Uhuru Kenyatta appears at international criminal court charged with crimes against humanity over 2007-08 election violence
Xan Rice in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 29 September 2011 21.24 BST
Kenya’s deputy prime minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, took the witness stand at the international criminal court to deny planning ethnic attacks during the 2007-2008 election violence, in a case that will help define the country’s political future.
Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, hopes his testimony will persuade judges to dismiss charges of crimes against humanity against him before the trial begins. He is the highest profile of six Kenyans accused by the ICC prosecutor of fomenting the bloodshed that left at least 1,133 dead.
Kenyatta, who is from the Kikuyu ethnic group, is accused of paying the notorious Mungiki criminal gang to kill non-Kikuyu civilians during attacks in January 2008.
“I have never been a member of Mungiki,” Kenyatta said under questioning from the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. “I have no association with Mungiki. I have no idea why they would give false evidence against myself.”
The ICC decided to investigate the post-election violence after the government in Nairobi failed to take steps to try the main perpetrators of the ethnic attacks. Though the Kenyan authorities tried to block the international action, there is broad support among ordinary Kenyans, who hope that the country’s decades-long cycle of impunity may be broken.
Millions of Kenyans have been following the proceedings on television, after all the channels cleared their schedules to broadcast live from The Hague.
The current hearings are the final step before the cases move to full trial next year. The first hearing, already completed, involved three men accused of stoking the initial violence against Kikuyus in the Rift Valley. In the second case, Kenyatta’s co-accused are former police chief Mohamed Hussein Ali and the cabinet secretary, Francis Muthaura. All six deny wrongdoing.
Kenyatta, 49, is the only one to have taken the witness stand in his defence – and the man with the most to lose. His family is among the richest in Kenya, and he is its political heir.
Picked by former president Daniel arap Moi as his successor, Kenyatta failed in his presidential bid in 2002. Five years later he fell in behind President Mwai Kibaki, who is also from the Kikuyu ethnic group, the country’s biggest. But with Kibaki retiring, Kenyatta is expected to be the main Kikuyu candidate in late 2012, making him a serious candidate for the presidency.
Despite the ICC charges, Kibaki has refused to sack Kenyatta, who is also the country’s finance minister, or Muthaura. But if the charges against them are confirmed, and the cases begin next year, Kibaki will have little choice.
Kenyatta has insisted he will be cleared, and his British lawyers have criticised Moreno-Ocampo, saying his evidence is based on “gossip and rumour”. The prosecutor says that the case will serve as deterrent to political violence in other countries.