Obama snub may be linked to ICC, but it has consequences for Kenya

Wednesday May 22 2013

The political discussion in Kenya in the past days has been US President Obama’s decision to skip Kenya in his tour of Africa, which will take him to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

True to Kenyan culture, the narrative has degenerated to political affiliation, with those for President Uhuru Kenyatta taking the position “we don’t need Obama”, while Uhuru opponents have found a tool to discredit the legitimacy of an ICC indicted president.

Either way, there are serious implications from this snub. Bill Clinton and George Bush too, despite coming from rival political parties — America’s equivalent of Cord and Jubilee — did not visit Kenya. This is not unique to Obama.

Kenyans, however, may have felt Obama would be different since he has roots in the country. They were dead wrong.

America’s foreign policy since Henry Kissinger has been consistently driven by national interests and nothing else. It does not matter who is president. The only change may be the strategies.

The President is the Number One diplomat. His visit elevates the country in question, indicating it is doing the right things. An association with the superpower is a plus.

There could be various reasons why Obama snubbed Kenya. The first could be the question of the ICC. Republicans would love a scandal of a president palling with an ICC-indicted president and use it to further their agenda as mid-term congressional elections approach.

Second, Kenya has failed to live up to democratic ideals, key among them, enforcing the rule of law and taming corruption.

When Johnnie Carson made his famous actions-have-consequences remark, the uproar was fast and furious. Many thought of sanctions, yet consequences can become manifest through diplomacy.

For Kenya, until recently thought to be among the most promising democracies in Africa, it must really be disappointing to see the US President visit her neighbour, Tanzania, and give it a wide berth. Only wise fools can dismiss the snub.



US President Barack Obama’s snub has left me with a foul taste in the mouth. It verges on snobbishness; not after the overwhelming good will he received from Kenyans of all walks of life in his emphatic quest for presidency in 2008.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the move is linked to the stern warning of choices having consequences.

Unlike Sudan’s Hassan Al-Bashir, President Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto have accorded the ICC maximum cooperation so far. It would be unfair to treat them similarly.