Updated: Kenya’s President Rips into New York Times Article Largely Favourable to Him

Uhuru Kenyatta ICC Moreno-Ocampo

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (Photo: Reuters)

This story gets weirder by the day. Last week, the New York Times published a fascinating article by James Verini exploring the record of former ICC chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and, specifically, his record in Kenya. It wasn’t pretty. The exposé painted Moreno-Ocampo as being way in over his head, amateurish in his ability to build cases, and pompous. Many of those cited in the piece and offering their criticisms weren’t the former Prosecutor’s foes but those who had worked most closely with him. At JiC, I added my own thoughts and then published an interesting and insightful commentary from Wanda Boker, who worked with Moreno-Ocampo during the first years of the ICC’s existence (make sure read Kevin Jon Heller’s comments on that piece as well). Now the office of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has jumped into the fray. On Friday, it issued a convoluted attempt to simultaneously slam both the New York Times and Moreno-Ocampo’s record. Here’s a snippet:

The New York Times continues its steady descent into the murky, rancid morass of gutter press and has abandoned all pretence of journalistic decency in pursuit of the Prosecutor’s agenda.

Relying on the fanciful accounts of unreliable individuals, discarding all attempts at balance and fairness, the Times plies a malicious, vindictive and unprofessional article on the ICC cases.

It is advancing the self-serving and deluded notions of Luis Ocampo, a man whose understanding of the Rome Statute is slippery, and whose appreciation of the legal mandate of the ICC and the Office of the Prosecutor is subordinate to a strong penchant for the extraneous.

Ocampo’s delusions are fortified by an appeal to believe the accounts of one of Africa’s most vicious, murderous and terrifying organised criminal syndicates against a demonstrably upstanding leader of integrity.

Thus we have New York Times canvassing the exclusive point of view of a menagerie wholly unsuited to the purposes of truth, justice and accountability, and essentially suppressing a credible side vindicated by due process and entirely blameless.

You can read the rest of the statement here. It’s an awkward, verbose, mouthful of a statement, made weirder for the fact that it was written by an anonymous bureaucrat and not in the name of Kenyatta himself.

But the truly odd thing is that the Kenyan government is attacking an article that, in almost all respects, supports its argument that the ICC, under Moreno-Ocampo built weak cases and relied on questionable sources of evidence. Sure, there are some allegations that Kenyatta worked with Mungiki to help orchestrate the 2007-08 post-election violence. But Verini expends far more ink on painting Moreno-Ocampo’s intervention in Kenya as inept and ill-conceived. There thus seems no good reason for the Kenyan government to expend any resources of fighting that version of events. Given the piece’s critique of the ICC under Moreno-Ocampo, the fact that Kenyatta’s trial at the ICC collapsed, and that the Kenyan government is offering no recourse to justice for victims and survivors of post-election violence, the President’s statement comes across as petty and petulant. Indeed, other than its use of language, reading the statement one might think it is either an excerpt from the original piece or that the statement’s author never actually read the article and judged it, literally, but its cover (a photo of a very stoic looking Moreno-Ocampo that makes one assume the article is about how the ICC won against all odds in Kenya).

Update: in the comments section below, Ken Flottman gives a possible (and compelling) explanation for why Kenyatta may view it necessary to slam the New York Times’ coverage:

He has already beaten the ICC charges so the criticism of Ocampo, while interesting for those concerned about international justice and legal issues is largely besides the point for Kenyatta and his re-election. The reason this story is dangerous and must be attacked from the standpoint of the Kenyatta government is it treads into the territory of the “open secrets” of the underlying facts behind Kenyatta’s claims to allegiance and the right to rule in contradiction to expensive efforts to present him to the West as presentable, affable and even “digital”.

Perhaps this is the end of this bizarre series of events. But maybe not. We still haven’t heard from the center-point of this storm: Moreno-Ocampo himself.

This story has involved a number of remarkable, controversial, and dramatic turns. For more, see:

A Brutally Honest Confrontation with the ICC’s Past: Thoughts on ‘The Prosecutor and the President’
A Comment In Defence of Luis Moreno-Ocampo
Kenya’s President Rips into New York Times Article Largely Favourable to Him
The New York Times Shoots Back, Won’t Apologize to Kenyatta for ICC Story
As New York Times – Kenya Controversy Continues, Kenyatta Suspends Four Staff
It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

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About Mark Kersten

Mark is a researcher, consultant and teacher based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, Canada. His research focuses on the nexus of international criminal justice and conflict resolution. Specifically, Mark's work examines the politics of the International Criminal Court and the effects of its interventions on peace, justice and conflict processes.
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4 Responses to Updated: Kenya’s President Rips into New York Times Article Largely Favourable to Him

  1. Ken Flottman says:

    I think you misunderstand the import of the story from the point of view of Kenyatta. He has already beaten the ICC charges so the criticism of Ocampo, while interesting for those concerned about international justice and legal issues is largely besides the point for Kenyatta and his re-election. The reason this story is dangerous and must be attacked from the standpoint of the Kenyatta government is it treads into the territory of the “open secrets” of the underlying facts behind Kenyatta’s claims to allegiance and the right to rule in contradiction to expensive efforts to present him to the West as presentable, affable and even “digital”.

    • Mark Kersten says:

      Thank you for the comment, Ken. It’s compelling. I still think simply not responding likely would have been more politically astute (or perhaps responding in the NYTs itself), but your theory makes sense. I’ve updated the post and quoted you there.

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