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With the inauguration of Uhuru Kenyatta as the fourth President of Kenya, one can’t help but have mixed emotions. On one hand, there’s good news: the presidential election was one of the most democratic in recent Kenyan history (see election observation reports here and here). The people of Kenya deserve credit for implementing a free and fair process under a new constitution and electoral laws, not just for president but for the national assembly, senate, governors and country assemblies.  The 2013 elections were clearly an improvement over 2007, when widespread violence after disputed elections shook the entire region.


Then there’s the bad news: President Kenyatta and his Vice President William Ruto (as well as others) have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged responsibility for crimes against humanity related to that same post-election violence. President Kenyatta is accused of being an “indirect co-perpetrator” of “murder, deportation/forcible eviction, rape, persecution, and other inhumane acts” during the political violence of 2007 and 2008. At the time, Kenyatta held national positions of leadership, first as opposition leader in Parliament (2003 – 2007) and then as a Minister (2008 – 2009). (See more details of the case here.) Notwithstanding the profound reservations many have with the ICC, particularly the critique that it is too focused on indicting Africans, these charges against a sitting head of state are troubling.


Democratic progress rarely advances in a straight line. There are setbacks, detours and faltering. For the victims of political violence allegedly perpetrated by President Kenyatta, the inauguration is undoubtedly a painful and traumatic event. However, there is room for hope and justice. When President Kenyatta’s trial starts in July 2013, there will be an opportunity for him to clear his name or face appropriate justice. He should avail himself of that opportunity, as should the other Kenyan defendants.


Political violence, as perpetrated by leaders such as Mubarak, Castro, Kim, Putin, and others, should always have to face justice. If not, the cycles of reprisal and revenge can scar a political system for generations. South Africa is an excellent model for achieving that delicate balance of justice and reconciliation. It would be in the best interests of Kenyans from every political faction to seek clarity, understanding and justice for the events of 2007 and 2008. Whether the ICC is the best place for that is debatable, but since it is the primary venue now, it should be welcomed by those involved.


Kent Patton is the Freedom Collection Blog Editor.