KENYA’S foreign minister has summoned European Union ambassadors after Britain, France and others said they would have only limited contact with Uhuru Kenyatta, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity, if he wins the upcoming presidential election.
The minister, Sam Ongeri, accused the envoys of stoking tensions and attempting to divide the country ahead of the elections by making remarks that “are clearly inflammatory and could have the effect of polarising the country”.
Kenyans cast their ballots on 4 March in the first presidential poll since ethnic clashes erupted after a disputed 2007 vote. More than 1,200 people were killed. Alliances forged by the main presidential contenders have lined up a repeat of a largely ethnically based contest.
Mr Kenyatta draws support primarily from the country’s Kikuyu ethnic group, which engaged in tit-for-tat violence with Kenya’s Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups in 2007.
Mr Kenyatta and William Ruto, who have formed an alliance, have both been summoned to face the International Criminal Court (ICC) in April for their alleged role in directing the violence at the last polls.
Both deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Ongeri yesterday said he had called in the ambassadors to register his “utmost displeasure” over what he said appeared to be an orchestrated attempt by the EU to influence Kenyans’ voting during the elections.
“You will appreciate that with the impending elections just three weeks away, this is a tense moment of national reflection,” Mr Ongeri said in a statement after the meeting with the ambassadors. “The question that begs an answer, therefore, is whether the EU has an interest in the outcome of the elections.
“This is a democratic state … Kenyans must be left to make their choices.”
The remarks made by EU envoys are clearly inflammatory and could polarise the country, said Mr Ongeri, who is also Mr Kenyatta’s “point man” for election efforts in the western Kenya region of Kisii.
Britain, France and other EU states said last week that if Mr Kenyatta is elected, they would have only limited contact with him because he has been indicted by the ICC.
US assistant secretary of state Johnnie Carson, the country’s top diplomat to Africa, last week said Kenyans should be careful who they elect, warning that “choices have consequences”.
Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, leads the polls in the contest to replace retiring president Mwai Kibaki. Mr Kenyatta – who is the son of Kenya’s first president – is running a close second in a tight race.
Lodewijk Briet, the EU’s head of delegation, said the bloc does not favour any candidate.
He said: “We have reiterated that we strongly support the Kenyan government and that we do not in any way favour any particular candidate. It is up to the Kenyans to make that choice.
“And we are very keen to make sure that co-operation with the ICC continues.”
Should Mr Kenyatta not co-operate with the ICC, western countries are likely to treat him in a similar way to Sudanese president Omar Hassan. He was ostracised by foreign governments after defying a 2009 ICC indictment for alleged war crimes committed by his forces in the western Darfur region.
Mr Kenyatta has said he will co-operate with the ICC, but should he not do so, it would cause concerns for foreign investors and western governments, which want Kenya to be tough to prevent election violence.