In the past few weeks, Kenyans have been grappling with one big issue— the warning issued by Western diplomats about the unspecified consequences of electing the presidential ticket comprising of people indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Depending on how it could affect various spheres of governance, many people, individuals and organizations, have expressed their views over the ICC issue. The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) recently issued a statement saying that as much as they recognize the democratic right of the people to elect whoever they like, it would be impractical for the ICC suspects to govern the country from The Hague.
It should be noted that NCCK was one of the institutions at the forefront of calling upon the ICC to take up the Kenyan case— they led a campaign to collect one million signatures in support of the ICC process and even led a delegation to The Hague to persuade the president of the Court to take up the Kenyan case.
But the Muslim community, as a stakeholder in how the country is governed, is yet to say something about the ICC factor in the forthcoming polls. Although some Muslim lobby groups have openly declared their support for various political alliances ahead of the March 4 polls, there is need for the Muslim community to look at the ICC factor from a neutral position and make an honest judgement about the choices the country makes at this crucial moment in Kenya’s political history.
First and foremost, it is important for Muslims to acknowledge that they have a huge interest in the stability of the government after the March 4 elections. During the post-election violence of early 2008 when most parts of the country were turmoil, it was interesting to note that the Muslim-dominated parts of North Eastern province remained peaceful and, in fact, many people from troubled areas sought refuge in North Eastern.
A case is told of how a man from Central Province who had to flee inter-ethnic violence in Kericho had to disguise himself as a Muslim woman by dressing up in a ‘bui bui’ and ‘hijab’ in order to get safe passage through illegal road blocks mounted by marauding gangs out to flush out perceived rivals from “enemy” tribes. This means that during the post-election violence, Muslims did not have the ethnic tag and therefore above reproach.
But after peace returned in the troubled areas after the post-election violence, tables turned and the Muslim-dominated areas of North Eastern and Coast region became the theatre of violence and conflict mainly due to the threat of global terrorism that was heightened by the deployment of Kenyan troops to Somalia. As a result, Muslim-dominated areas are today the ones facing the most serious security challenges.
Although the security challenges facing Muslim-dominated areas like North Eastern and Coast are largely blamed on extremist religious and cultural elements, the police also share in the blame for their poor organizational capacity. For example, most of the victims in the Tana Delta violence go by the names Mohammed, Hassan, Halima, Zainab, etc—meaning that they are Muslim. But the Tana Delta conflict has had nothing to do with terrorism. It has to do with politics of resource sharing and the government has not done what it should do to address the root cause of the conflict.
In this respect, Muslims, more than any other minority community, have a huge interest in who becomes the next president after the March 4 elections. They need a government that will honestly and firmly deal with the huge problems facing the community. But such a government can only obtain if the people elected to run it have both hands on the deck and are available fulltime to address the people’s problems— this is why it would be foolhardy for Muslims to expect people indicted by the ICC to effectively deal with their problems while away in The Hague seeking to defend themselves.
Then there is the issue concerning the possibility of sanctions being slapped on Kenya if ICC suspects are elected. Like NCCK, Muslims must acknowledge that it would be a dangerous gamble to elect people whom the international community is likely to blacklist. Today, Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world. Majority of these refugees are Muslim brothers and sisters from troubled Somalia, and their stay in Kenya has been made possible by international humanitarian organizations.
In this regard, if the international community gives Kenya a cold shoulder and ends up withdrawing or scaling down its humanitarian support for refuges because the people elected to lead the government are pariahs, will Muslims step in to fully cater for the needs of their refugee brothers and sisters who, in fact, live in the Muslim-dominated regions of North Eastern province?
If Muslims are honest with themselves and their Creator, then they should broadly and sincerely look at the ramifications of the ICC factor in the March 4 elections and make an intelligent choice. Apart from the ICC factor, there is the land question, which Muslims should consider when choosing their leaders in the forthcoming polls.
The land question has genuinely become an important policy issue ahead of the March polls. Like many other Kenyans, a huge number of Muslims live in slums commonly known as “Majengo.” In fact, every informal settlement in this country that goes by the name “Majengo” is famous for hosting Muslim populations.
But the reason Muslims live in Majengos is not because it is their culture— it’s because of the discriminatory land policies that have existed since colonial times and which were perpetuated by successive governments since independence. In this regard, Muslims have suffered in silence living in Majengos because nobody was willing to change the bad land policies that ensured they don’t get legal ownership of the land they live on in these urban slums.
But when the new constitution was brought to a referendum in 2010, Muslims voted overwhelmingly for it because it guarantees every Kenyan equal and fair access to land resources. The huge Muslim populations that live in the Majengos of this country supported the new constitution because they saw a great opportunity to change their pathetic situation as dwellers of urban slums.
Hence, if Muslims still have faith in the new constitution, they should honestly elect leaders who will faithfully implement the land reforms contained in the constitution.
The writer is the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) and the Secretary General of Muslim Leaders Forum (MUSLEF).