The unforeseen hand of France in Kenya’s ICC Cases

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BY DANN MWANGI

A few weeks before the General Election, the French Ambassador to Kenya, Etienne De Poncins stated that his government backed the European Union countries stand of rooting for free, fair and peaceful elections in Kenya.

The ambassador was quick to add that the French government had no preferred presidential candidate but emphasised that consequences would be there if the final choice of leaders would be questionable.

This statement was made to warn Kenyans against voting for an Uhuru ticket as it would attract consequences from the French government. The same threats had earlier been echoed by Jonnie Carson, the former US ambassador to Kenya.

The outcome of the General Election and the subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court confirmed Uhuru and Ruto as the winners and therefore inasmuch as both French and US governments had warned of consequences if Uhuru won the presidency, they must be discontented and dissatisfied that their unnamed favourite did not win the presidential race. This was eminent when President Obama snubbed Kenya in his second visit to Africa as a President.

In this regard, there has been an intensive debate in Kenya, both pedestrian and intellectual on the Western powers desire to have Uhuru and his deputy nailed at the ICC. In fact, our former colonial masters, Britain, have been a major casualty in this debate and this has actually led to lukewarm diplomatic relationship between Kenya and Britain.

Britain has faced accusations of attempting to bring regime change in Kenya and especially when they funded the ICC in prosecuting the Kenyan cases despite the usual funding that the Assembly of State Parties to the ICC contributes annually. Britain has been accused of being against the Sino-Kenya relationship as it is largely denying it business from Kenya and therefore would be comfortable working with a government that does not face the “East” unlike Kibaki and Uhuru administrations.

To sum it, this frosty relationship has again been debated in the House of Commons two times this year where some Members of Parliament, led by Eric Joyce, have condemned the current stance of Britain towards the Kenyan cases before the ICC.

The US and Britain have significantly been accused of using the ICC cases to advance their sectarian interests in Kenya but other powerful countries, which equally sit in the United Nations Security Council that President Zuma recently dismissed as archaic, have not received the same attention.

However, this does not mean that these countries, and specifically France, have no vested interest in the Kenyan case. Although France has no serious economic and security interests in Kenya like Britain and the US respectively, a closer analysis of the relationship between France and its Francophone West African countries gives a hint on French engendered interest in the Kenyan ICC cases. The diverging view between the Francophone speaking countries and the East and Southern African countries during the recent African Union summit tells the French interest in the ICC’s intervention in Kenya.

Whereas the Sub-Saharan countries were of the view that Uhuru and Ruto’s cases should be deferred and also African countries should un-sign from the Rome statute to the ICC, a majority of the Francophone African countries were of the view that African states should not withdraw from the ICC and that these cases should continue.

To many observers, this divergence of approach between the two African blocs is mainly because of the French government lobbying of its former colonies. In the past, France has undertaken high level training on ICC in Senegal for representatives of countries of West Africa, in Cameroon for representatives from Francophone countries of Central Africa, and in Tunisia for representatives of Maghreb and Middle East countries and this may largely dictate their view about the ICC intervention in Kenya.

However, the support for ICC in Western African countries is not actuated by its desire for international criminal law and human rights as observed by many but only for using it a tool for regime change. It has succeeded to remove President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire from power and have him surrendered to the ICC for trials. It further led the assault on Libya which had resulted in referral of Gaddafi and his cronies to the ICC.

If France attitude towards ICC is genuine, together with the US, they would have not opposed UN’s immediate action to stop the Rwandan genocide. For now, the ICC matter will be used by the French government to try regaining its lost glory in the former Francophone countries like Burundi and Rwanda which have joined the East African Community. Rwanda has now transformed from Francophone to Anglophone and refused to join the ICC and this remains of concern to France.

(Mwangi is a lawyer – lawyerdann@yahoo.com)

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