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ICC trial to shape Kenya's regional politics, diplomacy

24 October 2013, 19:58

Nairobi - Kenya’s body politics and her diplomatic clout will be put under a litmus test in November when President Uhuru Kenyatta appears at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the commencement of his trial.

The trial of a sitting president and his deputy at the global court on charges of crimes against humanity has elicited mixed reactions in the country and beyond. President Kenyatta's appearance at the ICC on Nov. 12 will be a watershed moment for the nation as eluded by a plethora of senior government officials, scholars and pundits.

Kenyatta was categorical last Sunday that his trial at The Hague-based court is a passing cloud that would not in any way jeopardize government functions. His officials had previously assured the public that contrary to speculations, the president is willing to present himself at the ICC and clear his name of any wrong doing.

The president's political advisor Joshua Kuttuny has reiterated that Kenyatta respects both local and international statutes and will not back-track on his earlier pledge to cooperate with the ICC. The country has been on a diplomatic offensive to mobilize support for the deferral of cases related to the president and his deputy at the ICC.

So far, the African Union has thrown its weight behind the suspension of Kenyatta's trial at the world court, citing the need to safeguard Kenya's sovereignty. Diplomacy scholars told Xinhua on Monday that the trial of the president and his deputy at the ICC will have profound impacts on regional peace and stability.

"There is no gainsaying that the country remains a diplomatic and economic hub in the region. Any major decisions made here have direct impact across the region," Martin Nguru, international relations expert, told Xinhua.

"I do not need to belabor why Africa as a whole is transfixed on the trial of our President and his deputy at the ICC," Nguru added. The maximum deferral period allowed is one year, although this can be renewed a year at a time.

Moves to get the two trials at the ICC deferred gained credence after the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in September that left 67 people dead and 170 injured.

According to international relations expert Anita Kiamba, assuming the UN Security Council (UNSC) will have made a decision to defer Kenyatta's case by Nov. 12, the president will have no obligation to honor summons. "If they do not, I can see a situation where the entire African Union will make good its threat to withdraw en masse from the ICC until this demand is met. The AU might prevail upon the president to disobey ICC summons as a show of defiance," Kiamba told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday.

Speaking to journalists in The Hague, Deputy President William Ruto said the government's request for a deferral was designed to ensure that he and Kenyatta could remain at home to focus on the security issues facing their country and the wider East Africa region in the aftermath of the attack, carried out by the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab.

"We believe there are legitimate reasons for the deferral of this case to give the nation the best possible chance to handle the serious challenges that exist in our region, in our country, on a matter that is of global concern," Ruto said on Oct. 15.

However, Kenya's traditional allies in the West have taken a keen interest in the East African nation's recent political and economic dynamics. The election of a president who was an ICC suspect was unsettling to its Western friends and there were fears the country risked diplomatic isolation or some economic sanctions.

Nguru told Xinhua that the Western world is not fully at ease with leaders who have been accused of committing serious crimes. "There have been unconfirmed reports of thawing of icy relations between Kenya and her traditional allies based on economic and security imperatives. This development does not imply we are not on the watch list of some of this powerful nations that sway decisions made at the UN Security Council or ICC," said Nguru.

Western nations have warned of the potential repercussions of electing candidates who are facing charges at the ICC. The U.S, Canada and Britain and some other European countries said they would only have "essential contact" with the leaders if they were elected.

President Kenyatta dispatched three cabinet secretaries last week to prevail on influential members of the UN Security Council to vote for a deferral of cases at the ICC.

Nguru noted that Kenya has solid bilateral ties with some of the UN Security Council members who might vote in favor of the country and the African Union's request. "While it is premature to conclude that the UN Security Council will look at our request favorably, there is cause for hope since both China and Russia are likely to vote in our favor," Nguru said.

He stressed that Kenyatta's attendance at the ICC on Nov. 12 for the mention of his case is a prudent move. "I think the President is listening to sound advice and would not desire to see Kenya be declared a pariah state. By honoring the court summons, the president has assured the world of his commitment to the rule of law," Nguru said.

Sources within the government told Xinhua that the country would withdraw the deferral request to the Security Council if Ruto and Kenyatta are excused from continuous attendance by the court.

ICC judges are scheduled to rule on Friday on whether they can excuse Ruto to miss sections of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, 40 African countries have formally written to the UNSC seeking the deferral of the cases at the ICC.

Through the African Union, the 40 countries have told the UNSC that two Kenyan leaders must be allowed to continue spearheading the fight against terrorism in the region. "The proceedings initiated against the President and the Deputy President of Kenya will distract and divert them from fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities, including oversight for national and regional security affairs," read a joint letter sent to the UNSC on Oct. 21.

- Xinhua


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