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Kofe Annan presses Kenya to prosecute those who organized post-election killings

NAIROBI, Kenya — When Kofi Annan came here in early 2008  to bring an end to the weeks of politically incited violence that followed a disputed election, he could hardly have thought that 20-months later his job would not yet be done.

NAIROBI, Kenya — When Kofi Annan came here in early 2008 to bring an end to the weeks of politically incited violence that followed a disputed election, he could hardly have thought that 20-months later his job would not yet be done.

But Annan is back again pushing for the reforms that were promised as part of the political power-sharing deal that ended the violence.

None of those reforms have so far been implemented. Nor has anyone been brought to justice for the roughly 1,500 deaths that followed the December 2007 elections which Raila Odinga (now prime minister) accused Mwai Kibaki (now president) of stealing.

Pressure for justice is building. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, last week reiterated his intention to prosecute “those most responsible” for the killings. “Kenya will be a world example on managing violence,” Ocampo insisted.

A statement from the prosecutor’s office said: “Decisive consultations between the prosecutor and the Kenyan principals will take place in the coming weeks. Justice will not be delayed.”

Ocampo favors a “three-pronged” approach to justice that would involve the ICC prosecuting the masterminds and worst offenders, a local tribunal prosecuting lower-ranking criminals and a truth commission seeking to resolve the underlying causes of the violence.

The ICC’s involvement came when Annan handed over a secret list of 10 names of the organizers and financiers of the post-election violence compiled by a commission of inquiry led by a Kenyan judge, Philip Waki.

The so-called “Waki envelope” was entrusted to Annan during his last visit to Kenya a year ago. The names have not been revealed but are thought to include some senior government — even cabinet — ministers.

Annan threatened to hand the evidence to the ICC if Kenya’s fractious coalition partners failed to set the wheels of justice in motion by themselves. The Kenyans have gone out of their way to block and delay any progress. Earlier this year a bill to establish a local tribunal, as agreed in the 2008 peace deal, was defeated in parliament.

East Africa’s biggest economy has long been a close trade and security ally of the West and its relevance has increased greatly in recent years as it borders Somalia, a collapsed state that the U.S. fears is becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda terrorists.

But even among its closest allies frustration with the government’s refusal to push for justice and reform is clear. Recently the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, declared the ambition of President Barack Obama — whose father was Kenyan — to see an end to “45 years of the culture of impunity” in Kenya.

Ranneberger announced that letters signed by Washington’s top Africa diplomat, Johnnie Carson, had been sent to 15 cabinet ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats threatening travel bans if they continued to stand in the way of reforms.

“The future relationship of those persons with the United States is tied to their support for implementation of the reform agenda and opposition to the use of violence,” the letters stated. Ranneberger said forthcoming travel bans for some of the unnamed 15 individuals, “would likely extend to members of their family.”

This would hit them where it hurts as many of Kenya’s political elite have relatives and children living and studying in the U.S., and trans-Atlantic shopping trips are a common luxury for well-paid ministers.

The aim said Ranneberger was, “to ensure that there is never again a repeat of the unprecedented crisis Kenya suffered last year.” In the wake of last year’s violence the reforms were designed to replace the discredited electoral commission, overhaul Kenya’s judiciary, end impunity, stop human rights abuses by police and the military and halt rampant corruption. Only the smallest steps have been made in any direction.

The beleaguered police chief has been sacked (his replacement is the former commander of the General Services Unit, a feared paramilitary outfit), a temporary interim electoral body appointed and the head of the discredited anti-corruption commission has resigned (after an outcry followed his reappointment by President Kibaki).

Annan, on his four-day visit to Kenya which ended Wednesday, found that depressingly little has changed in the year since he was last here. But perhaps the very real threat of prosecutions at the ICC will be the spur that is needed to force Kenya’s politicians to make the changes the country so desperately needs.