The most prominent of six Kenyan men accused of masterminding the country’s infamous 2007-08 post-election violence took the stand Thursday in pre-trial hearings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.
Along with two other key allies of President Mwai Kibaki, he is accused of five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, and forcibly moving people from their homes.
Three other men, one-time supporters of Kibaki’s election rival, Raila Odinga, stand separately accused in a second similar case also before the court. Kenyatta is the biggest fish of the lot, however.
As he sat in the dock – although not yet under conditions of a full trial – many Kenyans in tea rooms and offices across the country sat riveted by the sight of one of their most prominent politicians under scrutiny for such serious crimes.
Prosecutors allege that he organized members of a banned mafia-like sect, the Mungiki, to be armed, financed, and transported to towns northwest of Nairobi to carry out his orders to attack supporters of his political rivals.
Appearing increasingly irritated by prosecution cross-examination on the stand Thursday, he denied this, as he has done since the charges were first aired earlier this year.
“I never thought that the day would come when someone from that class would be called to answer questions like that,” said Margaret Adhiambo, a grocer lining up to deposit her day’s pay at a Nairobi bank Thursday afternoon.
Beginning of the end of impunity?
Kenya’s leaders and the heads of its most prominent families have long been accused of acting in their own interests – legally and illegally – with impunity. Local prosecutions of corruption, nepotism, or financial impropriety rarely succeed.
That is why these hearings at the ICC in The Hague carry such a weight of expectation for justice for crimes committed during two months of violence following Kenya’s 2007 presidential elections.