IT WAS hard to tell who the accused were. Surely not the two gleeful men, arms upraised, surrounded by cheering crowds in an open-air prayer meeting in Nairobi’s city centre on April 11th? What did they have to whoop about?
William Ruto, a suspended minister of higher education, and Uhuru Kenyatta, the finance minister and son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, were treated like heroes when they returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, where they had attended preliminary hearings. Both men are accused of orchestrating mass violence after the disputed election in 2007 that the ICC says killed 1,500 Kenyans and displaced 500,000. They are likely to be charged with crimes against humanity.
It is not clear when the court will try the two men, plus four other Kenyans, including Francis Muthaura, head of the civil service, and Hussein Ali, a former head of the police. But the case has already had an impact on Kenyan politics. The two men were on opposite sides four years ago but are now allies. Both still have legions of supporters. They might even form a joint party to contest next year’s election.
The present government of national unity was put together by Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary-general, after the election. The incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, from the Kikuyu ethnic group, stayed on. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, a Luo, became prime minister. But that arrangement is now strained.
This week Mr Ruto was cleared of corruption in a separate local case that had got him suspended from the cabinet. He may now return and stir up trouble once again, especially for Mr Odinga.
There are worries that the ICC proceedings could distract the elite at just the moment when it needs unity to implement an ambitious new constitution. This mandates reforms to the police and judiciary among many others. Still, 61% of Kenyans want the ICC to go ahead with its case, according to one recent poll.
Kenya is east Africa’s most dynamic country but it remains a brittle construction left behind by British colonial rulers. Finance and security are dominated by Kikuyu, who claim to be holding the place together. Mr Odinga’s Luo supporters feel disenfranchised. Not enough money has flowed to their homeland in western Kenya to satisfy them. If Mr Odinga is frozen out of the presidency in next year’s election, more conflict is possible.