Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Councils of elders pose a threat to democracy

Sunday Nation 05 February 2012

Amorphous groups calling themselves “councils of elders” habitually gain prominence in election years in Kenya. They purport to represent tribes in diverse areas of national life, and issue press statements in support of one thing or the other. This year is no different.

Last week one of these councils issued a press release on the subject of “confirmation of charges by the ICC”. The statement began by indicating that they had conducted “serious deliberations and assessment of the ruling, the issues raised, including the evidence given by all the parties concerned”. Their main concern was not the court’s ruling, but the “evidence upon which the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo used and upon which the court based the ruling”.

The council suggested that the ICC prosecutor was “deliberately selective in deciding on those he considered as bearing the highest responsibility for the violence”. Apparently, the council knows the true causes and perpetrators of the violence, and feels that they have been deliberately ignored.

Tellingly, however, they indicate that they share the thinking of, among others, the dissenting judge Hans-Peter Kaul. This ICC judge has indicated in his numerous opinions that he believes heinous crimes were committed in Kenya, and that the accused may have had a role in the commission of those crimes.
His only gripe has been that the crimes do not meet the threshold of crimes against humanity, and should be prosecuted in Kenyan courts.

In my opinion, their claim to legitimacy aside, the council has every right to express its opinion on this case, just like any other group in Kenya. However, they can neither purport to represent a community’s thinking, nor successfully deal with the ICC through the media.

Ideally, they should have sought to be enjoined to the ICC case, and provided the evidence in their possession to the court to acquit those they consider to be wrongfully prosecuted, and nail those that are truly responsible. That they chose to address it in a newspaper advert suggests ulterior motives on their part.

The statement, however, addressed a very important outcome of the post-election violence – the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs). No matter who was responsible for the violence, it is completely unconscionable for any national leader to sleep peacefully while innocent Kenyans continue to languish in makeshift camps across the country.

The fact that it takes a tribal council of elders to ask that the President’s orders on this matter be obeyed speaks volumes about the stability of our State. The President has issued numerous orders on the resettlement of the IDPs, but nobody seems to be paying him any heed.

Kenya has an elected government whose primary role is to ensure that the welfare of citizens is placed above all other considerations. When citizens start feeling that the elected government is unable to address their needs, and they turn to unelected “councils of elders” and vigilante groups, the integrity of the State is imperilled.

In purporting to represent whole communities, these councils invalidate the need for the democratic infrastructure we are building in our country. In my view, they are an anachronism that we ostensibly replaced with several elected individuals and institutions, and their re-emergence poses a threat to these same institutions, and to the unity and security of our country.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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