(published on 11 March 2013 in Dutch, Volkskrant online, see link
Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first Kenyan president, has won the elections yesterday. He has skilfully been pulling the anti-Western, anti-International Criminal Court (ICC) card over the past few weeks. With the support of its Asian friends, Kenya feels strong enough now to defy its western allies. As a diplomat in Kenya (2005-2010), I regularly pointed fingers: don’t be corrupt, respect the rights of Kenyan people, reform the police. The government politely pointed us at the initiatives it took, and we could subsequently ‘safely’ transfer our money. When violence broke out in 2007, as a consequence of alleged election fraud, we were all caught off guard. Kenya wasn’t a conflict country, was it? It was known as ‘Africa for beginners’, as my fellow diplomats had reassured me before I left. But the established elite had in the meantime amassed so much wealth through corrupt practices, and had violated so many human rights, that poor and disadvantaged groups saw no other way out than to start fighting. Only to subsequently be shot by the police. Kenya in the year 2013 looks quite differently. In Nairobi office buildings are mushrooming, modern fly-overs reduce traffic jams and Kenya features as on of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. Investors from all over the world quickly seize the many opportunities the country is offering. The recent article in the Economist ‘Africa Rising’ with its downright plea to the Western business community to follow their example, is typical of this trend. Things do look different, but this, unfortunately, is only a thin veneer facade. The actual causes of the earlier outbreak of violence – land rights, youth unemployment and inequality – have hardly been addressed. The gap between the haves en haves not is only increasing. This last category especially, was and is still frustrated, and was looking for a scapegoat. Uhuru Kenyatta managed to take advantage of this situation: he designated the West as the scapegoat. Charged with heading dead squads during the violence of 2007/2008 by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he still had some accounts to settle with the US and others. They had tried to use his past violent deeds to cast a negative image of Uhuru Kenyatta towards Kenyan voters. Kenyatta however pushed another line. He argued that the West was against the two largest tribes in Kenya, his Kikuyu tribe, and the Kalenjin tribe of the second man, Ruto. His trick has worked: the martyr Kenyatta was born. It is not the first time that the International Criminal Court has become the puppet in local political power plays, this time round however, the anti-Western sentiments in Kenya are back more definitely. So, what does the West do: take it or leave it? Of course, the strategic interests in Kenya are large. The fight against terrorism, trade, in many ways the country is key to regional and international objectives. But should one for these reasons, squander ones values and allow impunity to continue? No, a violent regime deserves punishment. The ICC will do its job. But it’s time for Kenyans to start tackling impunity in their own way. Western countries should stop pointing fingers in order not to remove Kenya any further from the West. Don’t think you can fix it.