A summons from the International Criminal Court struck a blow right at the heart of Kenya's political elite yesterday, accusing the scion of the country's founding family, government ministers and the head of the civil service of crimes against humanity.
The court's chief prosecutor named six men he accused of being ringleaders in the violence that swept Kenya after a disputed election at the end of 2007, killing 1,133 people. The Deputy Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the founding president, was named, along with the suspended higher education minister William Ruto; the minister for industry, Henry Kosgey; the former police commissioner, Hussein Ali; a radio presenter, Joshua Arap Sang; and the Cabinet Secretary, Francis Muthaura.
The decision to name government ministers had been expected, but the summons for Mr Muthaura, the political right hand man of President Mwai Kibaki, appeared to send the Kenyan elite into a panic. The ICC is accused by some observers of overreaching and could now face a concerted effort to derail any prosecution.
Earlier this year Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for war crimes in Darfur, was invited by the Kenyan Government to attend an event in Nairobi in what was seen as a snub to the court. But none of this appeared to influence the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who yesterday warned the accused to co-operate. "These six individuals should make clear whether they are willing to appear before the court," he said. "If not, prosecutors will request judges to issue an arrest warrant."
Forced to respond to the accusations yesterday, Mr Kenyatta swiftly convened a press conference to declare his innocence. "My record is clear and it remains very clear that I have never committed any crime," he said. "I now find myself to be a suspect. I am ready to respond to any allegations made against me." President Kibaki insisted that the suspects should "not be judged as guilty" until the court had heard the evidence against them.
The ICC has received overwhelming public support in Kenya, where repeated bouts of politically orchestrated killings have destroyed faith in the local justice system. The naming of names in The Hague was treated as a public event, with popular radio stations in Nairobi playing satirical versions of Christmas carols such as "Ocampo is coming to town".
Supposedly a beacon of stability in East Africa, Kenya witnessed 30 days of horrifying violence three years ago when clashes broke out between supporters of rival political parties. The fighting left 3,500 people injured and 650,000 forcibly displaced, in addition to the dead. Initially presented as a spontaneous eruption of tribal clashes, it later emerged that high-level figures on both sides had orchestrated much of the violence.
Mr Ruto, the leading politician in Kenya's combustible Rift Valley, and his ally Mr Kosgey, are accused of launching a premeditated "criminal attack" on supporters of the governing PNU party, while Mr Arap Sang is said to have used the airwaves to pass the message down.
The ICC prosecutor accused Mr Muthaura and Mr Ali of authorising the police to use "excessive force" in response to the attacks, while Mr Kenyatta is alleged to have mobilised the mungiki ethnic militia to launch reprisal raids. Like Mr Kenyatta, the other three leading political figures denied the charges and said they would co-operate with the court to clear their names.
Kenya has been blighted by corruption on a grand scale since independence but much of the rest of the world only woke up to the human cost of this after the post-election blood-letting.
"These were not just crimes against innocent Kenyans, they were crimes against humanity as a whole," said Mr Moreno-Ocampo. "By breaking the cycle of impunity for massive crimes, victims and their families can have justice. And Kenyans can pave the way to peaceful elections in 2012."
The corruption whistleblower John Githongo, who had to flee Kenya after revealing high-level graft inside the Government, welcomed yesterday's announcement, saying: "It represents the internationalisation of the fight against high-level impunity in Kenya."
However, amid the celebrations at the prospect of international justice, there were warnings not to underestimate Kenya's political elite.
In recent leaked diplomatic cables the US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, said corruption reached right to the top of the Kenyan government, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Kibaki. He said the political elite were "planning several chess moves ahead". "While we are no mean chess players ourselves, it is very difficult to anticipate their next move," the cable said.
The finance minister and deputy prime minister is accused of mobilising the Mungiki religious militia in 2007 to attack rivals in the Orange Democratic Movement.
The suspended education minister is a hero among the Kalenjin tribe. Accused of planning attacks on the governing PNU after claiming that President Mwai Kibaki had stolen the election.
Mohammed Hussein Ali
The chief of police during the ethnic clashes, he had been known for taking on the Mungiki. His police force was accused of following a reckless "shoot-to-kill" policy that came from the top.
The Kalenjin industrialisation minister is a political survivor whose cabinet career has spanned decades. Accused as a key organiser of violence against the PNU.
A close ally of President Kibaki and the chairman of the National Security Advisory Committee in 2007. Accused, like Ali, of authorising police violence.
Joshua Arap Sang
Breakfast radio DJ and head of operations at KASS FM, which broadcasts in the Kalenjin language. Accused of planning and inciting violence by passing on coded messages on his programme.Reuse content