December 16 2010
The International Criminal Court and its theatrical prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, have something of a mixed reputation in Africa. Problematic evidence on Congolese warlords and the indictment of Sudan’s head of state â€“ the signatory to fragile peace accords â€“ have, among other controversies, prompted African governments to question whether the ICC serves the cause of either peace or justice.
Kenya may be the country where Mr Ocampo redeems the court’s reputation. On Wednesday in the Hague he named five top officials and a radio presenter in connection with alleged crimes against humanity committed following botched 2007 elections. Potentially, this calls to an end nearly half a century of impunity in Kenya. As well as the deputy prime minister, and two other members of cabinet. the five listed for possible prosecution include the head of the civil service and former commissioner of police â€“ two of the most politically strategic public offices. Both positions have been serially abused since independence. But until now the occupants were protected at the highest level.
As part of the accords that halted the bloodshed in 2008 the coalition government was given an opportunity to form tribunals in Kenya. These were to prosecute perpetrators of violence that brought the country to the brink of war. Several initiatives failed, so Mr Ocampo stepped in.
It is a credit to Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general who wrested the accords from Kenya’s divided politicians, that the ICC’s role as backstop was agreed in advance. The coalition looked corrupt and ineffectual for two years or more. But since the passage in August by referendum of a new potentially transformative constitution, the momentum has shifted. Other changes to address Kenya’s malaise are taking shape.
The battle to render the political system more accountable is still far from won. Even yesterday parliament was debating whether to withdraw from the ICC, as supporters of the “Ocampo six” fought a rearguard action in their defence. But if the prosecutor has built a compelling case this time, it will serve an important warning ahead of elections in 2012.