NAIROBI, April 1 (Reuters) - Six suspected masterminds of Kenya’s deadly post-election violence, including senior cabinet officials, will appear at The Hague next week, a move that could potentially tilt the balance of power in next year’s elections.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, in December named three Kenyan government ministers, the cabinet secretary and a former police chief among the half a dozen suspected orchestrators of the east African country’s deadly post-election violence in 2008.
All six suspects say they will obey summonses to go to the ICC on April 7 and 8 for an initial appearance, and several lawmakers have vowed to travel with them in a show of support, igniting fresh infighting in the shaky coalition cabinet.
On another front, political leaders have so far refused to set aside their partisan and ethnic interests and delayed the bedding down of the country’s new constitution adopted last August. Can they set aside their differences and pass the required laws meant to give the constitition legs to stand on?
A flare-up of fighting in Somalia has also revived the threat of a strike by al Shabaab, the Somali militants who claim links to al Qaeda, which attacked Kenya twice, in 1998 and 2002.
The al Shabaab group have threatened to attack Nairobi for training Somali army troops. [ID:nLDE71Q08A]
At stake is an economy projected to grow by 5.7 percent this year due to a resurgent tourism sector and rebounding tea and horticulture revenues that are spurring a recovery of the farm-based economy, ranked fourth in sub-Saharan Africa.
An emerging drought in parts of the country could dent the forecast growth, while rising inflation and a weaker shilling could undermine the economy further. [ID:nLDE72M0SH]
Following are some of the main risk factors to watch:
The ICC’s handling of the case could tilt the balance of power in next year’s elections.
Kenya’s parliament has voted to pull the country out of the ICC, and a faction in the cabinet, led by President Mwai Kibaki, wants to block the cases from going ahead at The Hague.
They have asked the United Nations — which has an influence over the ICC — to suspend the cases for a year, and eventually have them heard in Nairobi under a local court following judicial reforms.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s arm of the cabinet have written to the United Nations asking it to decline Kibaki’s request and want the trials to go ahead at The Hague. Odinga says he will only back local trials if a credible tribunal is established.
Analysts say Kibaki and his allies want to shield top suspects from the trials by requesting a one-year haitus, which would allow them to run for the presidency in next year’s polls.
Odinga’s camp are keen to have the trials proceed promptly so that his rivals are locked out of the running.
Prominent among the suspects are Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, and William Ruto, a minister who has been suspended to fight a corruption case. Both say they will run for president, and have formed an alliance to lock Odinga out.
Opinion polls show Odinga — who accused Kibaki of robbing him of victory in the Dec. 2007 polls, triggering the violence — as the frontrunner to replace Kibaki, who is barred by law from seeking a third term.
Some analysts say Kibaki’s drive to block the cases is more to prevent evidence emerging that could taint him than what is widely seen as a plan to shield cabinet allies. [ID:nLDE72J09G]
After the initial hearing, a confirmation of charges hearing is expected to take place later this year, followed within 60 days by a decision on whether the suspects will be ordered to stand trial later next year. [ID:nLDE6BE1MJ] [ID:nLDE7272BE]
What to watch:
— The government’s official stance is that it will cooperate fully with the ICC. Opinion polls show many Kenyans want the six tried and convicted to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed when the country votes again in 2012. [ID:nLDE6BE1MJ]
— Failure to cooperate with the ICC would concern foreign investors and Western governments who want Kenya to combat impunity and rein in politicians who fan tribal animosities.
-- The political tug-of-war has ignited a crisis in the cabinet and polarised Kenya's political landscape, worrying investors and denting the country's stocks .NASI and shilling KES=. What will further wrangling do to the economy? [ID:nLDE7271TB]
— If the suspects are indicted, the court could issue arrest warrants for them. This could ignite violence by their supporters if the warrants are enforced. Kenya chose not to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on ICC charges of genocide during a visit last August, and may refuse to arrest the suspects.
Rights groups say they will demand the arrests, and this could cause anger on the streets. [ID:nMCD730308]
— Indictments against the Kibaki-backed alliance of Kenyatta and Ruto could scupper their plans to run for the presidency, and there may be a chance of a violent response from their supporters who are already angry their leaders have been singled out as masterminds of the clashes.
— Should the trials go ahead, incriminating evidence may emerge pointing to other leaders, which could rock the cabinet and Kenya’s political landscape even further.
— Should the ICC fail to confirm the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto, their political stock would rise and they could give Odinga a run for his money in the race to succeed Kibaki.
Kenya’s new constitution requires several new laws to be passed in order to have legs to stand on, but the implementation exercise has been hobbled by those who opposed the basic law during a referendum held last August. [ID:nLDE7210I1]
Kenya has missed deadlines in bedding down the basic law, including appointing a new chief justice after the previous one left office in February, mostly due to political squabbles.
The new constitution, which Kenyans have sought for more than 20 years, aims to trim presidential powers and curb the corruption, political patronage, land-grabbing and tribalism which have plagued Kenya since independence from Britain in 1963. [ID:nLDE67B0FR]
Kibaki has asked parliament to pass the laws speedily and help to overhaul Kenya’s political landscape before next year’s elections, but analysts fear politicians will clog the process for their own individual or party interests. [ID:nLDE72L14L]
What to watch:
— Will the country’s political leaders set aside their partisan and ethnic interests and rally behind the implementation of the new law? So far they have fallen back to their old ways, leading to a delay in passing laws.
— Kenya risks losing international goodwill, and even funding, if it fails to implement the constitution fully.
— Analysts say the jury is still out on Kenya’s war on corruption, which has been given a lift under the new constitution, and the test will be whether high profile officials who have been named in scandals are ever convicted.