Q&A: Kenyan leaders at The Hague

 A child's shoe lies on the ground next to a burnt house in Komoyo on 6 January 2008 near Eldoret, Kenya

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Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto has gone on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accused of orchestrating violence after disputed elections in December 2007. President Uhuru Kenyatta will be tried on similar charges in November. They become the first sitting president and deputy president to be tried on charges of crimes against humanity.

What was the violence about?

Kenya exploded into ethnic violence after then-President Mwai Kibaki was hurriedly inaugurated at night for a second and final term in office, despite claims by opposition candidate Raila Odinga that the result had been rigged.

The violence was the worst to hit Kenya since independence from British rule in 1963, threatening the stability of East Africa's biggest economy and the main regional ally of Western powers, especially the US and UK.

It saw neighbours turn on each other, as lingering ethnic tensions burst into the open. People were dragged out of their homes and hacked and burnt to death in images that shocked the world.

Why did a political dispute turn into an ethnic conflict?

Mr Kibaki comes from Kenya's biggest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. They are resented by other communities who accuse them of expanding their grip on land and power since independence.

So after Mr Kibaki was sworn in, members of other ethnic groups, especially the Kalenjin, took revenge on Kikuyus, killing them or forcing them to leave areas the Kalenjin saw as theirs.

This led to tit-for-tat violence which lasted for several weeks, killing more than 1,200 people and forcing 600,000 to flee their homes.

Supporters of Raila Odinga protest in Eldoret in January 2008 The ICC investigated the violence after a request by ex-UN chief Kofi Annan

How did Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta become implicated?

Mr Ruto is a Kalenjin who backed Mr Odinga, a Luo, in the 2007 election while Mr Kenyatta is a Kikuyu who threw his weight behind Mr Kibaki.

Mr Ruto is accused of planning even before the election to set up militias to attack Kikuyus and is alleged to have urged his supporters to uproot the weeds from the fields - referring to communities in the Rift Valley with origins elsewhere in the country.

As for Mr Kenyatta, he is alleged to have developed a plan to take revenge for attacks on Kikuyus and keep Mr Kibaki in power. He is also accused of being the focal point between the government and the Kikuyu Mungiki sect, which was sent to the Rift Valley, setting up road blocks and going house-to-house, killing some 150 suspected Odinga supporters.

Both men strongly deny the charges.

Kenya's violent elections

Clashes in the Mathare slum in Nairobi in January 2008
  • Then-President Mwai Kibaki declared the winner of December 2007 elections - Raila Odinga cries foul
  • Opposition protests lead to clashes with police and degenerate into ethnic violence across the country
  • Some 1,200 killed and 600,000 flee homes
  • Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kibaki camp; accused of orchestrating violence against ethnic groups seen as pro-Odinga
  • Incumbent Deputy President William Ruto in Odinga camp; accused of targeting pro-Kibaki communities
  • Power-sharing deal signed in April 2008 after mediation by ex-UN chief Kofi Annan
  • Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto form alliance and win March 2013 election
  • Mr Ruto's trial to start on 10 September; Mr Kenyatta's due in November

How did the conflict end?

Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga signed a power-sharing deal in April 2008 after mediation by ex-UN chief Kofi Annan.

It saw Mr Kibaki retaining the presidency, while Mr Odinga was appointed prime minister - a post he held until his defeat at the hands of Mr Kenyatta in elections in March this year.

The deal also said that if Kenya failed to try those accused of greatest responsibility for the violence, they should face justice at the ICC.

Despite being in opposite camps in the 2007 election, Mr Kenyatta chose Mr Ruto as his running mate in the March poll.

They said their alliance was an example of reconciliation but their critics said it was a cynical attempt to avoid justice.

So why is the ICC pursuing the case?

The cases are seen as tests of the ICC's ability to force political leaders to face justice - the very reason it was set up.

The ICC launched an investigation after Mr Annan presented it with a sealed dossier of suspects involved in the violence. He acted after the Kibaki-led government failed to establish a special tribunal to try the perpetrators of violence.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have portrayed their trials as foreign interference in Kenya's affairs, helping them to whip up nationalist sentiment as they campaigned for elections in March.

However some Kenyans, in particular supporters of Mr Odinga, back the ICC prosecutions.

MPs from his party boycotted a vote in parliament on leaving the ICC - a move which does not affect the existing prosecutions.

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