Mixed emotions in Kenya as President beats international court

Tears of grief, cries of joy: the reactions of ordinary Kenyans to the dropping of crimes against humanity charges against the president mirror the divisions that remain years after bitter election violence.

Nakuru: Tears of grief, cries of joy: the reactions of ordinary Kenyans to the dropping of crimes against humanity charges against the president mirror the divisions that remain years after bitter election violence.

With nobody prosecuted in Kenya itself, the withdrawal Friday of International Criminal Court charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta means many in the vast Rift Valley, one of the hardest hit areas in the ethnic violence that followed contested 2007 elections, fear they will never see justice.

"It is a victory for the President, but a heartbreaking loss for the victims of the violence," said 43-year old David Mongeri, a lawyer in Nakuru, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Nairobi.

Battles there saw rivals fighting with machetes, when communities divided along tribal lines turned on each other after disputed elections.

"Justice was not served today," Mongeri added. "Naturally, it would have been unfair for the court to prolong the case without any evidence against Kenyatta. In that regard, withdrawal was the only option - but the prosecutor failed poor Kenyans."

But elsewhere, others celebrated.

"We are shedding tears of joy after the charges against the president were dropped," said Beatrice Nyokabi, forced from her home near the farming town of Navaisha, who believed Kenyatta had protected her during the violence, not caused it.

"We hope that one day the real perpetrators will be arrested," she added.Bitter memories are still fresh from 2007, when elections escalated into ethnic conflict in which more than 1,200 people were killed, violence for which Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were charged with crimes against humanity at The Hague-based ICC. Both denied the charges.

Some blamed the ICC -- former prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and his successor Fatou Bensouda -- for failing to properly gather evidence, others alleged that witness intimidation contributed towards the collapse of the case.

"When Bensouda first visited us, she promised to deliver us justice, but as the case unfolded, we saw it was a power play by the international community who wanted to dictate to Kenyans who should be their leader. That is when I withdrew my support from the ICC," said Elizabeth Maina, 61, who fled her home from machete-wielding gangs.

"We blame Ocampo as he never interviewed the real people displaced by violence and the charges against Uhuru were framed," said Peter Mwaura, who still lives in a camp set up after the violence for those forced from their homes.

Those who suffered during the weeks of bloodshed said gloomily they had resigned themselves to simply trying to forget the a dark chapter of their past.

Irene Akoth`s brother was killed in the violence, and said that while the case had been withdrawn, they would not forget or forgive the perpetrators.

"We now know that there is one justice for the rich and one for the poor in this country, and since there is nothing we can do, we have to move on," said Akoth, who lives near Naivasha.The 2007-8 violence shattered Kenya`s image as a beacon of stability in east Africa when opposition leader Raila Odinga accused the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki of rigging his way to re-election.

What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of Kibaki`s Kikuyu tribe, which launched reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of violence since independence in 1963.

Kenyatta and Ruto, rivals in 2007, ran together in 2013 elections for the presidency, beating Odinga by a narrow margin in largely peaceful polls.

Those still suffering from the violence believe they will now never see justice.

"The ICC has not only failed Kenyans but also the civil society, who it convinced that it was the only avenue for justice," said civil society activist Joseph Omondi.

But others said the end of the case could pave the way for a process to heal and reconcile the country, where memories and grievances still run deep.

"Now that the president is free, he should take the lead to reconcile our country," said Kipkoech Ng`etich, a farmer in Bureti, in Kenya`s Rift Valley. "We still have sharp divisions on political and tribal lines."

But others were more gloomy.

"Our only hope of getting justice has been dashed and all we can do is seek divine intervention," said Isaiah Omolo, who lost all his belongings in the violence.

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