29 December 2012

Kenya: Fatou Bensouda - the ICC Prosecutor Eyes Her Biggest African Prey Yet

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Fatou B. Bensouda of the Gambia, has enjoyed an international career as a non-governmental civil servant since at least 2002, beginning at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she dealt with the aftermath of a genocide that actually happened.

That career is fast approaching one of its highest peaks with her prosecution of three very high-profile Kenyan public figures and one broadcaster for crimes against humanity in the case of what can legitimately be characterized as a stillborn genocide.

The ICC cases against Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eledoret North MP William Ruto, former Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang arise from the post-election violence in Kenya of 2007-08.

Bensouda's prosecution of a son of the late Jomo Kenyatta, one of the 20th Century's most iconic political prisoners, Uhuru, and of a presidential right-hand man who also happens to have been a career diplomat, Muthaura, and the Rift Valley political operative who dismantled Daniel arap Moi's hold on the region, Ruto, will be a sensation, an international cause célèbre.

ICC's most unusual suspects:

And yet the ICC has never encountered suspects like Uhuru, Ruto and Muthaura - or a country like Kenya. The Kenyan crisis was a spasm, the first generalized outbreak of far-flung violence since the 1950s. And Kenya is no failed state, the ICC's usual hunting grounds.

All four accused are not fugitives, indeed they have carried on with their lives much as they used to, except where dealings with Western governments and their representatives in Nairobi are concerned.

Despite being accused of some of the most heinous crimes in the global statute books, including inciting murder and the eviction of populations, the four have lost no social standing or prestige among Kenyans, whereas in a Western setting they would have lost even exclusive club memberships and been painted as pariahs everywhere until proven innocent.

In the greatest contradistinction with how a Western society treats war crimes suspects, Uhuru, Ruto and Muthaura remain pillars of the Central Kenya elite and are not shunned elsewhere in Kenya, including in their nemesis Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Nyanza backyard, where Uhuru took his The National Alliance (TNA) road-show on a daylong tour a couple of months ago to a rousing welcome.

Indeed, not even in the flashpoint areas of the worst of the PEV violence itself in the Rift Valley are they treated with anything but the respect accorded all other Kenyan leaders in the VIP category.

Uhuru has instead quit Kenya's oldest party, Kanu, the political vehicle his father rode to Independence in, and then founded one of the fastest growing parties in Kenyan history, TNA, in the process gaining enormously in prestige and as a presidential candidate.

Ruto and his own political vehicle, the United Republican Party (URP) have joined Uhuru in the Jubilee Alliance, which seeks to bring together two of the largest vote blocs in Kenya, who also happen to be two of the foremost warring ethnic communities in the PEV. The consensus choice of Jubilee presidential candidate is Uhuru, installed on Sunday December 23, 2012.

Most influential civil society figure:

When Bensouda, herself a consensus candidate for Chief Prosecutor in succession to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, undertook a tour of Kenya in October this year, Kenyans got to see her up close for the first time.

Her reputation preceded her. It was leading francophone magazine Jeune Afrique that voted Bensouda the 4th Most Influential Personality in Africa in the Civil Society Category and global newsmagazine Time included her in its list of 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Bensouda may hail from a country whose president and political situation look like much more suitable fodder for the ICC than Kenya, the Gambia of Yahya Jammeh, a far cry from the Gambia of Sir Dawda Jawara, an admirer of Jomo Kenyatta, but she has made her name and reputation on a far bigger stage in an infinitely larger and more complex arena.

It is in that arena that she fully intends to tear into her biggest African prey yet - the three Kenyan VIP accused and one diminutive journalist.

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