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Frustration, celebration as Uhuru trial stalls

05 September 2014, 21:40

Nairobi - For more than five years the people of Kenya's vast Rift Valley, one of the hardest hit areas in the ethnic violence that followed contested 2007 elections, have waited for justice.

On Friday, as news emerged that the crimes against humanity trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta could be indefinitely postponed, those who suffered during the weeks of bloodshed said gloomily they had resigned themselves to simply trying to forget the "dark chapter" of their past.

"For years we have waited for the elusive justice after we were attacked," said Amos Otieno, whose younger brother was killed during the clashes in the farming town of Navaisha, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Nairobi.

Battles there saw rivals fighting with machetes, when communities divided along tribal lines and turned on each other after disputed elections.

"Our fears have been confirmed, that there is justice for the poor and justice for the rich," Otieno added.

Also read: Bensouda asks to halt ICC trial against Uhuru

The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on Friday asked judges to indefinitely postpone the Kenyatta trial that had been due to begin next month, saying Nairobi was refusing to cooperate in providing evidence demanded.

Bitter memories are still fresh from 2007, when elections escalated into ethnic conflict in which more than 1,200 people were killed, violence for which Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were charged with crimes against humanity at The Hague-based ICC. Both reject the charges.

Elizabeth Kemunto, 57, was forced to flee her home in rural Nakuru county during the 2007 violence, living for years in basic camp. Her husband was killed in the violence.

"The best thing for our country is to now move forward. I feel disappointed because Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda personally visited our camp in Nakuru, and promised she would deliver justice to us. This now looks unlikely," Kemunto said.

- Perpetrators 'will go unpunished' -

Ruto's trial continues, but Kemunto said that case also should stop.

"It would allow the country to completely heal from that dark chapter in our history," Kemunto added.

"I forgave the people who killed my husband despite the fact that he had not wronged them - we can all forgive each other and move forward peacefully."

On Friday, Kenyatta was touring a military post in northern Kenya. There was no immediate reaction from his spokesman.

Others celebrated what they saw as the effective collapse of the case.

"All along we have said that Uhuru Kenyatta was innocent in connection with the violence, and the real perpetrators were not arrested," said James Mbugua, who fled violence in the western Eldoret region.

"Finally the real truth has come out, and those with ill motives against the president have been shamed."

Frustration was visible among some, such as Aloyce Ochieng, who lost all his belongings during the fighting in Naivasha. He blamed former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo for a "shoddy job" in gathering evidence.

"But all along we knew that it would be hard to pin a sitting president," Ochieng admitted.

Even among its supporters, few Kenyans appeared to have much faith left in the ICC trial process.

"Most of the witnesses have either withdrawn or died," said Joseph Omondi, a civil society activist.

But Omondi said the ICC process even if it does collapse altogether had still provided a lesson.

"For the first time, political leaders got to stand in front of a court of law and be accountable, and that will go a long way in instilling responsibility in the political sphere," Omondi said.

"The failure of the ICC should serve as a lesson to Kenyans and Africans in general. We need home grown solutions to our problems as we are the ones who understand them best. We should never wait for the international community to clean our houses."

The 2007-8 violence shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of stability in east Africa when opposition leader Raila Odinga accused the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki of rigging his way to re-election.

What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, which launched reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of violence since independence in 1963.

Kenyatta and Ruto, rivals in 2007, ran together in 2013 elections for the presidency, beating Odinga by a narrow margin in largely peaceful polls.

Those still suffering from the violence believe they will now never see justice.

"The other cases are bound to collapse too, it is just a matter of time," said Stanley Kipngetich, 57, from Mauche in Nakuru county, where there was once heavy fighting.

"The saddest part, however, is that the real perpetrators of the violence will go unpunished, despite the fact that they are known."



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