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Indicted abroad for crimes, Kenya's new leaders pose diplomatic dilemma

Foreign governments must decide how to interact with Kenya's newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, because of his indictments at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. 

By Correspondent / March 10, 2013

President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta greets his supporters in the company of his wife, Margaret, soon after attending a church service in his rural hometown of Gatundu, north of the capital, Nairobi, March 10.

Noor Khamis/Reuters

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Nairobi, Kenya

The election of Uhuru Kenyatta to be Kenya’s fourth president has thrown the country’s global allies into a diplomatic dilemma because of his indictments at the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

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Protocol dictates that the governments of many countries, including the United States, do not directly deal with anyone charged with the world’s worst crimes.

But Kenya is one of the West’s most important allies in sub-Saharan Africa, a stalwart in the fight against militant Islam, and a regional powerhouse hosting international investors, aid agencies, and more than a million tourists a year. 

“It’s going to be very complicated,” says Gladwell Otieno, a leading Kenyan rights campaigner and director of the Africa Center for Open Governance. “Kenya’s partners have spelled out their positions on ICC indictees, but at the same time their relationship with us is so close and so important, especially on questions of security and antiterror, that they are truly in a dilemma.”  

ICC prosecutors have charged Mr. Kenyatta with five counts of crimes against humanity that include “indirect co-perpetration” of murder, rape, and persecution, over his alleged involvement in aspects of the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 election. 

His deputy president, William Ruto, separately faces three similar counts. 

Both men deny the charges and have repeatedly pledged to cooperate with the court’s proceedings. 

Western power warnings

Despite this, the pair’s Jubilee Alliance coalition has repeatedly painted the trials as assaults on Kenya’s sovereignty, even going so far as to suggest last week's elections were a referendum on the court’s right to investigate Kenya’s affairs. 

This nationalistic rhetoric gathered more force when the US, Britain, and the European Union said before the polls that their policy would not allow them to meet with anyone indicted at the ICC apart unless it was for “essential” matters. 

Johnnie Carson, President Obama’s assistant secretary of State for African Affairs, drew sharp criticism from many in Kenyatta’s camp for stating that Kenyan voters’ choice at the ballots would have “consequences.” 

It is widely accepted that these statements were interpreted in Kenya as a warning not to vote for Kenyatta, and that they backfired. With all the results counted, Kenyatta polled more than 6 million votes. 

Election analysis suggested that a significant portion of his support base rallied strongly to his cause because they felt putting him in power would somehow shield him from prosecution. 

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