NAIROBI May 11 (Reuters) - Whether the Kenyan government will cooperate with
the war crimes court in The Hague over the likely prosecution for crimes
against humanity of two leading presidential contenders is the main factor
to watch in Kenya ahead of looming elections.
The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) is considering an appeal
by four Kenyan suspects, among them Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, former
finance and higher education ministers respectively, who are challenging for
the presidency in elections due by March 2013.
The four suspects' only hope to avoid trial is if the ICC grants their
appeal, which seeks to bar the war crimes court from prosecuting their cases
on the grounds that it has no jurisdiction.
Kenya has failed in two previous attempts to have the ICC disqualify itself
from hearing the cases.
At least 1,220 people were killed and more than 300,000 were driven from
their homes in the worst inter-community fighting in Kenya's history, which
followed a contentious election in 2007. The bloodshed is at the heart of
the ICC charges against Kenyatta and three other prominent leaders.
Kenyatta and Ruto are charged with directing mobs to commit the violence
that sent Kenya to the brink of civil war.
Analysts say the electoral hopes of 50-year-old Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's
founding father Jomo Kenyatta, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine
at half a billion dollars, would be seriously damaged if he were to stand
President Mwai Kibaki, in his last term at the helm of east Africa's biggest
economy, is behind a move to have the cases transferred to Nairobi. Kibaki
is thought to favour Kenyatta to replace him, although he has not said so
In April, Kibaki successfully lobbied his peers during a heads of states
meeting of the East African Community to pass a resolution to extend the
jurisdiction of the Tanzania-based East Africa Court of Justice to cover
crimes against humanity.
Kenya has been very critical of the war crimes court and supportive of the
Sudanese president avoiding an ICC arrest warrant. Failure to cooperate with
the ICC would concern foreign investors and Western governments, which want
Kenya to combat impunity ahead of the next elections.
Kenya insists it will cooperate with the ICC, and the suspects have also
said they will comply with the court.
"The 'Black Swan' political risk in Kenya remains a decision to unilaterally
withdraw from the ICC process. Kibaki only recently floated the idea of
pursuing an east Africa track, which made this risk blink amber," said
independent Nairobi-based analyst Aly Khan Satchu.
"It would introduce a 'pariah' discount on Kenya assets and we just have to
look north at Khartoum to see the consequences of such a move. It would be
Kenyatta and Ruto have joined forces against Prime Minister Raila Odinga,
who leads opinion polls in the presidential race, followed by Kenyatta.
What to watch:
- Kenyan suspects' appeals against the ICC's jurisdiction.
- Will Nairobi continue cooperating with the ICC?
- If Kenyatta and Ruto have to stand trial, will this spark chaos by their
supporters? Will they back someone else?
Kibaki and Odinga are at loggerheads over the date of the next elections,
which are bound to come under intense international scrutiny because they
will be the first since the bloody aftermath of the 2007 vote.
The constitution adopted in 2010 had set the date of the polls for August
2012, but the High Court departed from this and ruled in favour of a date of
March 4, 2013 on the grounds that parliament's term expires in January
rather than May this year. This ruling is being challenged at the court of
Odinga has said he wants elections to be held this year. Kibaki, who is
barred by law from contesting a third term, wants to hold them next year as
per the court's ruling.
Kibaki and Odinga's opposing views are likely to widen the split in their
already brittle coalition and cause anxiety among Kenyans over whether their
coalition will stick together or not, which could affect investment and
The coming polls have spawned a host of concerns: new corruption scams;
tribe-based political parties; a possible slow-down in tourism that could
stymie economic growth.
Critics say a scandal involving payments by the state medical insurance fund
to "phantom" hospitals could be a repeat of previous major financial scams
that have bankrolled past election campaigns.
Odinga told parliament on Wednesday that the National Security and
Intelligence Service has informed the government of a likelihood of
tribally-instigated poll violence next year. Kenya's political allegiances
are largely driven by tribal alliances rather than ideology, and there are
signs that rising ethnic tensions could lead to new violence.
Over the past three decades, Kenya has had its lowest growth periods in or
just following election years, says the World Bank. Growth is officially
seen at around 5 percent this year, from an estimated 4.5 percent last year.
What to watch:
- Will the cabinet survive Kibaki and Odinga's tug-of-war?
- Will the court of appeal set a new election date?
Kenya sent troops into Somalia last October to crush al Qaeda-linked al
Shabaab rebels, accusing the militant network of attacks on its security
forces, aid workers and tourists inside Kenya. The troops are now under the
African Union peacekeeping force.
For now, the incursion has wide backing among Kenyans.
Al Shabaab has vowed to retaliate for the incursion. At least 10 people have
been killed in grenade attacks in Nairobi and the coastal tourist town of
Mombasa, which the Kenyan government has blamed on the militants. The
attacks are in addition to small arms and grenade strikes in the northeast
of the country not far the Somali border.
What to watch:
- Could any further attacks by al Shabaab in the capital or key tourist
sites erode backing for the incursion, deter tourists and hurt the economy?
(Editing by Richard Lough and Alessandra Rizzo)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat May 12 2012 - 18:11:35 EDT