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Access to Justice

Almost seven years on, where is the justice for Kenya’s victims of post-election violence?

By James Mwangi, Governance and Human Rights Officer in Kenya, and Julian Waagensen, Governance and Human Rights Policy Officer 


9 October 2014: Huge crowds shout themselves hoarse along the major streets of Nairobi as the presidential motorcade slithers from the airport to the city centre.


The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Deputy, William Rutu, are in crisp shirts, riding in an open roof state limousine. These two men share more than smart dressing and state power, however. They are both suspects in the International Criminal Court (ICC), facing a variety of charges.


The crowds had gathered to welcome the country’s President back from the Hague, where he had become the first serving Head of State to appear before the ICC.


For the masses here and millions of other Kenyans, the period between December 2007 and February 2008 will forever be etched in their memory. Kenya experienced ethnic violence sparked by the hotly-contested presidential election, which saw opposition leader Raila Odinga and his supporters reject the victory of incumbent Mwai Kibaki, claiming widespread election rigging.


Peaceful protests gave way to horrific, widespread and systematic violence, which included the burning down of houses, machete attacks, beatings, rapes and police shootings. Approximately 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 people were displaced into temporary camps. 


The ICC intervened and indicted six Kenyans, including Kenyatta, who had been a close ally of Kibaki. There was a general feeling that the victims of the violence would get some closure.


The ICC cases became a campaign issue in the 2013 election. The protagonists across the political divide put all effort to derive political capital from it. Kenyatta ultimately proved successful and was elected President, following in the footsteps of his father, Jomo, who led the country following its independence from Britain.


At the ICC, the defence and the prosecution were busy exchanging legal arguments. Uhuru Kenyatta’s case has already been postponed five times. On 8th October, the prosecution was asking for an indefinite postponement on account of the Kenyan government’s non-cooperation. Kenyatta’s lawyers want the case dismissed due to lack of evidence. The opposition meanwhile believes the Kenyan government is sabotaging the case now that the suspects are in power.


kibera slums kenya

The Kibera slum in Nairobi was one of the worst affected by violence following the disputed election in December 2007. Photo: Eoghan Rice


As the political posturing and the academic debate over the finer points of international law continue, it is all too easy to forget the surviving victims of the violence, who are no closer to having the full truth about what happened and who was responsible. They have seen no justice for the crimes committed, and have seen no or little reparation (a term that includes both compensation and rehabilitation) for the crimes committed against them.


It is almost seven years since the end of the post-election violence. As it fades ever further into history, it is imperative to ensure that victims are not forgotten and that they do not continue to suffer the effects of the violence because not enough is done to ensure their right to truth, justice and reparation.


The defence, the suspects, the lawyers, the lobbyists and the political opposition continue to make all the arguments. 


In the meantime, who is mourning the dead and the rape victims?


Who will tell the story of the orphaned?  



Victims of Kenya’s post-election violence recall their experiences:


Tom Wainaina


I left home on 30th December 2007 for a toy market but before I got there I noticed people were gathering in groups and decided to turn around and go back home.


On reaching Mashimoni (a slum in Nairobi), I met a group of men and boys. One of them shouted “here is another one”. They pounced on me and in the process tore off my shirt. They started to beat me up, they tied up my hands and started asking for paraffin so that they burn me as they wanted to finish me completely.


Lucky, another group came to my rescue. They threw me into the sewage drainage to put out the fire and went to look for means to take me to hospital. They found a driver who agreed to come and I woke up to find myself in the ICU at Kenyatta National Hospital.


‘Mama Anna’


My neighbour came running telling us there was a group of youths approaching our plot and they were wielding machetes. We all rushed and locked ourselves in [but] they scaled the wall and entered. I hid under the bed. I could hear someone telling others the tribes of the occupants of the houses. They forcibly entered the house. They saw me under the bed and pulled me out.


I asked them what they were doing [and] they told me they were doing the work Kibaki asked them to do. They told me if I dared to scream they would kill me. They violated me as others held me, I then lost consciousness and I later got up and found I was stark naked.


I know my violators as they were my neighbours.  They did not turn off my phone after stealing it and when my children called they told them to go and collect my body at the mortuary.


Officers from the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) came. I gave them the names of the perpetrators. I even showed them where the perpetrators live. They were never arrested. 



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