NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 24 – If Kenya’s presidential hopeful Uhuru Kenyatta wins March 4 elections, his first foreign trip along with the vice-president could be to The Hague to face trial for crimes against humanity.
For East Africa’s economic powerhouse, the issue of a looming International Criminal Court (ICC) trial for Kenyatta has sparked fear of economic and diplomatic consequences should he win and fail to comply, analysts warn.
It raises the prospect that Kenya – a regional diplomatic hub, popular tourist destination and with a growing economy buoyed by foreign investment – could follow the path of pariah state Sudan, the only other country to elect a president indicted by the ICC.
The United States’ top diplomat for Africa Johnnie Carson earlier this month warned Kenyans that “choices have consequences”, in an apparent caution over the possible victory of Kenyatta.
“We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact their choices have,” he said, without naming any names.
The ICC issue “raises enormously the stakes of the presidential contest”, the International Crisis Group think tank warned in a recent report.
Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto – a fellow ICC indictee – “in particular have challenged the ICC proceedings as politically motivated, and used them to rally their respective ethnic communities’ support,” the ICG added.
Their trials for their alleged role in orchestrating post-election violence five years ago in which over 1,100 people died are due to open on April 10 and 11, potentially clashing with a widely expected second round run off vote.
In terms of clear policy, little of real substance divides the top candidates. Kenya’s election races have a long past of ethnic campaigning, as well as violence.
That has made many concerned that voters will use the election as a referendum on the ICC.
“The people of Kenya – and they alone – have the power and the mandate to determine the leadership of this great country,” Kenyatta said after high court judges effectively cleared the way for him to run for office earlier this month.
Civil society groups have sought a ruling as to whether Kenyatta and Ruto should be allowed to stand for office due to the looming ICC trial. The high court finally ruled it lacked jurisdiction to make a decision.
The case illustrated how the ICC has divided domestic opinion: some believing that Kenyans alone should judge Kenyatta through the ballot, others keenly aware of the possible impact on the country should he win.