 kids, the 500 young people,
were all Mungiki. Nobody knows for a fact. I think that in the
investigations that we did, I suspect that easily half of them were
simply poor, young Kikuyu who were being extorted. So we were
basically saying, 'Well, we are not supporting the Mungiki, we are
not saying they are doing the right thing but surely the rule of
law must be obeyed and a process to determine whether these guys
are Mungiki or not must be fair. But we can't have the police
acting as the investigator, as the arrester, as the judge, the jury
and the executioner all in one because that, then, is when you have
a police state.' ...
But let me say that this is not a new thing. In the nineties, this
was the constant approach of the state. When they found people who
they called 'criminals', they executed them. At that time I was
working at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the NGO, and again,
we documented case after case after case where the police were just
shooting people. The evidence that we were getting, which we could
not verify then, was that oftentimes the police were killing
criminals, yes, but these were criminals who had links with the
police. What they were doing, essentially, was killing the evidence
that linked the police as criminals with these guys. So when a
criminal became too bigheaded, he wasn't giving the right share or
not enough of the share of the loot, they just killed him.
Clearly, the internationalisation of the issues also helps because
we've had governments and we have a government in Kenya that simply
don't seem to regard the views of the people. They care much more
about their 'international standing' and where they are
internationally. So, they seem to respond much, much more, much
faster and much more categorically when there is international
attention on issues, and that seems to be the primary motivator for
them to stop doing things.
This was the same thing that happened, if you remember, in the
nineties on torture. You know, there were all the cases of MwaKenya
torture in Nyayo House but until the special rapporteur on torture,
Sir Nigel Rodley came to Kenya and revealed it did the government
actually reduce dramatically the torture it had been doing. So it
is one of those strange things where a government elected by the
people does not respond to the people themselves but responds to
what they call the 'international community'.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: You've used the term 'impunity'. Has anyone been
held to account as a result of the UN special rapporteur's report?
MAINA KIAI: Not yet, but I think this is a process which we are
going through in Kenya and there are always attempts to cover up.
But what we keep saying is that if nothing happens then the culture
of impunity will not only survive, but it will become even more
entrenched and these things will keep happening.
But this is one of the arguments that we kept making and which we
should keep making; that in Kenya, if you are poor, if you have no
connections, if you have no contacts, then in killing you, well,
your life is almost worthless. Anyone can kill you and say you are
Mungiki. Anyone can kill you and say you are SLDF (Sabaot Land
Defence Force), and that's the end. But if you have a profile, an
education, you're the son of somebody important? Then there will be
accountability. There is a duality of law that we must stop. The
law must be the same for everyone.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: The press has highlighted another event: The
handing in of the so-called envelope by Kofi Anaan, the former UN
secretary general, to the International Criminal Court. What is
MAINA KIAI: Well, the envelope is a list of names, but it's not
just an envelope. There actually are a number of boxes of evidence
that accompany the envelope, so what was handed over to the ICC
wasn't just an envelope with a list of names but also the boxes
with the evidence.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: A list of names of whom?
MAINA KIAI: They are the names of those who bear the greatest
responsibility, as investigated by the Waki Commission.
... And the list of names is where there is evidence linking them
and that is evidence in the boxes to show the link. Now, of course
the ICC could decide that they won't do anything with that list and
with that evidence. They will go through the evidence and see if it
makes sense or not, but it seems to me, and from what I know that
there was some real, good evidence, taken by camera by the Waki
Commission and in solid evidence.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Given that we do have judicial competence in Kenya,
what is the rationale for the submission of this envelope and
evidence to the ICC rather than to a body in Kenya to take this
MAINA KIAI: It's that there is individual competence and individual
capacity but we don't have institutional capacity and institutional
competence. That is what we have to distinguish between and that
given the way the government has done things and given the fact
that even after the election there was no one who believed that the
courts would be able to find justice on the elections and the
manipulation there. And the fact that historically nobody has
confidence in the judiciary.
