In the 2007-disputed presidential election and the subsequent violence in 2008, 1500 people were killed and over half a million were internally displaced. Of the deaths, the police were responsible for nearly 40 per cent. The International Criminal Court at The Hague is trying the suspected perpetrators who bear the biggest responsibilities- President Kenyatta, Deputy President Ruto, and a radio presenter Sang.
However, the debate surrounding the 2007 electoral violence- which was not an exception but a logical arc Kenya has been on since the introduction of multiparty politics in 1991, has descended into banality dominated by accusation that the ICC is an imperialist institution on a “race hunting” mission. This has cast Ruto and Kenyatta as “victims” of a conspiracy between the West and their local collaborators in Kenya.
During the election campaign, Kenyatta and Ruto built their entire election campaign on this narrative, and it had tremendous resonance with their ethnic base. But in the cacophony of imperialism discourse, the real victims of the 2007 have been forgotten.
Even more remarkably is how the West Gate attack and its victims have captured the national and the international conscious- In Kenya, a crowd sourced mobile phone fund has, so far, raised millions of Kenyan shillings for the victims. Even Kenyan MP’s who are not known for their generosity forfeited their allowance. A blood donation center was set up to donate blood, and many Kenyans expressed their determination to visit the mall and shop as a symbolic gesture of defiance to the group. The attacks caused, at least for the moment, the post-election deep ethnic polarization to be subsumed with a visibly renewed sense of unity of purpose and unheralded patriotism.
The West gate attack was reprehensible and their deaths deserve the attention they’ve received, but in this moment of national unity, it’s also important to remember and hold sacred the lives of those lost in the post-election violence, lives that seem to have been too easily forgotten.