As Kenya prepares to hold elections next month, the International Criminal Court ruled that although one of the main candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, is facing trial in April before the court for crimes against humanity, he can still run for the presidency next month.
The ruling by the ICC not to interfere with Kenya’s election means that the people of Kenya will be free to cast a ballot for a candidate who may be convicted, along with his running mate William Ruto, of orchestrating clashes in the ethnic violence that erupted after disputed elections in 2007. That violence resulted in more than 1,100 deaths and caused 350,000 others to flee their homes. It also slowed the growth of East Africa’s largest economy.
Both Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president, and Ruto deny any wrongdoing.
The ICC “lacks jurisdiction” to rule on whether Kenyatta and Ruto are eligible to stand for office next month, ruled the five-member bench in The Hague.
According to Kenyan opinion polls, Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister, is running close behind Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who said he welcomed the ICC ruling.
“I have repeatedly said that my main competitor should have the opportunity to face me in a free and fair election whose outcome is determined by the people of Kenya,” he said in an emailed statement.
If Kenyatta and Ruto decide not to show for their trials in April, Kenya might face the specter of international sanctions. But deputy International Monetary Fund Director Domenico Fainizza said Kenya’s economy could weather the burden of international sanction — as exhibited by its resilience during the world economic crisis and the Euro crisis.
“Kenya is much less dependent on the European countries than before as witnessed when exports to Europe stagnated. The drivers of Kenya’s economic growth have been domestic based, including the ICT and financial sector and increased investments by the growing number of the middle class,” Fainniza said.
Meanwhile, many Kenyans are reacting with anger at statements made by Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. diplomat to Africa, that appear to be warning Kenyans not to vote for Kenyatta. His remarks came after President Obama earlier this month made clear that he would let the election proceed without stating a preference.
“The choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people. The United States does not endorse any candidate for office, but we do support an election that is peaceful and reflects the will of the people,” Obama said. “This is a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of tearing apart. If you do, you can show the world that you are not just a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud nation.”
But Carson wasn’t so coy.
“Individuals have reputations; individuals have images, histories and reputations. When they are selected to lead their countries, those reputations do not go away from them, they are not separated,” Carson said last week from Washington via video link to reporters at the United States Embassy in Nairobi.
“We as the United States do not have a candidate or a choice in the elections; however, choices have consequences. We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact their choices have on their nation, economy, region and the world in which they live,” he advised.