Pre- 2007 violence, Kenya was held up as a poster child of stability- an “island of peace” in a region bedeviled by incessant violence. Furthermore, Kenya is geo-strategically significant; the port of Mombasa serves as the transportation artery for the East and Central Africa, Nairobi is the regional business and diplomatic hub, and also serves as the humanitarian nerve centre from where most of the humanitarian activities are carried out. These coupled with a well-cultivated history during the Cold War, where Kenya was squarely in the Western bloc unlike its neighbors, has enhanced Kenya’s image. Although below the surface, there are several underlying structural drivers of conflict.
But the ICC is threatening to break the Kenya-West compact.
Before the elections, the Western countries rhetoric revolved around ; “choices have consequences” and they will only retain “essential contacts”, an implicit threat not to elect Kenyatta and Ruto. But Kenyan voters hardly noticed those threats; and if they did, they altogether did, and elected Kenyatta and Ruto. In fact, Ruto and Kenyatta turned the threats into their overarching election campaigns talking points; casting themselves as victims of Western conspiracy in cohort with their local political foes. This manufactured sense of victimhood resonated with their ethnic base who saw them as their “defenders”.
However, the West’s post-election adversarial posture seems to be shifting, and its place is taken by cold eyed real politik. So far, none of the threats and consequences promised by the West have materialized. On the contrary, there seems to be warming in relations. Immediately after the elections, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron invited President Kenyatta to the London Somalia conference. May be Britain felt it cannot afford to antagonize Kenya, a key partner against counter-terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, restoring the long standing Kenya- Britain relations after a bruising campaign in which most of the local civil society organizations receiving funding from Britain were demonized as Western lackeys was a priority.
Even President Obama who despite his father’s Kenyan heritage skipped Kenya during his Africa trip included Kenya in his six countries $7 Billion Africa power initiative. He allegedly skipped Kenya because of Kenyatta and Ruto’s elections. His visit would have been interpreted as endorsing their election. In real terms, the power initiative has more substantive value than his visit.
Post-election, Kenyatta has capitalized on the West’s castigation and crafted a pan-African foreign policy backed by facing the East. In his biggest foreign tour yet, President Kenyatta visited Russia and China. Something the West will be keenly watching.
As for the ICC, if other countries that said before the elections, in the event Kenyatta was elected they will maintain “essential contacts” follow British suit, it will be seen as a capitulation. Such a move could embolden those who have been making the case for the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto dropped. The narrative will be is will be, if the western countries- the main backers of the ICC, have embraced us, the ICC has no option. Little wonder then the Kenyan parliament t voted to withdraw from the Rome Statute. Which doesn’t bode for the ICC, which has serious image problems in Africa.
Presently, the court’s disproportionate numbers of cases are in Africa – Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Mali and Cote d’ivoire the Republic of Congo, Uganda and Libya. Although the court says it is investigating crimes elsewhere, no formal cases have been started. This combined with court’s lack of successful prosecution of a high profile case save for a low level Congolese Army officer, over a decade since its establishment makes the Kenya’s case all too important.
Either way the court is damned; successful prosecution of Kenyatta and Ruto will give credence to the “race” hunting discourse, and failure will reveal a court that is ill-prepared to be the court of last resort.