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ICC: Are Kenya’s allies ready to abandon their strategic interests?

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The US continues to run a favourable trade balance with Kenya, primarily due to technology imports and the aircraft orders Kenya Airways places with Boeing. Economic sanctions would hurt the economy. Photo/File

The US continues to run a favourable trade balance with Kenya, primarily due to technology imports and the aircraft orders Kenya Airways places with Boeing. At the same time, Kenya is one of the biggest exporters of cut flowers to Europe. Economic sanctions would hurt the economy. Photos/File  Nation Media Group

By JOINT REPORT The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, February 16  2013 at  18:08

In Summary

  • Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have consistently stated that they intend to co-operate with the ICC to the end.
  • But the assertion does not seem to have assuaged the fears of the diplomats, mainly from the European Union, the US, UK and France, going by their persistent interest in the issue, which has left analysts and politicians concerned that they could be planning to impose sanctions on Kenya.
  • In a case of sanctions, Kenya’s progression to middle income status would be halted as the country does not have adequate shock absorbers in terms of domestic resources to function without key imports including food, medicine, steel, edible fats and oils.
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As the High Court in Kenya last Friday threw out a case seeking to bar politicians Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto from running for president and deputy president respectively, the unspoken fear in diplomatic circles was that the pair would refuse to co-operate with International Criminal Court if elected.

“Last October, we received information from a very credible source that the two were not going to co-operate with the ICC if elected,” said a senior diplomat. According to him, it is this information that prompted former UN chief Kofi Annan to come to Kenya and “speak the way he did.”

(In October 2012, when Mr Annan, together with former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa, visited Kenya in his capacity as a member of the African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities, he cautioned that electing people facing charges at the International Criminal Court would have implications for Kenya’s foreign relations.)

“Everyone needs to ponder particularly when we are dealing with leadership of a country and leadership that involves other countries outside Africa. These cases are against individuals and not against any tribe or group. Justice must be done and Kenya is obliged to assist the court in accordance with the Rome Statute,” Mr Annan said.

He returned in December with a similar message, saying any Kenyan leader must be able to travel to meet other heads of state and be trusted by the international community. “When you elect a leader who cannot do that, who will not be free or will not be easily received, it is not in the interests of the country and I’m sure the population will understand that,” he said.

Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton too had in August last year warned of the wrath of international community should those facing cases of crimes against humanity at The Hague be elected.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have consistently stated that they intend to co-operate with the ICC to the end. When the question came up during the presidential debate that was transmitted live on all Kenyan television stations and most radio stations on February 11, Mr Kenyatta said he and his running mate were determined to pursue the cases facing them until they cleared their names.

But the assertion does not seem to have assuaged the fears of the diplomats, mainly from the European Union, the US, UK and France, going by their persistent interest in the issue, which has left analysts and politicians concerned that they could be planning to impose sanctions on Kenya.

Their comments have been criticised by politicians, including Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, who accuse the international community of interference in Kenya’s domestic affairs, and seeking to influence the outcome of the election in favour of a particular candidate.

The EU head of delegation in Kenya, Lodewijk Briet, told The EastAfrican that, regardless of the outcome, “The most important point is that the Kenyan government continues to co-operate with the International Criminal Court, an institution which it voluntarily signed up to. If those indicted by the ICC choose not to co-operate, then it is a legal matter for the Court, not us, to decide what happens next.”

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Prof Sam Ongeri joined the fray, seeking a clarification on what “maintaining essential contact,” the term used by most of the countries in recent statements, entailed.

Mr Briet said that, according to EU policy, “since 2010, European and many other like-minded states have only essential contact with ICC indictees.”

Analysts said the statement by the US and EU diplomats on maintaining “essential contact” was vague and lacked specifics, which may give room for extension of such limitation to include trade sanctions that would hurt Kenya’s economy.

However, the diplomats are reluctant to talk about possible sanctions, saying they are more concerned about a peaceful and credible election than the ICC. “We see two events that could create violence. One would be a perception that the election has been rigged and the other would be if one of the candidates decided to contest the result,” said another senior diplomat, who declined to be named.

Just what is at stake should Kenya be slapped with sanctions? Are Kenya’s allies ready to abandon their strategic interests in the region, interests they have so assiduously guarded for so many years, over the outcome of the election?

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