NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Warning repeatedly of "consequences," the top U.S. diplomat for Africa on Thursday appeared to caution Kenyan voters against electing a president who faces charges for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
U.S. diplomat Johnnie Carson never named the candidate in question, but the subtext of his words was clear: If Uhuru Kenyatta, one of two top candidates for president, wins, it will affect Kenya's relationship with the international community.
"Choices matter and they have consequences," Carson told reporters, adding later: "Individuals have reputations, individuals have images, individuals have histories. Individuals are known for who they are and what they do, what they have said, and how they act."
Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister and son of Kenya's founding father, faces trial at the ICC in April for crimes against humanity in 2007-08 directed at the supporters of his opponent in this year's election: Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Kenyatta's running mate, William Ruto, a former government minister, also faces trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity related to the 2007-08 election violence.
Echoing a video message by President Barack Obama to the people of Kenya on Tuesday, Carson said the U.S. doesn't have a candidate or a choice in the election, but he pleaded with Kenyans to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the last vote, and said their choice for leader will affect their country's global standing.
Kenyatta's spokesman, Munyori Buku, said that Kenyans have shown that neither the U.S., nor Britain nor former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan — whose negotiations helped end the 2007-08 violence — will decide who Kenya's leader is. He suggested that Kenyans would fight anyone who threatens their electoral freedom.
"One wonders why President Obama needs rephrasing or explanation. President Obama's message was clear," Buku said referencing Tuesday's video message. "On March 4 the people of Kenya will go to the polls to make their choice, Johnnie Carson not withstanding, unless of course Johnnie Carson is campaigning for someone. "
"President Obama was very clear, as long as the election is peaceful and democratic, Kenya will continue to be a partner of the United States," he said.
Either Odinga or Kenyatta would need to win more than 50 percent of the vote among several candidates on March 4 to win outright. Otherwise the two most likely will face a runoff in April.
A Kenyatta victory would set up an interesting political environment for Kenya. His trial at the ICC is likely to take years, meaning Kenyatta — and his vice president, Ruto — would be required to be at The Hague for long stretches while leading the nation.
Many countries do not formally communicate with ICC suspects, meaning communication with partner nations for Kenya could become difficult. Carson would not speculate on what any specific U.S. reactions would be if Kenyatta does win. The U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC but Carson said the U.S. recognizes and respects what the court's principles and goals are.
Carson noted that the U.S. diplomatic presence is larger in Kenya than any other country in Africa. He said if violence breaks out again, it will affect the entire region, given that Kenya is East Africa's anchor economy and transportation hub.
"There should be no place for violence in the democratic electoral process and we are also encouraging all political leaders to foreswear violence, to sign pledges that they will not engage in violence or encourage or incite violence from their followers," Carson said.