This article assesses the dynamics of resistance and cooperation by Kenyan elites to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the ongoing pressure for reform to Kenya’s security services, which were heavily implicated by a commission of inquiry into the post-election violence (PEV) of 2007/08.1 This article highlights the specific context of the global war on terror (GWOT) and Kenya’s role as a strategic partner in fighting the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s African affiliate, as well as being a victim of al-Shabaab attacks. The terrorism narrative served to reinforce Kenya’s existing strategies of opposition. This does not imply that conflating justice and security issues was a strategy intentionally adopted from the outset. However, this article suggests that over time the utility of doing so became apparent. Moreover, the response of Kenya’s leaders to events at the ICC and Kenya’s resistance to security sector reform are worthy of close scrutiny. They highlight what appears to be an international realignment of principles of justice, driven by pragmatism. They also demonstrate the fragility of international justice mechanisms and how it is virtually impossible to divorce them from political contexts. 

Keywords—International Criminal Court, strategic communications, Kenya, global war on terror, GWOT, al-Shabaab 

About the Author 

Karen Allen has been a correspondent with the BBC for more than 25 years, with 13 years based in East and Southern Africa. She is a senior associate at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria and a visiting fellow at King’s College London. 


Books, monographs and reports 

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Academic papers and news cuttings 

Alden, Chris, ‘China in Africa the relationship matures’, Strategic Analysis Vol. 36, № 5 (September 2012): 701–07. 

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Sirlea, Matiangai, ‘The African Justice Cascade and the Malobo Protocol’, International Journal of Transitional Justice Vol. 11, Issue 1 (2017): 71–91. 

Snyder, Jack and Leslie Vinjamuri, ‘Trials and Errors: Principle and Pragmatism in Strategies of International Justice’, International Security Vol. 28, № 3 (Winter, 2003/2004): 5–44. 

Chandra Sriram, ‘Fighting for Justice (and Survival): Kenyan Civil Society Accountability Strategies and Their Enemies’, International Journal of Transitional Justice Vol. 9, Issue 3 (2015). 

Staff, ‘African Union Backs Mass Withdrawal from the ICC’, BBC News, 1 February 2017. 

Staff, ‘China formally opens first overseas military base in Djibouti’, Reuters, 1 August 2017. 

Staff, ‘Kenya Cases at the ICC: Understanding Rule 68 Controversy through 15 Dates’, International Federation for Human Rights, 12 February 2016. 

Staff, ‘Kenya “deregisters” NGOS in anti-terror clampdown’, BBC News, 16 Dec 2014.

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Staff, ‘Kenya’s William Ruto’s case dismissed by ICC’, BBC News Online, 5 April 2016. 

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Staff, ‘The Prodigal Grandson Returns: Barack Obama is popular in Africa but has not paid continent enough attention’, The Economist, 25 July 2015. 

Staff, ‘Shock: Ruto Claims Westgate Mall Attack was Arranged to Fix Him and President Kenyatta’, Kenya Today, 23 September 2013. 

Staff, ‘Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto Seek Kenyan Alliance’, BBC News Online, 27 November 2012. 

Tumo, Rodgers, ‘China Ready to Strengthen Defence Co-operation With Kenya’, KASS FM, 28 July 2017. 

Vilmer, Jean‐Baptiste Jeangène, ‘The African Union and the International Criminal Court: Counteracting the Crisis’, International Affairs Vol. 92, Issue 6 (2016): 1319–42. 

Vinjamuri, Leslie and Jack Snyder, ‘Advocacy and Scholarship in the Study of International War Crime Tribunals and Transitional Justice’, Annual Review of Political Science Vol. 7 (2004): 345–62. 

Wafula, Paul, ‘Al-Shabab Locks Kenya into an Endless Circle of Death’, Mail and Guardian, 7 November 2014. 

Walt, Stephen M., ‘Taming American Power’, Foreign Affairs Vol. 84, № 5 (September/October 2005): 105–20. 

Whitaker, Beth Elise, ‘Reluctant Partners: Fighting Terrorism and Promoting Democracy in Kenya’, International Studies Perspectives Vol. 9, Issue 3 (2008): 254–71. 

Whitaker, Beth Elise, ‘Soft Balancing in Weak States: Evidence From Africa’, International Affairs Vol. 86, № 5 (2010): 1109–27.

Widner, Jennifer, ‘Courts and Democracy in Post conflict Transitions: A Social Scientists Perspective on the African Case’, The American Journal of International Law Vol. 95, № 1 (2001): 64–75. 

Williams, Paul D., ‘Joining AMISOM: Why Six African States Contributed Troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia’ Journal of Eastern African Studies Vol. 12, Issue 1 (2018): 172–92. 

Wrong, Michela, ‘Has Kenya Destroyed the ICC?’, Foreign Policy, 15 July 2014. 