We know that the police are completely incapable of carrying out
proper investigations. This is at an institutional level. Maybe
there are one or two, or five or six, policeman who can, but you
can rest assured that on issues that have such linkage to people in
power, the most competent people will not get a chance, will not be
appointed to handle these matters because they are too
Now, if we are going to do the investigations and prosecutions in
Kenya, without doing it internationally, we would have to, first of
all, reform these institutions and then do it. This type of reform
would take three or four years because there's going to be
resistance, because the people who enjoy and benefit from our
messed up institutes, as they are, they benefit from it and would
like to keep them as they are.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: There are many people who feel that the
International Criminal Court is in danger of losing its credibility
because it has focused primarily on bringing Africans to trial. How
far do you think the submission of the envelope to the ICC on the
Kenya case is likely to be affected by these perceptions?
MAINA KIAI: I think that you will find that the damage to the
leadership of this country and the credibility of the ICC is being
done by African leaders who are the ones who want to continue
impunity, not for the African people. In the Kenyan case: Poll
after poll has been consistent in showing that Kenyans as a people
have confidence in and want the ICC to intervene. Now, if you look
at four cases before the ICC, three of them have been submitted by
the African governments themselves: Uganda, Central African
Republic and DR Congo. They submitted, they referenced, the cases
to the ICC themselves. In Sudan, the Darfur, it is the Security
Council who referenced the case to the ICC. It is a bit unfortunate
for people to then, in fact, say that it's focusing on Africa. ...
Now remember that it is African governments themselves who have
submitted themselves to the ICC. Nobody put a gun to them and said,
'Quiet and sign and ratify.' They did it voluntarily so it is now
when they think, 'My goodness, this thing can work,' that the
leadership in Africa is saying, 'Hey, we don't want this, it's
going too high, it's going to the level of presidents and in Africa
the presidents are gods. They rule until they die and at the
minute, they don't think they'll die because they're gods. So, when
it's coming to the end, they start thinking, 'Hmm, this thing might
touch us, though in the beginning we thought this might be useful.'
Then they begin retracting, saying, 'Let's move back.'
Hopefully the lesson that we will be learning is that rather than
submit ourselves to the international community we should, like
other countries, build domestic structures to deal with these
things ourselves in our countries. That is absolutely the sure-fire
way but we have got to build them. We have to build them so that if
a policeman shoots someone there is immediately, at least an
internal investigation within the police or somewhere to ask the
question, 'Was that a legitimate shooting or not?'
When there is violence and conflict and something is happening, we
should be able to go back and say, 'Let's hold these people
accountable for the gang rapes and the mass rapes, the tortures and
the killing.' If we do it ourselves then we won't need to go crying
and saying that the international community and the ICC is hurting
us. This is a challenge to us and we should jump to the challenge.
Instead of saying, 'We should get rid of the ICC because it is
hurting us,' we should say, 'We should build domestic structures
that can end impunity.'
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: One of the striking things about Kenya is that
precisely in that period, 2003, 2004, 2005, we saw the formation of
consciousness on a national level. People were proud to start
calling themselves Kenyans; people were wearing the Kenyan flag,
people had badges and hats and caps and t-shirts with the Kenyan
flag on it. There was a pride in that. What I find quite striking
now is that this has now almost totally disappeared, except amongst
a small group of activists. Instead people define themselves by
their ethnicity or tribe. How do you account for the politicisation
of ethnic identity in Kenya today?
MAINA KIAI: I think it is consistent with how our leadership since,
and even before, independence has played the political game: That
to maintain power they have to focus exclusively on ethnic identity
as the only thing that counts, and therefore you get support and
you get blind support to do whatever you want. I think that the
shoe fell for the NARC government of 2003 when it, itself, got
involved in corruption, and it was found out in grand corruption
with the Anglo Leasing case.
