The Kenya Sevens team recently won the Singapore Sevens title.
In Kenya only 3 sports have ever taken an international stage and as a result captured the national imagination. Cricket, rugby and athletics. Cricket has been slowly creaking off it, in fact the glory days of this sport are so far back I only know stories of them. Athletics is something we are great at. Our runners win the gold, the bronze and the silver with such regularity you would think someone was rigging the races. Rugby 7s has always been a middling child. We’ve been good. We’ve been almost great but the giants of the sport England and France, New Zealand and Australia, Fiji and South Africa have kept us at bay. Until in what is already being described in superlatives( “the greatest sports upset of the year” is one phrase I’ve seen bandied) the rugby team won the Singapore Sevens title.
Sports is a unifying and glorifying field. Feats of physical strength speed and endurance put us in mind of the gods. They elevate us. Our association no matter how tenuous with a person who would throw, run, bash, strategise, shoot so much better than we can will always fill us with glory by association. The Kenyan rugby team though is essentially who we are. A team with fewer resources than the other teams. People drawn from amongst us who despite all the pressures to settle and be average that life in a place like Kenya gives, in spite of the lack of funding and equipment that every other nation has, and , perhaps, because of all the hardship and struggle that life here promises have the temerity and determination to rise above all that, to compete with the best at every turn and to do it so well that they win. This is surely something to be proud of.
Yet, none of the euphoria touched me. I saw the celebrations online. I was forwarded all the memes and pictures on whatsapp. There was a revelling in being Kenyan on Sunday. Happiness abounded. We did it. We beat the world. Still it refused to be anything more to me than just another sports team winning yet another tournament. Where was my pride to be Kenyan at this moment of national unity?
The day before there was another celebration in Kenya. Crowds came together and craned their necks to catch a glimpse of a different breed of national hero. The people being feted were Kenyans known by the now-famous moniker the Ocampo Six. Kenya had beat the world before Sunday. We had beat the justice system by gaming it, by rigging it, by using it for political means, by corrupting a court that in itself held some of the highest ideals that the world aspired towards.
The ICC is a direct descendant of the Nuremberg trials. It is the physical manifestation of the world banding together to say never again to crimes against humanity. The result of wars so horrible and losses of lives so callous that those who perpetrated them could not be called merely criminals. Their crimes were not against one person but against the whole of humanity. Any person who had committed the crimes that the formation of the ICC contemplated was a scar on the conscience of the human race. This is what the Rome Treaty said. This is what brought it about to bring to justice the ones who no one nation could contain.
A horrible thing happened in 2007 in Kenya. Our country slipped slowly and softly towards civil war. Hate was in the air.. It infected all of us. It affected many of us more than it did others. It was horrible that people rose up the way they did. That machetes were stained with blood. The two people who stood to gain the most from the violence that was unleashed did what powerful people who stand to gain from violence always do, nothing. Nothing to stop it, nothing to contain it, nothing to contradict it. For weeks it went on. We heard about massacres and murders. There were fires driven by fury and our country was never the same again. In such a short time we were derailed from the path towards real nationhood and splintered into tribal affiliations. Those were crimes against all the people of Kenya, those were crimes against humanity and somebody needed to be held responsible and the ICC swung into action.
When I say swung I mean it in the least swinging way possible. I mean that there were investigations. There were attempts to have a local tribunal formed. There was all the anticipation of finding out who the Ocampo six were and we were finally told six years ago. The legal process does not swing as much as it creaks on rusted hinges of due process and judicial deliberation. To know the truth of this all you have to realise is that it took 6 years for the Court to say that there was no case for Deputy President Ruto and future political aspirant Joshua arap Sang to answer. Would it have been another three years before the cases were concluded if they were carried to their end? Maybe more? The systems of justice we put in place to control our worst impulses rely on the cooling of minds. Revenge, they say is a dish best served cold maybe because cooled off revenge is actually justice. Maybe because it’s really forgiveness.
Kenya was divided. As we came to the conclusion of these proceedings the refrain could be heard “locking people up will not bring back the dead anyway.” I wonder if people believe this. The literal truth of this statement is undeniable but the deeper truth always lies behind the lines of such poetry. The deeper truth of this is that justice as we serve it on each other has no place in our society. Forget about anyone who ever did you wrong, it will never right the wrong. Once you have been sinned against there is nothing that can be done to put you back in the place where you have not been sinned against therefore “accept and move on.”
This is a statement that lies in complete opposition to the statement “never again.” The argument that is put forward is that peace must be considered. We need to reconcile with each other because we live in this country together. Yet no process of reconciliation was ever carried out in the form that was seen in Rwanda or South Africa. A process of reconciliation was carried out in a manner reminiscent of the chief sending his daughter to marry the chief of the other tribe. A marriage of convenience that hopefully would put a stop to anything else. Did it work? It seems to have on cursory examination of the nation. The tribes most affected by the post-election violence banded together to give a victory to the people accused of causing it. This is the very definition of revenge served ice-cold following the adage that if the gods would punish us they give us what we ask for.
But I still couldn’t feel the euphoria of a Kenyan win. That’s the moment we all remember that we are Kenyans. This is the greatness of artists, scientists and sportsmen. Their achievements can be laid claim to by all of us. What they give us transcends all the petty divisions that the human race finds itself mired in. It belongs to all of mankind. By entertaining, discovering and competing they can make us one. By picking up when they fail (the sevens team participated in over one hundred tournaments before winning a cup) they push us to try to be better (but still I felt ice).
The day before the rugby win the Ocampo six paraded themselves and their freedom. The last vestiges of colonial influence over us were being torn away. We are after all a country that thrives best on local solutions by local people. Kenya had beaten the world. The ICC admitted its ineffectuality and impotence when it was unable to convict even one of the people named in what perhaps is its most high profile case.
There was something wrong with the process by which we sought justice or by which the ICC attempted to deliver justice. Somewhere in the pipeline something went horribly wrong. The investigations were bungled and the wrong people were charged. Or the right people were charged but the lawyers prosecuting them were incompetent. Or the right witnesses were found but they were cajoled and intimidated and disappeared until they couldn’t give any kind of testimony. Or the wrong witnesses were found and the justice system rooted them out as conscience began to speak to them. Or the right people were charged and they had at their disposal an arsenal of diplomatic, financial and political weapons. Or the wrong people were charged and the 6 million Kenyans who placed their trust in them knew this all along, took it on faith that these men they had never met were innocent of any charge levied against them and had their faith vindicated by the facts of the world.
The people who were charged may not have been guilty, we may never know. What we do know is that there was a correct combination to open the safe. The correct numbers existed to punish the people who made us suffer so much. Someone somewhere dropped the ball and this is the history we have to live with now. The history that was celebrated on Saturday. The Ocampo six were so pleased that the ICC process failed that they forgot it failed not only us but them too. The ICC process failed humanity.
There is a hope of justice that faded farther and farther away over the last nine years. All the political manoeuvring even before Ocampo first forayed into Kenya told us that impunity existed. That it was there and that it stood in all readiness to mock us. Perhaps the system was corrupted from the get-go. Perhaps it rotted as it went along. No matter what the truth of this is by the end it couldn’t cover us or anyone else.
Being Kenyan for me meant one thing this weekend. It meant that nobody would be held to account for all those deaths. That this book was closed. So when the rugby team pulled off their amazing feat and it was time to be proud to be Kenyan – I couldn’t do it.