Vindication of innocence? Not really

Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto

Two days ago, judges at the International Criminal Court, based in the Hague, decided that the case of crimes against humanity against Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, was a mistrial. Waiting on cue, jubilant crowds poured onto the streets in Eldoret and other parts of the Rift Valley, where he draws his most loyal support. Pundits and self-made analysts, as well as bitter liberal Western media houses, are now are tearing the event apart, to decipher the significance of this, posit the danger of that, propose the solution to that other one. Already, a lot has been said about the decision; more will surely be said before the dust settles, if it ever does.

The congratulations are mixed with the opposition’s claims to fame, and crocodile tears are being rapidly wiped away as the newly vindicated DP saunters on his way to, as some overly enthusiastic buffs have announced, world domination. Nothing stands in his way now. Of course, and this is the only mention he gets here, Joshua Arap Sang, the journalist whose case was tied to Ruto’s, and was also dismissed, has disappeared into oblivion, unless something changes, which wouldn’t be a surprise in rumble-tumble that is Kenyan politics. Because that’s what the cases had become, a chapter of Kenyan politics.

But I am not here to congratulate or castigate the Deputy President, or the judges who let him go, or even the one who wanted the trial to continue but who found herself a one person minority. This is because, as Justice Chile Eboe Osuji implied, there is a strong likelihood some witnesses for the prosecution were somehow convinced, through means malign and benign, to adopt new relationships with the evidence they had already given or were supposed to corroborate in a manner friendly to the court’s eventual “no-case-to-answer’ decision. And others just disappeared.

Back in 2013, when Kenyans went to the polls, with an option to put Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto at the top, a number of Western powers flippantly bandied around the statement “choices have consequences”. It was an explicit threat, an ill-advised attempt at meddling; Kenyans, naturally, disdained it. In fact, rather than bringing them down, the statement had its fair share in the ultimate success of the pair. But, looking at it from this side of the trials (Uhuru’s case was terminated little more than a year ago) the statement has proved true, only not in the way envisioned by the Yankee bullies. They didn’t understand what they were saying.

The real consequences are now clear for everyone.

President Kenyatta was in France when he heard the news. He jubilantly proclaimed from the elegant hallways of Paris that the decision was a vindication of his deputy’s abiding innocence and, not passing the chance to deride the court, lambasted the prosecutor for “blindly pursuing the the ill-conceived agenda.” Clearly, he was carried away by joy, for it is a paradox to laud a decision hinged on the proposal that the process against Ruto was tainted by politics and interference as “vindication” his innocence. If anything, it is a condemnation.

And it verges on an insult on common sensibility to assume everybody believes the cases were a “nightmare for the country”. That’s assuming too much. The actual nightmare is that a country of pacific peoples descended into the dark abyss of political violence at a word, and turned on each other like a bunch of animals, while their leaders cheered them on. The cases were the tap, rude or not, to wake up the country from its fitful nightmare. But now that they are gone, it’s only too likely the nightmare will continue.

Perhaps more worrying though is the possibility that the truth might never be officially acknowledged now. Sure, the wording of court’s decision to free Ruto allows for the trial to be resumed should new evidence come up. But let’s not fool each other; no new evidence will come up. The case is dead. Kaput. That’s it. Go home to your family. The victims’ lawyer won’t appeal. If you want to cry, go tell Bensouda.

Kenyans are not a sentimental lot, but the memories of the 2007/8 violence will forever be with us. And, even as raucous crowds screamed themselves hoarse in Eldoret, many Kenyans still had no homes in the country of their birth, because they were kicked out from the only homes they knew. Some of them still bear marks of the violence on their bodies.

Eventually, and that’s an uncertain eventually, they might get new homes and new lives. But it is now possible they will never get to speak freely of the truth they know only too well.

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