Peace more in Kenyan hands than the ICC’s

Published on Pambazuka News, by Leigh Brownhill and Kiama Kaara, Nov. 10, 2010.

While the ICC (International Criminal Court) may do its part in ending an entrenched culture of impunity in Kenya, write Leigh Brownhill and Kiama Kaara, it is the Kenyan people, not the ICC, that will play the bigger part in achieving the noble but elusive goal of peace.

It is no coincidence, in our minds, that the promulgation of the new constitution in Kenya on 27 August 2010 was soon followed by the signing of 16 articles of understanding by the Kenyan government and the International Criminal Court (ICC). For it was against social movements’ 20-year pursuit of the new law that the state had begun to retaliate with election violence … // 

… We first must at least acknowledge what many commentators have already flagged: the potential for violence to erupt as a response to the indictments of the high-level politicians. Before considering means of addressing this problem, let us first consider the effect on community reconciliation of another aspect of the ICC’s work: the eventual payment of reparations to individual violence victims.

In Samburu in 1999, when individual land-mine and munitions victims were paid reparations for their losses, the money was quickly spent, dissipated and drained away from the community. Marriages broke up. Families were split. Friends became enemies. Yes, individuals were compensated. But the results within the community indicate that division and competition, rather than unity and healing, were the lasting legacies of these payments.

This should serve as a lesson in cases such as the ICC’s, in which the prevention of further outbreaks of election violence is a key goal. This is not to say that victims should not receive reparations. Rather it is to recognise that reparations come with certain perils, and should be considered as only one part of a larger process by which problems simmering within affected communities are resolved.

All Kenyans should be compensated for the harm inflicted upon them after the 2007 election. Such compensation will not come in the shape of wealth confiscated by the ICC from those perpetrators who are found guilty in the Hague. It will come only through the reintroduction of ordinary people into the process of implementing the new constitution such that the social reparations and redistributive justice it promises can be realised.

Peace and the reconciliation of communities require the redress of absolute deprivation. This can be achieved through such measures as the redistribution of land and other resources, prioritisation of land use for domestic food consumption and the return to citizens of their sovereignty and decision-making power.

So we return, once again, to the convergence of constitution-making and the redress of election violence. In brief, the redress of election violence lies in the people-centred implementation of the constitution.

Action from two directions may lower the potential risks of unrest at the next election and at other sensitive times, such as the announcement of indictments or verdicts in the ICC case. The first is the public pressure on suspects themselves to refuse to stand idly and silently by as others are harmed in their names. Key suspects’ voluntary cooperation with the ICC is an encouraging sign. But it is not enough. The second and perhaps more powerful action to minimize risks of unrest is found among the initiatives of the ordinary people of Kenya who are committed to peace.

In fact, the single most important social force mitigating against the risk of a recurrence of political violence can be found neither in the Hague, in parliamentary committee chambers nor in the wishes for continued cooperation and goodwill of suspects. It lies instead in Kenya’s vibrant and active peace movement. This grassroots movement sees the convergence of dozens of community-based organisations, religious groups and human rights networks in country-wide grassroots campaigns of peace and reconciliation.

While the ICC may be able to do its part in ending an entrenched culture of impunity in Kenya, without the peace movement and the participation of citizens in the implementation of the constitution, the ICC’s prosecutors may fail to actually make Kenya a global example of managing election violence. Ordinary Kenyan citizens have organised for more than two decades to realise a fundamental transformation of their country through peaceful social movements. It is to these quarters that we should be looking for the capacity and the deep cultural and historical groundings to generate a real and lasting peace.

With their new constitution in hand, they have the means by which to bring forth this change. And now, with an active peace movement that cuts across ethnic boundaries to unite Kenyans on the basis of life-centred values, they also have the unity and organisational power to do so. (full long text).

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