When they were then discovered, they thought the best way to
marshal support ... Remember they had been elected on a
zero-tolerance agenda on corruption. When it was found out that
they actually were as involved in grand corruption as Moi had been,
they thought the best way to maintain political support was to
ethnicise everything. They began ethnicising their political
support, work, appointments and other things. As that then
happened, it became clear that these guys, because of their
declining legitimacy and because they have failed in terms of what
they said they would do for their country, they went back, as fast
as they could, to the tried and tested methodology of Kenyatta and
Moi of using ethnicity.
The election of 2002 was a turning point in many ways because it
made Kenyans feel free; that we could actually remove a person like
Moi after all that time. That was an empowering spirit that has
continued and a sense that, hey, we don't like it but now we can
speak it. There was also a sense in 2003, 2004 of openness and that
you could now speak without fear, there was a sense of freedom in
terms of freedom of expression and association. That then
engendered a sense of resistance. But unfortunately the resistance
has followed the pattern that has been set by the politicians which
is that of ethnicity. I think that's where the hassle is.
... This is part of a vicious cycle that's ongoing in Kenya that
has to be broken at some point. We had a great chance to break it
in 2003. I think the Kibaki government lost the plot and lost that
chance. In fact, that whole sense of disappointment, the hope that
was in Kenya in 2003 was absolutely palpable. We thought, 'We can
now do it, we can move forward.' That destruction of hope and the
throwing of it into the trash bin may well be one of Kibaki's most
significant negative legacies he's going to leave to the country.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Do you see ethnicity as being a major factor in the
MAINA KIAI: I think it will be. ...
The poor keep getting poorer, they are the largest group, yet we
don't seem to be able to organise people around the concept of
getting out of poverty. We don't seem to be able to organise people
even in other areas. So it is work that we have to do and the last
three or four years have taken us backwards. We have to confront
it. Probably the best way to confront it, right now is, within the
ethnic groups - to begin a process of challenging the orthodoxy
within each ethnic group because what you're now getting to is the
sense of a few men who seem to control an entire ethic group and
what they say moves the entire ethnic group. Everyone just follows
without thinking. Their personal interests are presented as ethnic
interests, as community interests, and people follow. So we've got
to break that by challenging internally these ethnic chiefs who, in
my opinion, are very close to becoming warlords and once we can do
that we'll begin the process of nationally organising again.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: So to conclude, are you optimistic about the coming
years in Kenya?
MAINA KIAI: I think the jury is out to be honest. Generally I'm
very optimistic about the processes in Africa because when you go
around the country and you work with ordinary people and meet them,
you do get a sense of hope. But this is the first time, at least in
terms of Kenya, that I'm not as hopeful as I once was before,
because I'm travelling around a lot, I'm talking to many people,
and what I am hearing are things that make me worry for the future.
But there are things that we could be doing. The first of course is
the impunity question and dealing with that impunity while the
second bit of it is the political class understanding, if they are
able to, that the country and the people have really moved on from
where they were before. If we continue to trust our leaders without
understanding that they keep focusing exclusively on themselves and
their own interests, then this will only lead to chaos and
conflict. And the third thing is that if civil society can get the
space without the fear of execution or arrest, then there is a hope
that civil society can get out and begin trying to mobilise people
across ethnic lines on the basis of shared interests.
So the bulk of our challenge really lies with our existing
political leaders to understand that they can't manage the
situation anymore. They weren't able to manage it in 2007 and as
time goes on, that era of managing has now ended. They want to keep
us where we were and to keep doing things as they have been doing.
They need to understand that we have changed and they need to
change with us. Otherwise they will lead us down the path of chaos
and conflict. ...
So the job ahead is hard and I think we shouldn't be pretending
anymore that it will be easy or done overnight. I think it will be
a hard job and that there is a lot to be done and I think many
people are waiting for somebody to mobilise people around the
reform movement, the democracy movement and say, 'Guys let's pull
it together, let's work together. Let's get an agenda, we can all
work together on. This isn't about you, it's about the country,
it's about the survival of the country at this point.'
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