After a tense few days of long lines and restless citizens, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta, has won the Presidential election by the slimmest of margins. Kenyatta passed the necessary 50% mark by 8,000 votes or .07%.¹ Despite controversy regarding the capability of electronic voting, some claims of voter fraud, and a few episodes of violence the election process was relatively peaceful. Maybe peaceful is not the right word because around twenty people were killed, but it was serene compared to 2007 where over 1,000 people were killed in ethnic tribal clashes.² Despite controversy regarding the capability of electronic voting, some claims of voter fraud, and a few episodes of violence the election process was relatively peaceful. Maybe peaceful is not the right word because around twenty people were killed, but it was serene compared to 2007 where over 1,000 people were killed in ethnic tribal clashes. An article in a Kenyan newspaper before this election accentuated the chaos that elections bring to the country:
“This election brings out the worst in us. All the tribal prejudice, all ancient grudges and feuds, all real and imagined slights, all dislikes and hatreds, everything is out walking the streets like hordes of thirsty undeads looking for innocents to devour.”³
The anxieties of the author of that article did not pan out, possibly showing the progress that Kenya has made in democratic elections. However, I cannot continue to be optimistic without addressing the elephant in the room. President-elect Kenyatta has been accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for funding and planning violence after the 2007 election and and will be on trial in July. The accusation brings up a very interesting paradox and also puts the United States in a tough position. The president of a country, the man who will lead 167 million people, the man who will be a role model for millions of children, might go to prison for a very long time. Even though the United States wants to sustain a good relationship with a key ally in a constantly-changing region, they also want to respect the International Criminal Court’s authority. In addition, Kenya is an important part of President Obama’s heritage, possibly forcing him to make emotionally-tough decisions.
I do not believe that the Obama administration should abandon diplomatic ties with Kenya, but the pending charges against Kenyatta should inform the US’s dealings with Kenya. The world of politics does not move particularly quickly so President Obama has time to examine the situation, but he will eventually have to make a decision. If he does choose to “embrace” Kenyatta and continue normal relations there will be serious repercussions, including losing respect from the international community. How could he reprimand Russia or China for supporting Bashar al-Assad, while sustaining a relationship with another murderous criminal? Kenyatta has not been proven guilty yet, but Obama will not look good when he is holding Kenyatta’s hand as he is hauled to prison.
1 Gettlemen, Jeffrey. “Kenyatta Is Declared the Victor in Kenya, but Opponent Plans to Appeal.” The New York TImes. 3/9/13.
2 Gettlemen, Jeffrey. “Neighbors Kill Neighbors as Kenyan Vote Stirs Old Feuds.” The New York Times. 2/21/13.
3 Mutuma Mathiu. “Elections: What we must do right to prevent a 2008-style meltdown.” The Nation. 2/14/13.
4 Gettlemen, Jeffrey. “Kenyatta Is Declared the Victor in Kenya, but Opponent Plans to Appeal.” The New York TImes. 3/9/13.
5 Ibid. 1
Image from: http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15291&a=64738