Mediator: Kenyan leaders need to consider impact of ICC accused running for president

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that it is important for Kenya’s politicians to consider the implications for the country if one of the leaders facing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) runs for president.

Annan chaired the panel that mediated the deal that ended the violence that nearly tore apart Kenya in 2008. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and former Cabinet William Samoei Ruto both face trial at the ICC for their alleged roles in the violence that followed the disputed December 2007 presidential election. The two have declared their intention to run for president next year, although they are yet to secure the nomination of their respective parties.

In a news conference Thursday, Annan did not address whether Kenyatta and Ruto should run in light of the charges of crimes against humanity they face at the ICC. He said he would not want to comment because there is a case at the High Court looking into the issue.

“Of course there are implications that everyone needs to ponder,” Annan told journalists, indirectly referring to the possibility of Kenyatta or Ruto winning the March 4, 2013 presidential election. He elaborated that the implications to consider included Kenya’s relations beyond the African continent. For more than a year now Kenyatta has ranked second in different opinion polls on the presidential election. Those polls suggest the Kenyan election may go to a run-off, which the law says would be between the top two candidates.

Annan’s statement about the implications of a Kenyatta or Ruto presidency can be read in light of the fact that he has had the backing of the African Union and major western powers in his role as the chairman of the panel that mediated Kenya’s crisis in January and February 2008. During the mediation process that backing was unanimous and no government issued statements that contradicted Annan and his fellow panelists.

Together with his fellow panelist, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, Annan has been meeting over the past three days a cross-section of Kenyan society and the diplomatic community to assess how prepared the country is for the upcoming elections. They also reviewed the progress in implementing Kenya’s two-year old constitution. One notable person they were unable to meet was President Mwai Kibaki because Annan and Mkapa were unable to secure an appointment with him. This is unusual because in the past four years whenever Annan and his fellow panelists have wanted to meet Kibaki, they have been able to. Annan did not offer any reasons why Kibaki did not give them an appointment.

Annan and Mkapa were assessing Kenya’s progress in their capacity as members of the panel the African Union appointed in January 2008 to resolve the Kenya crisis. It is officially called the Panel of Eminent African Personalities and its third member is former South African and Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel. The three have been keeping track of the implementation of the various agreements that make up the peace deal that ended Kenya’s violence on February 28, 2008. Since that time, they periodically have come to the country to assess where things stand.

The Ghanaian diplomat said on Thursday that they are concerned with the violence reported in northern Kenya and in the coastal region as well as reports of militias reorganizing or new ones being formed. Between August and September this year, more than 100 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes in the delta area of the Tana River in the coastal region. The government has appointed a judicial commission to investigate the Tana River Delta violence.

“When you have violence preceding the elections, given the history of the country, it should be worrying for all of us and measures should be taken,” Annan said.

Asked whether he thought the next elections would be peaceful, Annan joked that he and Mkapa had left their crystal balls at home and so could not give an accurate answer. However, he did express optimism.

“We are leaving here [Nairobi] confident that peaceful elections will be held,” Annan said.

More information on the work of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities is here.