A decision by the International Criminal Court is due today on whether six influential Kenyans - including two presidential contenders - accused of helping to orchestrate violence that killed more than 1,000 people following disputed elections in 2007 will face prosecution.
The upcoming decision dominated the front pages of Kenya’s papers as citizens discussed a case that could lead to renewed violence and could also have repercussions far beyond its borders.
Some say it could set a precedent for how the international community deals with electoral violence in countries whose judicial systems are unable to cope.
“What is going on in Kenya is an experiment in governance,” said political analyst James Shikwati, who heads a think-tank called the Inter Region Economic Network. “It’s an experiment in building a government structure without using bullets and bombs.”
The suspects include two men planning to run for the presidency this year, deputy prime minister and finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former education minister William Ruto.
It is unclear whether the case could block their ambitions, since government officials have issued conflicting statements on whether they will remain eligible to run.
“Let’s wait until the ICC has ruled and then the government will ask the attorney general for direction,” said government spokesman Alfred Mutua. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Mr Mutua said Kenya had not planned for any extra security should there be demonstrations. “Kenyans have moved beyond that kind of business now,” he said.
The capital Nairobi is already decorated with spray-painted statements in support of Mr Kenyatta, 50, featuring a stencil picture of him pictured alongside a raised fist.
He is the son of Kenya’s first president and is the country’s richest citizen with a personal fortune £322 million. Mr Ruto is a former ally of prime minister Raila Odinga, but the two had a falling out – partly over Mr Ruto’s insistence on making his own presidential bid this year.
Both men come from powerful ethnic groups. Mr Kenyatta is Kikuyu, the ethnic group with the highest numbers and the one that has produced two of the country’s three presidents. Mr Ruto is a Kalenjin, the ethnic group that produced Kenya’s longest-serving president, Daniel arap Moi, who recruited many of his fellow Kalenjin into the security services.
The four other suspects include former minister of industrialisation Henry Kiprono Kosgey, broadcaster Joshua Sang, secretary to the cabinet Francis Kirimi Muthaura and former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali, now head of the postal service.
More than 1,000 people were killed in post-election violence after police ejected observers from the centre where votes were being tallied and the electoral body declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner.
Two recent opinion polls show that the majority of Kenyans back the ICC process. Most citizens have little faith in their own judiciary, widely perceived as corrupt and choking on a backlog of cases.
“It’s good that this case is going to a judge. Maybe this year people at the top will think about that and we won’t have the same problems,” said taxi driver George Ongeri, reading through the papers with other drivers in front of a fruit stall.
He said he did not think there would be trouble in the capital, but that there might be unrest in the rural areas where the suspects had support.