A (n alleged) war criminal in State House

There is now an indicted (alleged) war criminal in State House (Kenya’s official presidential office). This sets a worrying precedent for international justice. But it is something that Europe and the US can do something about.

The election in Kenya took place on Monday, March 4. After a fairly significant delay – “just enough time to finish stuffing ballot boxes”, said a somewhat cynical aquaintance of mine – the result was announced on Saturday afternoon. Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first president of an independent Kenya, won 50.07% of the vote, which was a pretty narrow margin to gain control of the presidency. But a narrow margin is enough.

Kenyatta, of course, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his (alleged) role in the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

This is a bit of a blow to international justice. Irrespective of whether he was responsible for attrocities in 2007/2008 (alleged, alleged – everything is alleged), his election to the highest office in the land sends out the irrefutable message that the ongoing trial in The Hague does not matter. It also gives him the perfect opportunity to reconsider the country’s signature to the Rome Statute and maybe bow out of international justice altogether.

In England, upon which the Kenyan legal (not to mention judicial) system is based, it is courteous practice for politicians to suspend their political duties whilst a serious trial is pending.

Not so in Kenya.

This will be a test of the mettle of both Europe and the US. The US has been surprisingly outspoken when it comes to Kenya, with foreign secretary Hillary Clinton strongly hinting that Washington will have to reconsider its relationship with the country if an indicted (alleged) war criminal is in charge.

Michael Ranneberger, former US ambassador to Kenya, was particularly outspoken, and consequently well-regarded by many Kenyans that for decades have been understandably frustrated with the country’s political machinations. True that he often found himself at odds with the White House because of this.

Britain has been far less obvious of its condemnation about the way that the Kenyan political apparatus has behaved – and, in all of honesty, it has the historical obligation to be the most outspoken of all.

For too long Kenyan politicians have been allowed to eat at the trough of oppulence and corruption – read Michele’s Wrong’s excellent book on this – whilst economic interests have compelled the rest of the world to look away.

And now I rather fear this extends to serious allegations of violence, too.

On the plus side, though, it looks as though the election was not marred by the same levels of violence that were seen five years ago. So perhaps this international justice wotzit does work.


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