PBS: Escaping Eritrea … [Read More...] about ካብ ውሽጢ ቤት ማእሰርታት ኤርትራ
Nakuru is a lakeside city in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a destination for safari tourists and part of the Great Rift, the tectonic seam that gave birth to humanity and will one day rend Africa in two. Kenyans often refer to the valley simply as the Rift, a nod not just to the millions of years of volcanic tumult that produced its magnificent landscape but also to the centuries of tribal warfare it has seen.
In December 2007, Eric, a day laborer now in his late 20s, who asked to be identified only by his first name, was living on the outskirts of Nakuru with his wife and young daughters, in one of the shanty neighborhoods tourists don’t see. That month, Kenya held an election. It was to be only the second truly open contest in the country’s history, but typically for Kenyan politics, it was cleaving along tribal lines. The incumbent, a conservative bureaucrat named Mwai Kibaki, was a member of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s predominant tribe. His challenger, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s foremost liberal provocateur, was a Luo, who historically were the Kikuyu’s main rival for power. Odinga had assembled a broad ethnic coalition, capitalizing on resentment of the Kikuyu.
Nakuru was majority Kikuyu but had a sizable population of other tribes. As the election approached, Eric, a Luo, became anxious listening to his Kikuyu friends, who insisted Kibaki be returned to office at any cost. The Kikuyu had liberated Kenya from colonialism, they insisted, and the country was rightfully theirs. Other tribespeople were demanding the president be forced from power. “We were just agreeing with what they were saying,” Eric told me, when I spoke with him recently. “We were afraid that if we did not, it would come to fighting.”
After Kibaki was declared the winner, death squads led by members of the Kalenjin tribe loyal to Odinga’s coalition set to massacring Kikuyu throughout the Rift Valley. Then men with a Kikuyu criminal gang, called Mungiki, began retaliating. Soon word came that the gang had arrived in Nakuru. “They came to revenge,” Eric heard. By day they set up roadblocks, where they stopped civilians and murdered and raped them in plain view; by night they assailed homes.
Eric took his family to a displaced-persons camp next to the police station, but there was no food, so they left. He was asleep one night in early January when he heard voices outside his home. He got under his bed. A group of men entered and told him to come out.
“I’m Kikuyu,” Eric said instinctively.
They demanded to see his identification. He said he’d left it at work. They spoke in the Kikuyu language to him, to see if Eric could answer. He knew only a few words. “Asha,” he kept saying: No.
One of the men found Eric’s ID. His family name is clearly Luo. The intruders began beating him. One asked if he was circumcised. (Circumcision is a Kikuyu tradition and point of pride.) Eric cried that he was. They tore his pants off.
“You lie!” they yelled.
“I pleaded with them,” Eric told me. “ ‘Leave my life, please. In God’s name.’ They could not hear that. They went ahead with their plan.”
A man forcibly circumcised him with a machete. Then they hacked at Eric’s arm and head until he lost consciousness.
The violence spread across the country. Though Kenya is among the most developed places in Africa, for two months, death and torture were meted out with machete, club and knife. People were dismembered, gang-raped, burned alive in homes and churches. Many men were, like Eric, forcibly circumcised. Kenya was brought to the brink of civil war. The official number of dead was between 1,100 and 1,200 by the end of February 2008, when international envoys brokered a truce, though Kenyan investigators say the real figure is probably much higher. Roughly half a million people were displaced; many never returned home. It was the worst crisis Kenya had faced since its fight for independence a half-century earlier.
In 2010, the International Criminal Court, the Hague-based tribunal created in 1998 to try the worst atrocities on earth — war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — announced plans to charge six Kenyans for orchestrating the postelection violence. The most important suspect was Uhuru Kenyatta; the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, he was considered by many Kikuyu to be their natural leader. The court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, sought to charge Kenyatta with five counts of crimes against humanity, for inciting murder, rape, forcible transfer of people, persecution and “other inhumane acts.”
During his tenure at the I.C.C., which ended in 2012, Moreno-Ocampo examined atrocities in a dozen countries and brought cases in seven. But the Kenyatta case has come to define the court and, many would say, has permanently discredited it. Moreno-Ocampo accused Kenyatta of suborning the Mungiki to kill innocent Kenyans, but he also believed Kenyatta’s crimes emerged from a tradition of impunity in Africa, one that would continue unless he stepped in. He saw prosecuting Kenyatta as a way to change not just a country but an entire continent and, in some small measure, the world. “These were not just crimes against innocent Kenyans,” Moreno-Ocampo said at the time. “They were crimes against humanity as a whole.”
Kenyatta, now Kenya’s president, not only denied the charges against him but also called the I.C.C. “the toy of declining imperial powers.” It’s a view other African leaders increasingly claim to share. Today Kenyatta is leading a push at the African Union to abandon the court. In April, an African Union committee considered a plan to demand that heads of state be immune from I.C.C. prosecution, among other potentially crippling measures. At a summit conference next month in Rwanda, it will continue a discussion about collectively withdrawing from the court. With all but one of its open cases related to crimes in Africa, this would almost certainly relegate the I.C.C. to permanent irrelevance.
In October, I met Moreno-Ocampo at the InterContinental Hotel in Vienna to discuss the Kenyatta case. I found him in the lobby bar, slouched low in an ornate settee, in jeans and a black long-sleeve collarless shirt. Except for the MacBook Air propped in his lap, he looked like a detective in a 1960s French movie: mussed gray hair, bristling eyebrows, rakish trimmed beard. When I phoned to arrange the meeting, we (mostly he) talked for more than an hour. He was ingratiating, telling me, “You’re doing a very important story.” But in Vienna he was at first circumspect — he’d received word from colleagues that I was asking questions. He didn’t stand but extended a reluctant hand from the settee, nodded and smiled knowingly, as though we’d already met.
He soon relaxed, and we talked for most of the rest of the day. As our conversation grew more candid, he sank further into the settee, eventually almost lying down, his feet on a cushion. At one point Moreno-Ocampo, who is 64, took hold of his laptop and summoned YouTube. He pulled up a clip from a Kenyan comedy program called “The XYZ Show,” which lampoons figures in the news with puppets.
“Have you ever seen this?” he asked me. Moreno-Ocampo was a running character, and the real man adored the show. He turned up the volume, unconcerned about the other patrons looking over in annoyance, and laughed loudly. “Brilliant!” he said. “Great.”
Moreno-Ocampo explained that argument was his birthright. His youth in Argentina was punctuated by coups that divided his family. He went to law school “because my country was a mess,” he said. In 1976, a military junta, claiming Argentina was in the grip of a Communist insurgency, took control. The junta, which killed, kidnapped or tortured more than 20,000 Argentines, counted among its members one of his uncles. After it was ousted, its leaders were put on trial. In 1984, Moreno-Ocampo, then in his early 30s, was made deputy prosecutor. (He indicted his uncle.) His performance in court established his reputation, though some Argentines were put off. Miriam Lewin, a journalist who was tortured and later testified, told me that while Moreno-Ocampo appreciated the momentousness of the trials, his idealism was undone by his arrogance. “Many survivors didn’t want to come forward and talk because they were afraid for their lives,” she said. “He didn’t seem to understand that.”