NAIROBI (AFP) – 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 his rule could see a breach in ties.
Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding president and one of Africa’s richest men — who will be sworn into office on Tuesday — used anti-Western rhetoric in campaigns ahead of 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.
While 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.
Others said that distinctions should be made between anti-Western campaign rhetoric — when the International Criminal Court (ICC) charges were used to rally voters — and pragmatic economic and political relations for the future.
“We should separate what was said during the campaign, and what will actually be done in terms of policy,” said Mwalimu Mati, a civil society activist and anti-corruption campaigner.
“The friendship with the West is a longstanding one and is not one that will change dramatically,” he told AFP.
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 ICC, and some of his advisors are also Britons.
His father, Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first leader after independence in 1963, still worked closely with former colonial power Britain, while at the same time portraying himself as a symbol of the liberation struggle.
Mati said that Western powers — even those who before the March 4 polls encouraged Kenyans to vote for someone other than Kenyatta — are unlikely to seek to antagonise him further if he proves willing to cooperate with the West.
“But Nairobi may be more assertive,” he said, noting that even the government of outgoing president Mwai Kibaki “could be fairly brusque with the West.”
“In both his 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,” Mati added. “They’ll be hard but they’re never going to break off relations.”
— Key foreign investment is Western —
The new president and his deputy William Ruto both face potentially lengthy trials at The Hague-based ICC for their alleged roles in the violence that followed disputed elections in 2007 in which more than 1,100 were killed.
Both he and Ruto have said they will cooperate fully with the ICC.
Kenya, as a signatory of the Rome Statute of the ICC, would be forced to act on any arrest warrant issued by the court should the pair refuse 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 800,000 votes — dismissing legal challenges alleging widespread fraud.
Kenyatta, in his acceptance speech when he was announced the winner of the election, promised to work with the international community but said pointedly he would also expect they should “respect our sovereignty.”
Kisiangani however pointed out that the West has no real interest in breaking off relations with Kenya either, noting its key regional role both economically and in terms of security, with Kenyan troops 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.”
European Union nations have said that their interaction with people indicted by the ICC must be kept to “essential contacts”, although that did little to hamper relations in the previous government where Kenyatta had a key role as finance minister.
Kisiangani said it should be perfectly 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 ICC in 2009 for crimes against humanity and later for genocide, with an arrest warrant issued after he failed — unlike Kenyatta — to cooperate.
“You only have to look at Sudan,” he said. “Omar al-Bashir was ostracised after his indictment but contacts continue at other levels.”
Western countries are expected to send ambassadors as representatives to Kenyatta’s swearing in ceremony on April 9.