Pick a day, any day, and the news headlines are a
variation on a theme. First comes the latest chapter
in the ICC case, followed by a flurry of features on the
escalating violence threatening the nation’s social
fabric. Lost in the sensationalism is the fact that
these are two faces of a far bigger story — Kenya’s
place in the world.
Begin with the violent crime that has come to
dominate daily life in ways seldom seen before. On a
single day last week, media could report on the
kidnapping of two 15-year-old girls, taken off their
school bus by men dressed as police officers.
In Mombasa, a boy kidnapped two weeks earlier is
found in Malaba, a thousand kilometres away. In
Nairobi, a businessman is taken by gangs who hack
his guard to death. Other gangs wage a raging gun-
battle for control of a city dump. Still others carjack
or rob half a dozen people in daylight at the town
centre, again posing as police officers.
How do criminals come to possess official uniforms,
radios, cars and guns, people reasonably ask?
Rumour suggests they are often “rented out” by
police officers seeking to make a little cash on the
side. If so, it is small wonder that growing numbers of
citizens see the police as a public enemy.
How does this relate to the debate swirling around
the International Criminal Court? Writing in the
Sunday Nation a few weeks ago, former US assistant
secretary of state Jendayi Frazer argued that the
cases against President Kenyatta and his deputy, Mr
William Ruto, should be dropped. Reason: they have
distracted global attention from the real threat — the
so-called global war on terror.
Perhaps more importantly, she argued, the charges
were too casually brought. Kenyatta has since made
the same point with growing vehemence to the
African Union. The matter is now before the UN
Security Council. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has
called on African leaders to honour their commitment
to the court.
Nonetheless, there is strong feeling within the upper
reaches of the UN that the ICC has been
unnecessarily inflexible — even provocative — in the
way it has handled the Kenya brief.
How the Council rules will largely be up to the
Permanent Five. Whatever the decision, however,
great damage has been done.
At home, violence and the ICC have become eerily
interwoven. Normally serious analysts speculate
darkly about a weird “choreography of violence”,
offering seemingly crazy conspiracy theories linking
the timing of the Westgate Mall massacre to ICC
court dates.
Is law and order breaking down in Kenya, they ask
dramatically, or is that the impression some are
trying to create in the run-up to the ICC vote?
All this feeds a growing tide of public mistrust that
permeates everything from the President’s
commission of inquiry into the September terrorist
attack to doubts about the government’s ability to
provide the most basic services, beginning with
public safety.
Abroad, the reputation of a country that has widely
been seen as the brightest star of a rising Africa has
been tarnished. Will Kenya become the portal to a
better future for all of Africa, experts ask, or will it
lead a slide back toward the past?

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