Imagine candidates in a presidential debate arguing over who should end up at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bizarre, right? Well, imagine no more; that is exactly what happened in Nairobi earlier this week when Kenya’s presidential candidates squared off in a debate that, in many respects, looked similar to when leadership hopefuls in the US square off.
But there was one striking difference: the conversation. Almost half an hour of the debate focused on the allegations against Uhuru Kenyatta who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in the 2007-08 post-election violence that ravaged Kenya.
The key question in the debate – and on everyone’s mind leading up to the March election – was what would happen if Kenyatta, as an ICC indictee charged with crimes against humanity, were to be elected. Kenyatta is scheduled to stand trial in The Hague just days after the election takes place and he is, according to most sources, among the front runners to become President.
One of the candidates, Martha Karua, argued that Kenyatta should put aside his ambitions to become the next Kenyan President. Indeed, she claimed that Kenyan law obliged Kenyatta to step down.
While he appeared nervous and uncomfortable, Kenyatta remained unfazed and stuck to his script. He declared that his candidacy was a matter for the Kenyan people to decide and that voting for him was a vote of confidence in his ability to both run the country and clear his name.
To this, Raila Odinga, another front runner, provided the best quip of the evening when he responded: “I know that it will pose serious challenges to run a government by Skype from The Hague.”
The debate then shifted away from the issues pertaining directly to the ICC to questions of whether Kenya was able to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities itself (see video below).
Andrea Russell recently wrote that 2013 will be a decisive year for Kenya and the ICC. Following the unsavoury footsteps of Sudan, there is a good chance that the country could become only the second country with a sitting head of state indicted by the ICC.
Of course, how the Kenyan election and ICC trials shake out is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure: the ICC has never had a situation like this, with an indictee standing at a lectern during a Presidential debate declaring that he is able and willing to face his charges and to run his country simultaneously.
Here’s the relevant debate footage pertaining to the ICC (via Reporting Kenya):