KENYA: ICC cases split church leaders along ethnic lines

fatou-610x309The trial of three Kenyans, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang, for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court has created a rift between Christian leaders in the east African nation. Ruto and Sang’s trial opened on September 10. President Kenyatta’s starts on November 12.

Last week, Archbishop Zachaeus Okoth, the chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church in Kenya condemned a vote in parliament to pull Kenya out of the ICC as “a dangerous move”. Kenya’s parliament is dominated by the Jubilee Alliance of Uhuru and Ruto. The official opposition alliance, CORD, headed by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, also condemned the vote.

Although Archbishop Okoth’s statement is officially the Catholic Church’s position on the ICC cases, reliable sources have told Kurunzi Afrika that a section of bishops within the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) is unhappy with him. The faction is composed of bishops from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups, which form the political support base of President Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto. Archbishop Okoth is Luo, like Mr Odinga of CORD. The chairman of the conference is Cardinal John Njue, an ethnic Embu from President Kenyatta’s central Kenya region.

A week before Archbishop Okoth published the hard-hitting statement in support of the ICC, another prominent Catholic bishop had questioned the impartiality of The Hague-based court and suggested that the government of Kenya was free to withdraw from the Rome Statute, which created it.

Bishop Cornelius Korir of Eldoret, the ancestral home of Deputy President Ruto where some of the worst atrocities of the 2007/8 post-election violence were committed, is respected in Kenya for his efforts to help the survivors and to build peace after the chaos. He is the most senior Catholic cleric from the Kalenjin community of Deputy President Ruto.

In a TV interview aired on September 6, a day after parliament approved a motion mandating the government to withdraw from the Rome Statute, Bishop Korir said the government had willingly ratified the statute and was free to opt out.

“This is totally a decision of the government,” the bishop said, without indicating how the many victims he personally assisted five years ago would get justice or how sustainable peace without justice could be achieved between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin in Kenya’s volatile Rift Valley region. Kenya has never carried out any credible investigations or prosecutions connected to the mass slaughter, rapes, maiming and displacements.

“But my problem, as I have raised the issues, is how come it is only Africa? United States [of America] is not in; the other continents are not in. What was the logic behind this Rome Statute? Was it for the dictators in Africa?” the bishop posed.

Last week, the head of the Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Eliud Wabukala also criticised attempts by some African governments pushing for withdrawal from the ICC. Kenya has secured the support of the African Union in its efforts to ditch the court.

“If there are challenges, we cannot advocate for the removal of our countries from the Rome Statute,” he said. Archbishop Wabukala is Luhya from western Kenya.

There has been notable silence about this issue from the rest of the Anglican episcopate. The usually vocal Secretary General of the powerful grouping of Protestant churches, the National Council of Churches of Kenya’s Rev Peter Karanja, is also silent. He is Kikuyu like President Kenyatta.

The ongoing trial of Deputy President Ruto was preceded by public prayers in central and Rift Valley regions for the three ICC suspects. No such prayers have, however, been reported in other parts of the country.

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