‘U.S Marines strengthen Uganda capabilities for AMISOM’, Marine Corp Forces Africa 9 December 2015. 

International criminal court and un security council documents 

March 2010, ICC Prosecutor opens proprio motu investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in the context of post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09, Overview. 

9 July 2009, ICC Prosecutor Receives Sealed Envelope from Kofi Annan on Post-Election Violence in Kenya, ICC-OTP-20090709-PR436, International Criminal Court Press Release. 

29 January 2012, Decision on the Confirmation of Charges Pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute in the Case of The Prosecutor v. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-02/11-382. 

4 February 2012, Decision on the Confirmation of Charges Pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute in the Case of The Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-01/11-373. 

21 September 2012, Application for a Ruling on the Legality of the Arrest of Mr. Dennis Ole Itumbi, International Criminal Court Case ICC-01/09-105 21- 09-2012. 

8 April 2013, Government of Kenya’s Submissions on the Status of Cooperation with the International Criminal Court, or, in the alternative, Application for Leave to File Observations Pursuant to Rule 103(1) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, International Criminal Court Case № ICC- 01/09-01/11-670 09-04-2013, p. 7.

22 October 2013, Overview of Security Council Letters on Deferral of Kenyan Cases, UN Document S/2013/624. 

15 November 2013, UN Security Council Resolution Seeking Deferral of Kenyan Leaders Trial, SC/ 11176. 

9 October 2014, Judgment on the appeals of William Samoei Ruto and Mr Joshua Arap Sang against the decision of Trial Chamber V (A) of 17 April 2014, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-01/11-1598 09-10- 2014 1/50 EK T OA7 OA8. 

21 October 2014 [Reclassified as Public], Transcript of the Case of the Prosecutor v. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, ICC-01/09-02/11-T-31-ENG ET WT 07-10-2014 1/50 SZ T. 

5 June 2014, Decision on the Request of the Prosecutor for an Extension of the Time Limit for her Consolidated Response to the Documents in Support of the Appeals in the Case of the Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang, International Criminal Court, ICC-01/09-02/11—OA 7 GA 8. 

[n.d.], Questions and answers arising from the decision of no-case to answer in the case of Prosecutor v Ruto and Sang, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-01/11. 

9 December 2014, Victims’ response to the ‘Prosecution’s notice of withdrawal of the charges against Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta’, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-02/11. 

5 December 2014, Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, on the Withdrawal of Charges against Mr. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, International Criminal Court Statement. 

13 March 2015, Decision on the Withdrawal of Charges Against Mr Kenyatta, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-02/11. 

15 November 2015, Draft resolution on a deferral of the ICC proceedings against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, UN Security Council Document S/2013/660. 

5 April 2016, Charges Vacated in the Case of The Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang, International Criminal Court Case № ICC-01/09-01/11.

Websites, blogs and speeches 

TheElephant.info (Kenya-based Blog). 

Council on Foreign Relations, Africa in Transition, Guest Post by Aala Abdelgadir, Kenya’s Troubling New Anti-terrorism Legislation, 31 December 2014. 

Justice in Conflict Blog by Mark Kersten. 

William Hague 2012 Speech on International Law, UKPOL Political Speech Archive. 

Statement by President Obama on the International Criminal Court, The White House, Announcement from the Office of the Press Secretary, 15 December 2010. 

Remarks by President Obama at Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall, 29 June 2013. 

President Obama University Cape Town Speech, 30 June 2013. 

Ruto 2016 Speech on Dadaab cited in The Guardian and Daily Maverick ‘Dadaab Closure: How 600,000 refugees got caught up in Kenya’s electioneering’, 20 May 2016. 

Somalia Conference, UK Home Office and Ministry of Defence, 7 May 2013. 

Elite interviews 

John Githongo—CEO of Inuka Kenya Trust and formerly Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President in Charge of Governance and Ethics (April 2018) (JG). 

Maina Kiai—Human Rights Lawyer, Formerly Africa Director Amnesty International, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly (May 2018) (MK). 

Lord Mark Malloch- Brown—Former UK Minister for Africa and Former UN Deputy Secretary General (April 2018) (MMB). 

Luis Moreno-Ocampo—Former Chief Prosecutor of the ICC (May 2018) (LMO). 

Willy Mutunga—Former Chief Justice of Kenya (May 2018) (WM).

Dr Muthoni Wanyeki—Former Amnesty International, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Open Society Foundation. (April 2018) (MW). 

Victim of Post-Election Violence—‘Ms P’ (June 2018). 

Western Source with close knowledge of Kenya I (May 2018). 

Western Source with close knowledge of Kenya II (May 2018). 

Western Government Official (May 2018). 

Discussions with Mark Kersten, Steven Brown, Thomas Obel Hansen, Rashid Abdi (ICG).