, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 19 – Kenya is nervously awaiting an International Criminal Court ruling due by Monday whether to try six officials, including two leading presidential contenders, over deadly 2007-2008 poll unrest.
The violence that followed the disputed December 2007 polls was the worst since independence, leaving more than 1,300 dead, according to the ICC, and several hundred thousand displaced.
The ICC prosecutor has investigated six top Kenyans, three who were aligned with President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and three who supported the then opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Raila Odinga, now the Prime Minister in a coalition government.
The ICC can either confirm charges – fully or partially -against some or all suspects, ask for additional evidence or drop the charges.
Neela Ghoshal of Human Rights Watch says most of those scenarios carry a risk of sparking violence, depending on the way they are interpreted by political leaders and their followers.
“The big risk might be if the charges are confirmed in one case and not in the other, against suspects from only one political or ethnic group,” she said, noting that such a scenario could cause one community or one political group to feel they were being unfairly targeted.
“Our feeling is that it is incumbent on political leaders to send the opposite message,” added Ghoshal.
“If no charges are confirmed people could see it as a sign there is impunity in Kenya. If all are confirmed there could be a feeling it is all Raila Odinga’s fault and his supporters could be targeted.”
Two of the most prominent suspects, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta have accused Odinga of exploiting the ICC probe to his advantage ahead of a fresh election due by March 2013.
Ruto, a former Agriculture and Higher Education Minister, and Uhuru Kenyatta, the current Finance Minister and the son of Kenya’s founding president, are seen as Odinga main rivals in the presidential race.
Under Kenyan law Kenyatta, 50, and Ruto, 45, would only be debarred from running once they are convicted of the crimes with which they have been charged and once they have exhausted all avenues of appeal.
“People are starting to think that the charges may be confirmed but not in entirety against every one of them,” Mwalimu Mati, a lawyer and the founder of anti-graft watchdog Mars Group, told AFP.
Charged alongside Ruto, are former industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey, 64, and radio executive Joseph arap Sang, 36. They face charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, forcible transfer and persecution.
Kibaki’s right hand man Francis Muthaura, 65, the head of the civil service and Mohammed Hussein Ali, the former police chief also face charges.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said the six were “most responsible” for the violence.
“I think it’ll be a mixed bag, but certainly that the main charges will be confirmed,” Mati said, adding that “the weakest cases are against Henry Kosgey and Ali” and the ICC might decide to move to trial with the other four.
George Kegoro, a high court advocate who heads the Kenya chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, said he did not think the court ruling would spark violence.
He said the perception of an ethnic divide between the PNU camp, made of up Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and their allies and a Luo/Kalenjin camp on the ODM side had changed since Kenyatta, a Kikuyu and Ruto, a Kalenjin, had formed a joint political platform.
“Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto brought their political platforms together. (The ethnic dimension) has been less important as a result of that political activity,” Kegoro told AFP.
“The idea that there are two sides has been obliterated in the process.”