The visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week has rattled Mr Uhuru Kenyatta’s and Mr William Ruto’s presidential campaigns.
This follows remarks attributed to her in media reports that the US was not ready to work with Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP Ruto should either of them be elected president next year.
There is also the fear that her comments may provide fodder for some politicians once a court ruling is made on the eligibility of the two to run for president. If the decision is not in Mr Kenyatta’s and Mr Ruto’s favour, their allies may blame the decision on Mrs Clinton’s influence.
Civil society groups have moved to court seeking a declaration on whether the two, who are fighting crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court, should be allowed to vie for the presidency in the March 4, 2013 election.
Made it clear
Ahead of the visit, the State Department had made it clear that Mrs Clinton’s agenda was to discuss Kenya’s next elections.
At a meeting with US embassy staff and families last Saturday, the Obama administration’s top diplomat described the March 4 polls as “critical elections”.
“Because of the violence in 2007, Kenya lost more than a billion dollars in investment. The GDP dropped significantly,” she said.
Mrs Clinton said that whenever Kenya Government leaders ask her to help them attract more business and investment, she always has a ready response.
“Do your part to make sure this election is free, fair and transparent and that all Kenyans accept the results, and do your part to speak out against divisiveness,” she said.
The US official met President Kibaki, Prime Minister Odinga, Chief Justice Mutunga, and other government officials to push for a transparent, credible and non-violent election.
But it is the subject of the meeting between Mrs Clinton and Dr Mutunga that is generating the most heat.
On Thursday, Nairobi-based lawyer Harrison Kinyanjui wrote to the CJ asking him whether they discussed “the conduct or direction of Kenyan judicial proceedings”.
This was an apparent reference to the Uhuru-Ruto eligibility case. What is going largely unarticulated is the fear that Mrs Clinton was in some way trying to influence the decision, which could put the independence of the Judiciary to the test.
Mr Ruto, who wants to vie for the presidency on a United Republican Party ticket, on Monday accused Mrs Clinton of plotting to lock him and Mr Kenyatta out of the State House race.
“The US Secretary of State has told the government that Mr Kenyatta and I are not supposed to run. She has also hinted that America will impose sanctions on us if we participate in the polls and win. This is dictatorship,” he said. Mr Ruto was reacting to reports that Mrs Clinton was concerned that the two may be planning to use the presidency to frustrate the ICC.
And on Friday, Mr Kenyatta, who has been building his platform — The National Alliance — told off those opposed to his candidature over his ICC case.
“It is not for foreigners nor for the courts to decide who should vie for the presidency; it is up to the over 40 million Kenyans.”
Mr Onyango Oloo, the TNA secretary, yesterday said that America was not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the document that led to the establishment of The Hague-based court.
Mr Oloo argued that Mr Kenyatta has not been found guilty of anything before the ICC.
“It is only charges that have been confirmed against him. Kenya has a sovereign right to choose its leaders and the Constitution spells out who can or cannot run for the presidency. The Constitution and the ICC do not bar Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto from vying,” he said.
In his response to Mr Kinyanjui, Dr Mutunga is said to have denied discussing any judicial proceedings with Mrs Clinton.
He said they discussed the preparations the judiciary was making to support efforts to hold a credible, free and fair election.
A source at the judiciary familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity said the two also discussed issues related to post-election violence and support for judicial reforms.
“She asked the judiciary to play its role to inspire public confidence and ensure that the outcome of the next election is respected by all Kenyans.”
According to the source, Mrs Clinton emphasised that the outcome of the next election should “bring dignity and honour to Kenya and the international community”.
Dr John Khaminwa, a Senior Counsel, added that there was “absolutely nothing wrong” with Mrs Clinton calling on the CJ.
“It is normal for politicians to call on people who wield power. The CJ wields a lot of power. Sometimes it’s given publicity and sometimes not,” said Dr Khaminwa. “A CJ knows what his role is, and there’s nothing wrong in having tea and talking about university days or other matters of society.”
If Mrs Clinton commented on the Kenyan cases at The Hague-based court and the aftermath of the post-election violence, she is not the first high-ranking American official to do so. Her boss, President Barack Obama, has already asked the government to cooperate with the court set to try four Kenyans suspected to have perpetrated the violence.
“No community should be singled out for shame or held collectively responsible. Let the accused carry their own burdens, and let us keep in mind that under the ICC process, they are innocent until proven guilty,” said President Obama when the suspects’ names were made public.
Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University says that owing to his heritage as the son of a Kenyan, President Obama has a personal interest in local issues.
But if Mrs Clinton did say the US would impose sanctions if either Mr Ruto or Mr Kenyatta becomes president, her statements could re-ignite questions over the US’s interest in the ICC cases.
“They may reinforce the public perception that the ICC proceedings are orchestrated by certain forces,” said the scholar, who teaches diplomacy.
He added that a peaceful Kenya after the next elections was critical for America’s geo-political strategy because of its position in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.
Mr Herbert Kerre, a lecturer at Kabianga University College, said Mrs Clinton’s position must be seen in light of President Obama’s special relationship with Kenya, and described Mr Ruto as a politician in “permanent war mode”.
“President Obama ... has a special interest in what goes on here. Kenya should accommodate views of friendly countries.”
Statements by US or British officials about Kenyan polls often elicit emotional debate, with the overriding accusation that they want to determine the outcome.
Since the ICC intervention in Kenya, the two countries have found themselves having to clarify that they have no intention of determining President Kibaki’s successor.
But foreign nations that were actively involved in efforts to bring an end to the violence following the 2007 elections have been categorical that everything must be done to prevent a repeat of the bloodshed.