President Barack Obama to skip Kenya over Uhuru, Ruto ICC cases

By Jacob Ngetich

NAIROBI, KENYA: US President Barack Obama has explained his itinerary did not include Kenya because the International Criminals Court (ICC) had indicted President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto.

What is more, Obama also appeared to downgrade Kenya’s place in the region by singling out Tanzania as America’s key ally in the East Africa region.

In a Press briefing on Obama’s upcoming trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania via conference call, US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said it was not the best time for the US President to visit Kenya.

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“Given the fact that Kenya is in the aftermath of their election and the new government has come into place and is going to be reviewing these issues with the ICC and the international community, it just wasn’t the best time for the President to travel to Kenya at this point,” said Mr Rhodes.

He said though President Obama had deep personal and familial connections to Kenya, the US, as a country, had a commitment to accountability and justice as a baseline principle.

Sovereign right

“He has visited there in the past as a private citizen and as a senator, and the Kenyan people just held a very special place in the President’s heart,” he said.

The official said US fully respected the sovereign right of the Kenyan people to choose their leaders and would certainly be focused on working with the new Kenyan government under President Kenyatta.

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He, however, indicated that Tanzania was currently an important partner for the US in the region.

“Tanzania is one of the significant US foreign assistance partners as well as a strong democracy, so we felt like Tanzania was an important stop in East Africa,” Rhodes said. He, however, clarified that there were no plans to have the US President’s step-grandmother Sarah meet him in Tanzania.

“I would note that his sister Auma Obama was with us in Berlin and was able to attend the speech and the State dinner, and that’s obviously a very close family member of the President’s from that side of his family,” said Rhodes.

The president, along with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha, is scheduled to depart Washington on Wednesday morning.

In February, a month before the elections, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson warned the country that the choice of President ‘would have global consequences’.

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Mr Carson said in as far as the elections was a Kenyan affair; its outcome would have implications given that the country was bound to interact with the international community.

“US does not have a candidate in the elections, however, choices have consequences. We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact their choices have on their nation, economy region,” he said.

Since he was sworn-in President Kenyatta has visited a number of countries, among them the United Kingdom, which had initially also warned of having only ‘essential contacts’.

“It is well known the position of my government and others is that we don’t get in contact with the ICC indictees unless it is essential,” said Christian Turner, the United Kingdom envoy to Kenya. Ms Jendayi Frazer, a former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs two months ago warned US against playing a dangerous game for their delayed endorsement of Kenyatta.

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“If the US, the UK and the Europeans don’t want to deal with Uhuru Kenyatta, he has other options,” she said in an interview with American TV channel PBS.

“The West risked losing its strategic influence in the region,” she warned.

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Uhuru Kenyatta William Ruto Tanzania Barack Obama International Criminals Court