8 Oct 2014

Kenya’s president steps down to attend ICC hearing


Before appearing at the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, Kenya’s President Kenyatta takes the unprecedented step of temporarily handing over leadership to his deputy.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (Reuters)

On Wednesday Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta becomes the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

He – along with several others, including his deputy William Ruto – is alleged to have committed crimes against humanity during the post-election violence in 2008. More than a thousand people died, and many others were displaced by the violence. It has been a long wait for the victims – but will Uhuru Kenyatta end up in jail?

The president began his preparation for the ICC case few years ago. His representatives mobilised African leaders to pass a resolution at the African Union stating that no serving head of state should face trial at the Hague. They also managed to convince fellow Africans that the ICC was a tool used by the west to maintain control over Africans.

In other words, the ICC is accused of targeting African leaders, and is therefore seen as a remnant of European colonisation. It has lost credibility on the continent.

At a special session of the Kenyan parliament on Monday, Uhuru said: “I remain grateful for Africa’s support. Our century of struggle against domination and exploitation continues.”

‘Century of struggle’

On a national level, Uhuru’s team has managed to bring the leading media on board, claiming the ICC is “undermining” Kenya’s sovereignty and stressing the need to unite the nation against it.

In welcoming the announcement, a Daily Nation editorial read: “The head of state was categorical that he wants to pursue the trial as an individual and avoid dragging the whole nation along with him, and in so doing, protect the country’s sovereignty.”

The head of state wants to pursue the trial as an individual and avoid dragging the whole nation along. Daily Nation editorial

There has been so much drama in the build-up to Wednesday’s appearance. It began with Mr Kenyatta’s address to the nation on Monday, which some Kenyan commentators described as a “great piece of political theatre”.

There was uncertainty about whether Mr Kenyatta would defy the ICC and not attend the hearing. In a more than 20-minute speech, the president kept viewers guessing until the last few minutes about whether or not he would go to the Hague. And after confirming he was to attend the “status conference”, Mr Kenyatta took an unprecedented step of handing the leadership temporarily to his deputy, William Ruto, so he could attend the hearing as a “private citizen”.

‘Ordinary member of the public’

The following day, the media followed him on his journey to the airport as he travelled like “an ordinary member of the public” in an extraordinary situation. On arrival, the photographers were there as he checked in at the departure desk like a normal passenger and boarded a regular flight to Amsterdam.

Never far from the limelight, Uhuru, the son of Kenya’s founding father, was perhaps wishing to convey a message “as a common man”. But en route to this much-anticipated trial, there were probably more cameras following him than on previous travels.

Uhuru is confident that the ICC has no “sufficient evidence against him”, and has gone there to clear his name. Meanwhile victims of the post-election violence six years ago are still waiting for justice.