The International Criminal Court (ICC) generated a lot of attention during Kenya’s first presidential debate, which the media organized and broadcast across dozens of television and radio stations.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was put on the spot over why he is seeking the country’s highest office while facing charges before the ICC. However, that was not the only the ICC-related question that came up in the debate on Monday during which eight presidential candidates spoke on security, health, and education as well as the ICC for more than three hours.
Current and past cabinet members who are seeking the country’s presidency also presented conflicting accounts on how the ICC got involved in the cases that originates from the violence that nearly tore Kenya apart five years ago. One of the candidates also questioned whether the ICC prosecutor left out President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga from the Kenya cases and promised to have them investigated if he was elected to office.
The Alliance for Real Change in Kenya presidential candidate, Mohamed Abduba Diba, wondered why it is when a clerk in a government office is accused of crime, the clerk is suspended until the case is completed, yet Kenyatta is running for high office.
“Justice is justice,” said Diba. “Why is it different for Uhuru and his friends?”
Kenyatta replied that suspension and other measures applied to people appointed to a public office, whereas he was seeking to be elected to office.
“I want to be very clear. The job that I seek is going to be given by the people of Kenya,” Kenyatta said.
Some of Kenyatta’s competitors, while acknowledging the serious charges facing him, said that they would rather defeat him at the ballot.
“I do not want to eliminate any kind of competition. I know it’s not even practical,” said Odinga, who has been leading in the opinion polls to date.
Odinga, Kenyatta, and the National Rainbow Coalition candidate, Martha Karua, gave conflicting accounts on why the Kenyan parliament was unable to legislate a special court to adjudicate cases emanating from the post-election violence of December 2007-February 2008, leading to the ICC intervening in the Kenya situation.
Karua, who was Minister of Justice in 2008-2009 when the issue of establishing a limited-term independent tribunal to handle the politically-sensitive cases arose, said that she did not receive any support from Kibaki or Odinga in parliament when the matter was put to a vote. Odinga, for his part, said that he and Kibaki lobbied members of parliament, but they met with strong resistance. Odinga further said that an attempt in mid-2009 to reintroduce the issue of the local tribunal was defeated at the cabinet level, with Kenyatta being part of the group that opposed the re-introduction. Kenyatta denied he resisted any efforts at forming a local tribunal to handle the post-election violence cases.
Another candidate, Paul Muite of the Safina Party, said he wondered “whether there was rigging on the part of the prosecutor,” when the Kenya cases were taken to the ICC.
“You cannot persuade my mind or any rational person that it is only these four people who knew about it,” Muite said in reference to the four Kenyans facing trial at the ICC. Other than Kenyatta, his running mate, former Cabinet minister William Samoei Ruto, faces trial at the ICC. Former Public Service chief Francis Kirimi Muthaura and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang, also face trial there.
Muite said that if he became president he would investigate the roles Kibaki and Odinga played during the post-election violence.
“I’d be very willing to go The Hague if the Honorable Muite wants to take me there,” Odinga said.
All candidates were also asked whether they will conduct peaceful campaigns and accept defeat. They all said they would, but if they disagreed with the results declared, they would go to court rather than organize protests on the streets. A dispute over the presidential poll results in December 2007 is what sparked the violence then. The opposition contender at the time, Odinga, called for protests because he did not trust the courts to adjudicate fairly or quickly his grievances. On Monday, Odinga committed to accepting the results, and if he disagreed with them, he said he would go to court.
The second and final presidential debate is scheduled for Monday, February 25.
The full presidential debate can be viewed here.