Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wild goose chase in pursuit of a local tribunal

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 21 June 2009, Page 30

Kofi Annan, the man who reportedly saved Kenya from descending into an abyss last year, recently announced that unless a local tribunal is set up to try the masterminds and other participants in the post-election violence, he would hand over the Waki Envelope to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for further action.

The envelope is said to contain names of senior politicians who masterminded the killings and revenge attacks, and The Hague threat has hung over their heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles since the Waki Commission concluded its work last year.

A previous attempt to set up a local tribunal to try these potential war criminals met with resounding failure despite both principals making attempts to herd their supporters behind the Local Tribunal Bill. The main reason for the failure of the bill was that some of those indicted in the Waki Report still sit in the “august” House and even at the pinnacle of power in this country – the Cabinet.

It is now being suggested that the bill be brought back to Parliament before August in a last-ditch effort to resuscitate it and therefore forestall the ICC option. What is unclear is whether the conditions in Parliament have changed much to give the proposed legislation much hope.

Already, many politicians have spoken out against the idea of a local tribunal, arguing that Kofi Annan should just hand over the list to the ICC and get over with it. This argument has brought together strange bedfellows indeed.

Some politicians are opposing a local tribunal in order to delay their inevitable fate while others truly have no faith in the local justice system, even if it is reinforced by foreign “experts”. Because of the loud disagreements among the politicians who will eventually determine the fate of the tribunal, it is highly unlikely that much will come out of the renewed push for a local tribunal.

This Parliament, like others before it, has distinguished itself for the alacrity with which it acts in matters of self-interest. It will delay recess to pass legislation that directly benefits the members and, indeed, difficult matters are often “discussed” in a matter of minutes when the MPs have some personal stake in it.

However, when it comes to matters of great national importance such as the Tribunal Bill, we begin hearing tales about the impossibility of discussing it before the Budget debate is complete. A clear reading of the mood of this country’s wily political elite indicates that nobody is interested in justice regarding the 2007 election and the subsequent conflagration.

Our politicians are only interested in scoring points off their opponents and, as soon as one side concedes on an issue, the other side takes up the cudgels and refutes it! It can, therefore, be said without fear of contradiction that if we rely solely on Parliament and our political leaders it will be difficult to see justice being done for the victims and survivors of the violence we saw last year.

The bigger tragedy, however, is that the common mwananchi has been intimately sucked into the political quagmire and today few arguments end without the protagonists accusing each other of being either ODM or PNU.

Such is the degree of division in this country that in certain areas these political epithets are used as insults! Kenyans have become blind agents of their ethno-political elite, and it is not uncommon to hear politicians threatening each other with their supporters’ rage whenever their designs are thwarted.

Today, Kenya lives under the constant threat of social disintegration because of such blind loyalty, and the politicians are eagerly exploiting the situation to perpetuate their stranglehold on power.

Thus when the Finance minister suggests austerity measures, our politicians are quick to dismiss him, knowing full well that it does not matter what they say as long as they are eventually able to cast themselves as champions of their tribes.

Given that we shall probably never be able to set up a credible local tribunal to try our own ethno-political warlords, the International Criminal Court is an attractive option despite its shortcomings. Even if some of the warlords sleep safe in the knowledge that the process will be so slow as to make no difference in their personal lives, we shall be assured that a verdict shall eventually be reached, and the next generation will finally know the truth about their duplicitous relatives.

It is therefore imperative that Kofi Annan hands over the Waki Envelope to the ICC and saves us the time and energy that will inevitably be expended in the wild goose chase in pursuit of a local tribunal.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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