NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States and several other European nations are expecting to send ambassadors to attend the swearing in next week of Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president-elect who is indicted for crimes against humanity at The Hague.
Western diplomats said this level of attendance was in line with their policy of having only “essential contacts” with indictees of the International Criminal Court. A European Union official also said EU envoys were seeking to meet Kenyatta.
Western nations have to strike a delicate balance, adhering to their oft-stated policy that will limit contacts with Kenyatta while ensuring a trade partner and a nation seen as vital to stability in a volatile region does not swivel towards China and other Asian states as they expand their influence.
Kenyatta, charged with helping orchestrate the bloodshed that followed the disputed 2007 election, is due to be sworn in on Tuesday. His election victory was confirmed on Saturday after a court dismissed a legal challenge to the March 4 vote result.
“We expect to be represented by Ambassador (Robert) Godec,” Christopher Snipes, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said in a brief statement.
Diplomats and officials said Germany, France and the European Union delegation in Nairobi also expected to send ambassadors. A diplomat from another European state said his ambassador was likely to go, but declined to be identified.
Kenyatta’s aides and many of his supporters were angry when the United States and European officials spelled out their policy of limiting contacts during campaigning, saying it smacked of intervention. Diplomats denied any such intention.
U.S. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Washington’s top diplomat to Africa, before the vote cautioned that “choices have consequences” - widely seen in Kenya seen as a clear hint about America’s preferred outcome.
The issue sparked speculation in Kenya’s media and comments by some politicians suggesting the West was threatening sanctions if Kenyatta won, a charge Western states dismissed.
A European Union spokesman said EU envoys were seeking a meeting with Kenyatta to congratulate him on his election and to “clear the air around allegations of sanctions. No one is talking of sanctions”. He did not give a time for any meeting.
Officials in China and India, two nations with expanding ties and investment in Africa, said their capitals had yet to determine who would represent them at the swearing in. African nations are expected to send high-level delegates.
Western diplomats had said there was some latitude in how to interpret “essential contacts”. But they also said much would depend on the level of cooperation Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto who also faces charges, showed to the court.
Analysts said Western businesses may also put pressure on their governments to avoid losing their foothold in Kenya or to prevent any harm coming to investment plans in a nation that could be at the center of an oil and gas boom in east Africa.
“That is why Europe is back pedaling a bit,” said Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential, a fortnightly journal. He added that handling ties with Kenyatta’s government “is going to be a real test of diplomatic and commercial skills.”
But Kenya is a big beneficiary of Western aid and its far more of its exports head to Europe than to China, which analysts say means it will also eager to keep good ties with the West under U.S.-educated Kenyatta.
Kenyatta and Ruto have both denied the accusations against them and pledged to clear their names. After his election win was declared, Kenyatta said his government would cooperate with international institutions, words seen as reassuring the West.
When the United States and Europeans congratulated Kenyatta on his victory after court ruling, they welcomed his commitment to meeting international obligations.
Additional reporting by Annika Breidhardt and Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Jon Hemming