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Kenya's historic journey to the truth

Everyone agrees the truth about the 2007-2008 riots needs to come out. But that's the only point on which people agree.
Last modified: 10 Sep 2013 23:56

The trial of Kenya's deputy president William Ruto by the International Criminal Court has finally begun. He travelled to the Netherlands flanked by dozens of supporters from his ruling Jubilee coalition.

By the end of the three weeks that he will be at The Hague, about 100 of his supporters will have travelled to be with him. On his return to Kenya, I am sure, he will receive a hero's welcome.

One can only imagine the drama that will accompany President Uhuru Kenyatta's departure for The Hague for his trial in November.

But first things first. In Kenya, the ICC is the only topic of conversation right now.

"Should we have first our deputy president, and then our president, face humiliation in a foreign court? How is that even possible?"

That is how one Kenyan posed to me the question seemingly on everyone's mind.

Wounds from that turbulent period are slowly healing. Some people say that the ICC cases could do more harm than good by reopening old wounds.

Questions about what could happen if Kenyatta and Ruto are found guilty are doing the rounds: how the developments could bring the country to its knees and trigger a new round of violence. The scenarios being painted are pretty grim.

Everyone agrees that the truth needs to come out and that justice needs to be done. But that's about the only point people seem to agree on.

While some feel that only an independent can bury the bones once and for all, a large number of Kenyans think the suspects will not get a fair hearing in this "rogue court" with a political agenda.

I travelled to Eldoret, located at the heart of the Rift Valley, for the beginning of this historic journey.

It's a lush green, fast-growing town dubbed "the city of champions" because of the international athletes it produces.

It's hard to imagine that this beautiful region could be the epicentre of so much brutality in 2007-08.

The violence following a disputed election that saw at least 1,100 people murdered and hundreds of thousands of others displaced from several parts of the country.

Eldoret is where the violence started. It's also Ruto's home turf.

Many of the people who were killed and displaced here were Kikuyus from the president's tribe. The perpetrators of the violence were youths from the Kalenjin community - Ruto's tribe.

Close to six years and many reconciliation efforts later, the two communities seem be co-existing again. Many of those who were displaced have returned to their farms.

Their two tribes are in the government coalition now. So what do they feel about the trials?

Kenya is an ethnically blocked country. A lot of opinions are informed by ethnic considerations, so naturally many of the Kikuyu victims would feel inclined to protect the president - their man - and, by extension, the deputy president - their man's right-hand man.

The people I talked to said that a local solution is better than a foreign court.

Some of them have a simple logic that makes sense to them.

An 18-year-old man was hiding in a church where people were burned to death in 2008. He has scars on his hands and legs to prove it. His mother, who was with him, suffered a mental breakdown after that. She has never recovered.

His name is Philip Kimunya and is now his mother's caregiver.

"I don't care about what I don't know. What I know is that people came to burn the church. We were inside and we were screaming. They threw petrol bombs at us. These are people we can identify. How come they are still walking free?" he asks.

The government has failed to handle the post-election violence cases at the local level.

Dealing decisively with the cases will give victims the closure they so badly need.

As for Kenyatta and Ruto, James Gonda, a human-rights campaigner, sums up their options as thus: "It behooves upon them to redeem the country. They should sit through the process - and vindicate the themselves."

That can be the only saving grace.