The United States on Thursday warned Kenya against electing some candidates. Though not named, the messages from the US Assistant Secretary of State, Johnnie Carson, were interpreted to refer to deputy prime minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former minister William Ruto. Uhuru is running for president, with Ruto as his running mate. Both are facing charges against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
When asked about Kenyatta’s candidacy, the veteran diplomat warned that ‘choices have consequences’. He declined to elaborate.
He added: “Individuals have histories, individuals have images, and individuals have reputations. When they are selected to lead their nations, those images, histories and reputations go along with them.”
Kenyatta and Ruto had appeared to gain US support when in a video address on Tuesday, president Barack Obama said the US would not take sides in Kenya’s election and would respect the choice of the people.
Kenyatta and Ruto had rushed to laud the US position, which their camp interpreted as backtracking on a presumed threat to impose sanctions if the two were elected.
Carson’s statement now casts doubt on that assumption.
The clarification comes as Tanzania declared it was ready to host the International Criminal Court trials of the two Jubilee leaders and former head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura and journalist Joshua arap Sang.
Mr Carson said: “We believe individuals accused of crimes against humanity should go before the courts to prove their innocence or suffer the consequences of the judgments if they are found guilty,” he stated.
“The US is not a signatory to the Rome statute, but we recognise what the ICC is doing and we support it.”
Carson suggested that the choices Kenyans make in the election will have repercussions internationally.
He said his country would not compel Kenyans to elect certain candidates in office.
Carson was also asked whether the US might adopt an arm’s-length posture towards a Kenya led by Kenyatta as it has done in the case of Sudan, which is led by an ICC indictee, Omar Bashir.
He acknowledged that the US has a policy of not engaging with president Bashir and other Sudanese who have been charged, but not yet tried by the ICC, but argued that sanctions against Sudan are a result of the country’s mishandling of the situation in Darfur.
Carson drew a distinction between Sudan and Kenya, saying: “I don’t want to make a comparison with Sudan in its totality because Sudan is a special case in many ways.”
He noted that the US has ‘rigid and tough sanctions’ in place against Sudan due to its government’s actions in the Darfur region.
Sudan is also on the US list of countries that support international terrorism, Ambassador Carson said.
“None of that applies to Kenya,” he emphasised.
He sought throughout his 30-minute conference call from Washington to reinforce president Obama’s comments in a videotaped message on Wednesday to the effect that the US does not favour any candidate in Kenya’s elections.
But he added that Kenya’s position in the Horn of Africa makes it vital for the US to emphasise on the need to have peaceful elections.
In addition, the envoy told reporters his country had already pumped into Kenya’s electoral system about $35 million (about sh3b) since 2010 to help prepare the electoral systems for the elections and its aftermath.
In that respect, he demanded that all presidential candidates in Kenya sign a petition in public to renounce violence.