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The victory of Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya’s presidential polls has presented the international community with some tough choices. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague arising from post-election violence in 2007 and he has been accused of using his vast wealth to bankroll death squads that slaughtered women and children. His running mate William Ruto also faces similar charges.
The electoral commission announced on Saturday that Kenyatta scraped to a first round win over his main rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, in Monday’s election. Odinaga has disputed the results and has threatened to go to court.
Kenya is one of Africa’s foremost states and having to deal with a leader who is facing charges at the ICC will cause extreme embarrassment to the international community, including the United States. Washington, some Western leaders and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan have made it clear, though not in clear terms, that Kenyatta would not be welcome. But they are in a predicament. He has been elected by his people, and how do you reverse that decision? And how will the ICC deal with the case in the new situation?
Kenyatta can’t be ignored because Kenya can’t be ignored. Kenya’s assistance is crucial in the battle against Indian Ocean piracy and in tackling regional problems including violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN relies on bases in Kenya from which to help run big trans-national operations across the continent. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is home to the largest US embassy in Africa and a sprawling United Nations campus that runs programmes around the world, making it difficult both for US and UN to do anything drastic.
The chances are that the international community will have to accept the new realities. Already the ICC has agreed to postpone the trial, and more postponements are entirely possible. Countries like China are likely to embrace the new leaders, forcing other leaders to follow suit.
Kenya’s press has called for reconciliation between the winners and losers in the presidential election, but calm prevailed in the country the day after results were declared, in striking contrast to the aftermath of the 2007 polls.
The Sunday Nation said the conciliatory tone adopted by Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto after the election was “certainly a good start toward confronting the deep ethnic divisions in the country brought about by political competition”.
The country needs peace, stability and economic progress, and dialogue is the only way forward. If Kenyatta is ready for reconciliation, he must be given a chance•