Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday told the nation in an address before parliament that he would temporarily step down as president while attending a hearing at the International Criminal Court this week.
Kenyatta said he would invoke a never-before-used article of the constitution that will see Deputy President William Ruto temporarily fulfill the role of president. That article says the deputy can fill in when the president is absent, temporarily incapacitated or during any other period the president decides.
The temporary abdication of the country's top political job is Kenyatta's way of fulfilling the court order that he attend, but insisting that he be a private citizen during the court hearing and not the first president to sit before the court.
"It is for this reason that I chose not to put the sovereignty of more than 40 million Kenyans on trial since their democratic will should never be subject to another jurisidiction," Kenyatta siad.
"Therefore let it not be said that I am attending the status conference as the preisdent of Kenya," he continued. "Nothing in my position or my deeds as president warrants my being in court."
If Kenyatta had refused to go, as some members of his political party have urged, he risked facing an international arrest warrant and of international condemnation or economic sanctions against Kenya.
Kenyatta, Ruto and a Kenyan radio personality all face crimes against humanity charges before the ICC. The ICC's prosecutor has accused the three of inciting massive violence following the country's 2007 election. That violence — often ethnically motivated — killed more than 1,000 people and uprooted 600,000 from their homes.
Kenyatta has appeared before the court before but was not president at the time.