, NAIROBI, Jun 23 – Kenyans, compatriots of the father of US President Barack Obama, are perhaps some of his most ardent supporters in Africa.
But Obama’s skipping of Kenya on an Africa tour later this month, against a backdrop of upcoming crimes against humanity trials of its leaders, has not only sparked disappointment but also highlighted Nairobi’s diplomatic quandary.
The 44th US president will leave on his third official African visit on June 26, touring Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, but his itinerary bypasses Kenya.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, elected in March, both face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged roles in orchestrating deadly violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in the aftermath of the 2007-8 polls. Kenyan officials have been quick to point out they do not view Obama’s African itinerary as a snub.
“America, just like Kenya, is an independent country and its president has the democratic right to visit wherever he wants,” Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said.
A US administration official said on condition of anonymity that Kenyatta’s election had been a complicating factor in setting Obama’s schedule in Africa, but Kariuki dismissed such reports.
“There have been rumours that President Obama is avoiding Kenya because of the ongoing ICC cases,” he said. “These are unfounded accusations.”
On Thursday, the ICC postponed Kenyatta’s trial start until November 12, but had the earlier date of July 9 stood and Obama had visited Kenya, his trip would have come just days before Kenyatta was due to fly to The Hague.
“Clearly it may not be in the interests of the US administration to meet with our government until they address the issues awaiting them at The Hague,” said Kenyan High Court lawyer Willis Otieno.
“Bearing in mind the historic connections linking Obama to Kenya, the decision obviously presents a very bad picture for the country,” he added.
Kenyatta is the second African head of state to face trial at the ICC, after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for genocide charges.
“America’s president may be half Kenyan but he is not sentimental about it,” Richard Dowden, director of the Britain’s Royal African Society, wrote in a recent article.
“Contact with Kenya by countries who have ratified the ICC charter will be reduced to a minimum – essential business only.”
Still, Nairobi has proved wrong critics who warned ahead of March elections of diplomatic isolation should Kenyatta win.
Since his win, the new president has visited not only regional powers Ethiopia and South Sudan, but also Britain, to attend a conference on Somalia.