Thu Dec 08 16:23:18 CAT 2016

THE BIG READ: Rhetoric and reality

Sapa-AFP | 2013-04-08 00:41:15.0
Uhuru Kenyatta, centre, will have to work with Western countries during his presidency because they are too involved in Kenya's economy for him to spurn them
Image by: SIEGFRIED MODOLA/REUTERS

Despite a looming international trial for crimes against humanity, Kenya's new leader, Uhuru Kenyatta, will maintain the country's close relations with the West, analysts say, calming fears that his rule would lead to a breach in ties.

Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding president and one of Africa's richest men, will be sworn into office tomorrow. He used anti-Western rhetoric campaigning for last month's elections.

But not only is the astute businessman Western-educated, the West is simply too involved in Kenya's economy for the new president to be able to turn exclusively to the East even if he wanted to, analysts say.

"There is a lot of intertwining between Kenya's economy and the West," said Emmanuel Kisiangani, an analyst at the Nairobi branch of the South African-based Institute for Security Studies.

So deep are the links that Kenyatta would not have the power to decide unilaterally to turn exclusively to the East and work only with China, Kisiangani said.

Though China has a growing presence in the region, the bulk of foreign investment - including in key sectors such as agriculture, banking and tourism - is by Western companies.

Distinctions should be made between anti-Western campaign rhetoric - Kenyatta used the International Criminal Court charges against him to rally voters - and pragmatic consideration of economic and political relations for the future.

"We should separate what was said during the campaign and what will actually be done," said Mwalimu Mati, an anti-corruption campaigner.

"The friendship with the West is long-standing and will not change dramatically," he said.

Moreover, Kisiangani noted, "on a personal level, Kenyatta studied in the West; he appreciates the West and he has friends there".

Kenyatta has a British lawyer for his trial at the International Criminal Court, and some of his advisers are Britons.

His father, Jomo Kenyatta, the country's first leader at independence, in 1963, worked closely with the former colonial power, Britain, while portraying himself as a symbol of the liberation struggle.

Mati said that Western powers, even those that encouraged Kenyans to vote for someone other than Kenyatta, are unlikely to want to antagonise him further if he proves willing to cooperate with the West.

"But Nairobi might be more assertive," he said, noting that even the government of outgoing president Mwai Kibaki "could be fairly brusque with the West".

"In both of Kibaki's governments, they actually convoked ambassadors to the foreign ministry - something you rarely saw under Daniel arap Moi," Mati said, referring to Kibaki's predecessor. "We'll probably see the same sort of attitude in defence of national pride.

"They'll be hard but they're never going to break off relations."

The new president and his deputy, William Ruto, both face potentially lengthy trials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for their alleged roles in the violence that followed disputed elections in 2007 in which more than 1100 were killed.

Both he and Ruto have said they will cooperate fully with the court.

Kenya, as a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the court, would be forced to act on an arrest warrant issued by the court if they refused to attend trial.

Kenya's Supreme Court confirmed Kenyatta as president-elect on March 30 - a victory in which he trounced his nearest rival by more than 800000 votes - dismissing legal challenges alleging widespread fraud.

Kenyatta, in his acceptance speech, promised to work with the international community but said pointedly that he would expect it to "respect our sovereignty".

The Institute for Security Studies' Kisiangani said the West has no interest in breaking off relations with Kenya, which plays an important regional role both economically and in terms of security. Kenyan troops are fighting Islamist insurgents in neighbouring anarchic Somalia.

"There is the intervention in Somalia and the fight against terrorism," he added. "Kenya is central to that and I am not sure the West will want to jeopardise that."

EU nations have said their interaction with people indicted by the International Criminal Court must be kept to "essential contacts", but that did little to hamper relations in the previous government, in which Kenyatta was finance minister.

Kisiangani said it would be feasible to keep contact with Kenyatta and Ruto to a minimum while continuing to interact normally with government agencies. He pointed to the example of Sudan, whose President Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the court in 2009 for crimes against humanity and later for genocide. An arrest warrant was issued after he failed, unlike Kenyatta, to cooperate.

"You only have to look at Sudan," he said. "Al-Bashir was ostracised after his indictment but contacts continue at other levels."

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