(CNSNews.com) – Ten months after Kenya was torn by inter-ethnic violence sparked by a disputed election, former rivals President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga shared a platform at a national holiday event Monday, amid raging debate over justice versus amnesty for those behind the carnage.
Developments in Kenya, in East Africa, increasingly are generating interest beyond the country as Sen. Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, edges closer to the White House. Critics have highlighted links between Odinga and the Democratic presidential candidate.
Last Wednesday, a judge heading a formal inquiry into the post-election turmoil released a report finding that some of the violence had been pre-planned and other attacks spontaneous.
Judge Philip Waki recommended that politicians and businessmen who allegedly planned, financed and perpetrated the violence should be brought before a special tribunal to be set up in Kenya within 60 days – or failing that, before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Suspects’ names were not released, but Waki gave a list to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who helped to mediate an end to the bloodshed. It reportedly includes at least six current cabinet ministers and five sitting lawmakers.
The Waki Report recommendations have rocked the nation, sparking debate over whether they will help or hinder reconciliation efforts less than a year after more than 1,100 lives were lost and half a million people displaced.
Another report, by South African judge Johann Kriegler and released last month, recommended the dissolution of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and revamped election procedures.
Addressing the nation at a Kenyatta Day gathering at a Nairobi stadium on Monday, Kibaki hinted that he may be considering amnesty.
“Let us prepare as a nation to consider restitution and forgiveness as complementing truth and justice in order to give our nation a fresh start,” he said. “I want to call upon all Kenyans to forgive one another.”
At the same event, Odinga called for the recommendations of both the Waki and Kriegler reports to be implemented in a way that does not rend the fabric holding the nation together.
“It is not going to be easy. We have to do this without tearing our nation apart, which nobody wants, and it will require first and foremost strong commitment by leaders to the national reform agenda,” he said.
’Culture of impunity’
The violence pitted supporters of Odinga against those of Kibaki after presidential elections held on December 27 ended in disarray. Odinga had been widely expected to unseat the incumbent and held a sizeable lead in early counting, but after unexplained delays, the ECK declared Kibaki the winner by a small margin.
Odinga’s supporters, many but not exclusively members of his Luo ethnic group, accused Kibaki, a Kikuyu, of rigging the vote, and violence erupted along political and ethnic lines.
Mediation efforts finally resulted in a power-sharing agreement with Odinga appointed prime minister under Kibaki as president, and cabinet posts shared between Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
As suspicions grow that political leaders may sidestep Waki’s tribunal recommendation, some politicians and lawyers urged Kibaki this week to drop any idea of amnesty. Others disagreed, saying that without amnesty violence could erupt again.
Annan said in an interview with the BBC Monday that protecting the perpetrators would instill a culture of impunity.
“The tendency sometimes to protect the perpetrators for the sake of peace, to forgive and [say] ‘let’s move on,’ doesn’t help society,” he said. “Impunity should not be allowed to stand.”
Annan said he had met with Kibaki and Odinga, and both agreed that those who violated the law should not be protected.
He said he would hand the list of suspects to prosecutors of the envisaged special tribunal at the appropriate time.
Annan also defended the power-sharing deal, saying he had become convinced that holding a new election or having a recount would have led to more bloodshed.
In his 500-page report, Waki said a widespread belief that the presidency brings advantages for the president’s ethnic group brought a willingness by communities to use violence to attain or hold onto power.
He cited witness accounts of incitement to violence and attacks in which Kikuyu, Luos and members of other ethnic groups were both among the perpetrators and the victims.
The report also found that more than 400 of those killed had been shot dead by police. It said security forces had failed to anticipate, prepare for, or contain the unrest.
Arguably the worst incident was the New Year’s Day torching of a church in which Kikuyus were sheltering. Twenty-eight people died, 17 of them burned alive in the building, the report said.
A key section, relating to another outbreak of deadly violence in late January, pointed to high-level involvement and a degree of planning even before the disputed election was held.
“The Commission has also evidence that government and political leaders in Nairobi, including key office holders at the highest level of government may have directly participated in the preparation of the attacks,” it reads.
“Central to that planning were two meetings held in State House and Nairobi Safari Club in the run up to the election with the involvement senior members of the Government and other prominent Kikuyu personalities.”
State House is the official residence and office of the Kenyan president. The Nairobi Safari Club is an all-suite hotel in the capital.
After the report was released, government spokesman Alfred Mutua denied that any such meeting had taken place at State House.