ICC must hear Kenyans’ cry for justice

Saturday February 27 2010

 

By MURITHI MUTIGA

When three policemen raided Rosemary Akinyi’s house in Kibera at the height of the post-election violence, she had only one request when their intentions became clear.

Rape me, if you must, but please spare my teenage daughter. They accepted the deal. Four months later, she was diagnosed with HIV.

Rosemary, a mother of three, will not be celebrating the two-year anniversary of the signing of the national accord today. The wounds are still raw. The bitterness lingers.

There are many other stories such as hers in the Burden of Peace, a gripping documentary directed by journalist Kwamchetsi Makokha.

Sitting through a 29-minute screening of the film is one of the best ways to understand why so many Kenyans hope a credible legal process to try the perpetrators of the violence will be launched by the International Criminal Court.

You will meet Maureen Cherono, who had been plaiting a neighbour’s hair when she set off for home in Eldoret on New Year’s Day two years ago.

Waylaid by several men

She was waylaid by several men who told her their kin had been killed when arsonists set the Kiambaa church on fire.

They took her away and raped her until she fainted. She hoped she would die but did not, she told the interviewers. Nine months later, she delivered a baby boy. She thought about throwing the baby away but did not. She has not yet found a family to adopt it.

Regina Muthoni’s own baby was born on January 21, 2008, 21 days after the Kiambaa tragedy. She named the girl Angel Wambui after her wheelchair bound mother, who was burnt to death three weeks earlier in Kiambaa.

The sense of grievance these and hundreds of thousands of other Kenyans live with means that the peace we have today is little more than an illusion. It is, as Maina Kiai says, a sense of calm rather than peace.

There are just too many people living with the indignity of sharing a tent with their extended clan or coping with the bitterness brought on by sudden dispossession and destitution.

It is an overused phrase. But the best way to achieve lasting peace is to ensure the cause of justice is served.

Trying the authors of the violence will not just bring some sense of closure in the lives of victims. It will influence future behaviour by demonstrating that there can be consequences for inciting Kenyans to slay each other to advance personal political goals.

Personal political goals

That is why so much rides on ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s efforts to convince the Pre-Trial chamber at The Hague to allow an investigation into the atrocities in Kenya.

It is no exaggeration to say the nation’s future depends on it. The playwright and poet Shailja Patel sums it up well in the opening segment of the Burden of Peace.

“Peace has returned to our land. The trickle of blood has dried in the streets. Automobile fumes have swapped places with teargas. Parks once barricaded are now free for the public to use.

‘‘Farms abandoned in flight are being tilled again. Shops that smouldered in daylight now trade into the night. Slums once filled with the smell of death now bubble with life. Yet this is not our peace.

‘‘Too many of us do not know this peace. Its colour and tone elude us. We can neither touch it nor feel it. It is not in our hearts. This is not our peace.”