The Pope came and went, PEV victims still in place

Public attention this past week was almost exclusively on the Pope’s visit.

The positives. His prioritisation of ordinary Kenyans. His visit to Kangemi. His open-air mass in Uhuru Park. His comments on the lack of services and the illegal seizure of land in low-income areas. His call to the Catholic leadership here to renew their missionary zeal in addressing those concerns. And, of course, his condemnation of economic inequality and materialism.

Also positive: His call to inter-religious dialogue in the context of attacks by armed groups supposedly acting in the interests of religion.

However, what he didn’t say was of more interest than what he did. Obviously, the Vatican’s diplomatic mission here and the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops would have had much to do with shaping his messages for the Catholic faithful and Kenyans more generally. It is telling what they chose to omit or skim over.

There was, for example, no talk of either restorative or retributive justice for the people in the low-income areas he was trying to galvanise our collective conscience around.

Yet people in Kangemi — as in all low-income areas of Nairobi and other cities and towns — were among those most affected by the post-election violence of 20078.

By the police murders and rapes. By the whipping up of political partisanship along ethnic lines. They have not received even the nominal recognition that those internally displaced have.

The omission is glaring — and nothing less than an indictment of the Catholic leadership here. Who often seem, in fact, to be as divided and polarised along political and ethnic lines as our political leadership.

And who have offered next to nothing in terms of moral leadership on these issues — except feeble exhortations for Kenyans to reconcile in the interest of “peace.” And equally feeble warnings whenever the political leadership swings into battle to defend impunity.

The irony this past week was that, at about the same time as the Pope was moving to Saint Mary’s to inspire the Catholic leadership, Kenya’s political leadership was busy at the Hague threatening to withdraw Kenya from the Rome Statute if it didn’t get its way.

Threatening to withdraw the sole avenue for retributive justice for victims of 20078. Threatening to withdraw arguably the largest deterrent to renewed political violence. Yet the Catholic leadership had absolutely nothing to say.

A week and a half of lobbying around the non-retroactivity of Rule 68 and the need to discipline the Office of the Prosecutor had borne little fruit.

The rest of the Assembly of State Parties had, diplomatically, referred both matters to the Bureau to find a compromise that Kenya could live with. But Kenya wasn’t having any of that (why be reasonable).

Reports were of Kenya storming out of the Bureau on Wednesday night, issuing a threat to take the floor in plenary the next morning to dramatically announce its withdrawal from the Rome Statute.

Diplomats are diplomats and the decision was, yet again, to pacify and soothe the Kenyan delegation. A victory for Kenya? Not really. Honestly, an embarrassment. At the taxpayers’ expense. All in all, it’s hard to believe that the Pope’s visit made even a dent in the issues that we need to deal with in this country.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes