The Multilateralist

Would Kenyatta govern Kenya from the Hague?

This Associated Press account gives Uhuru Kenyatta a strong chance of winning the Kenyan presidency outright and considers the implications of an incoming president indicted by the International Criminal Court: A Kenyatta win could have far-reaching consequences with Western relations. The son of Kenya’s founding father, Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for ...

This Associated Press account gives Uhuru Kenyatta a strong chance of winning the Kenyan presidency outright and considers the implications of an incoming president indicted by the International Criminal Court:

A Kenyatta win could have far-reaching consequences with Western relations. The son of Kenya’s founding father, Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his role in directing some of the 2007 postelection violence.

The U.S. has warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta is to win, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would only have essential contact with a President Kenyatta.

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is larger than any American mission in Africa, underscoring Kenya’s strong role in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. also has military forces stationed here near the border with Somalia. Kenya, the lynchpin of East Africa’s economy, plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants.

Kenyatta’s ICC trial is set to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if he wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague for the first half of his presidency. Another option is, as president, to decide not to go. But that decision would trigger an international arrest warrant and spark even more damaging effects for Kenya’s standing with the West.

Kenyatta has promised to report to The Hague even if he wins the presidency. The ICC on Friday delayed the trial of Kenyatta’s running mate, Ruto, until late May.

As Mark Leon Goldberg correctly pointed out yesterday, Kenyatta’s standing with the court  is quite different from that of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. For the moment, Kenyatta is a cooperating indictee, not a fugitive. It’s conceivable that he would decide he has no choice but to face trial and attempt to clear his name if he is to govern effectively. He might conclude that the travel restrictions he would face as someone defying the court would be untenable. And given the string of recent acquittals in international tribunals, he might decide that his chances at trial are good.

But my guess is that Kenyatta will find a way extricate himself from his pledge. In so doing, he’ll likely have strong backing from the African Union, which has already risen in defence of Bashir on several occasions; the AU even instructed its members that they had no legal obligation to arrest Bashir. Kenyatta will no doubt face some pressure from Western states and some other ICC members to respect the court, but he will likely calculate that, given their other interests in Kenya, they won’t force the issue.

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