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Enduring lessons from Moreno Ocampo’s Kenya visit

Saturday November 7 2009

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo’s visit to Kenya should provide yet another reminder to coalition leaders of the unfinished business of reforms they promised to implement when they took office.

It is unfortunate that one of the most critical promises they undertook when Parliament accepted the findings of the commission of inquiry into post-election violence – to hold to account perpetrators of the blood-letting – has not been fulfilled.

KENYA NOW JOINS A LIST OF NATIONS with fragile governance and justice institutions like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan, some of whose citizens are facing ICC action.

It is futile for leaders to bemoan that the nation will now be held up in the eyes of the world as yet another example of a failed state. Kenya is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which is very clear on the obligations of member states under the terms of the treaty.

The passage of the International Crimes Act by Parliament means that the nation has no option but to cooperate with the ICC as it proceeds with its inquiries.

Rather than waste time complaining about Mr Moreno Ocampo’s decision to seek warrants for perpetrators of the violence from the pre-trial chamber at The Hague, the government should invest greater energy in ensuring that a dispute over the outcome of a presidential election never again plunges the country into the sort of mindless mayhem that occurred last year.

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It is arguable that if Kenya had a functional judiciary that enjoyed the confidence of the public, the parties which felt aggrieved over the results of the presidential election could have sought redress in the courts.

IN THE CURRENT SYSTEM WHERE the Judicial Service Commission which appoints judges is packed with presidential appointees, the Judiciary is rightly viewed as an institution that is unlikely to rule against the presidency.

This is why the proposed reforms of the Judiciary should be fast-tracked to yield a situation where all citizens are regarded as equal under the law and can trust the courts to deliver justice swiftly and fairly. Officials standing in the way of change should be dismissed.

The Police force is another institution that is in urgent need of reform so that, like the Judiciary, it resembles less as an enforcement wing of the presidency than a provider of security for all.

As these changes in governance institutions are implemented, policy makers should not lose sight of the other elements of Agenda Four that have to do with long-term issues that see people resort to violence at the slightest excuse due to pent up frustration. These include land reform, mass youth unemployment, poverty and regional development imbalances.

These challenges cannot be tackled in one electoral cycle. But in the interest of long-term stability and national cohesion, the government should ensure there is no delay in setting the nation on the path to change.

A lesson that the political elite should take from Mr Moreno Ocampo’s visit is that there is a price to be paid for neglecting their responsibilities and leading their nation into a state of lawlessness and disorder. The old arguments against intervention in the affairs of sovereign states do not apply in an increasingly globalised world.

The best option for the politicians is to ensure that they uphold their responsibilities and enact reforms to prevent a repeat of the violence witnessed in early 2008.

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