A LEADING politician facing trial on charges of crimes against humanity has been cleared to run in next month’s presidential elections by Kenya’s High Court.
Uhuru Kenyatta, 51, is a former finance minister and son of Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta.
He is one of four accused at the International Criminal Court of orchestrating tribal fighting that killed more than 1,100 people in the wake of the disputed 2007 presidential vote.
Kenyatta is running a close second to prime minister Raila Odinga according to polls ahead of the 4 March election. If Kenyatta wins, his first foreign trip as president could be to appear in the dock at The Hague at a hearing scheduled for April.
The High Court also yesterday cleared the way for Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, to stand as part of their Jubilee coalition. Ruto is also facing charges at the ICC over the 2007 violence. Both deny the charges.
“I welcome the high court ruling,” Kenyatta said. “It has affirmed what we have always held; the people of Kenya – and they alone – have the power and the mandate to determine the leadership of this great country.”
Mr Odinga and Kenyatta head largely ethnic-based coalitions with few ideological differences, and there was concern about how Kenyatta’s supporters would react if he had been barred.
Similar ethnic rivalries fed the fighting after the last vote five years ago which damaged the image of the country, the region’s most powerful economy and a key ally in the war against militant Islam in the region.
The vote is predicted to be close, and if no candidate secures an absolute majority, a run-off will be conducted and Kenyatta is expected to be one of the two contenders.
Dismissing the case against Kenyatta, Principal Judge Mbogholi Msagha said it did not have jurisdiction over the petitions filed by various legal and rights groups, and added they should have asked the electoral commission to exclude Kenyatta and Ruto. Judge Msagha also said he could not deny Kenyatta and Ruto their right to contest the poll because they had not been convicted. “They are presumed innocent until proved otherwise,” he said.
However, one of the groups seeking to block Kenyatta’s bid said it would take the case to the Supreme Court.
“For sure, we are ready for Supreme Court engagement,” said Ndung’u Wainaina, executive director of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict.
Mr Odinga, who has repeatedly said he would rather face Kenyatta in the ballot and not have his rival blocked by the courts, said he respected the ruling.
The vote in March also includes parliamentary and regional elections in a country of 40 million where tribal links determine political allegiances. Issues such as the ICC or High Court cases do not usually sway voters’ opinions, and Kenyatta’s popularity soared among his tribe when he was indicted by the ICC in January last year.
However, western powers have warned they cannot deal with Kenyatta as an ICC accused. Although Kenyatta and Ruto have both criticised the ICC for prosecuting them, they have said they will obey the summons in order to clear their names.