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February 07, 2013

US Official Says Kenya's Elections Have 'Consequences'

by Gabe Joselow

A senior U.S. State Department official says the United States is not endorsing any candidate in Kenya's upcoming election, but warns Kenyan voters that “choices have consequences.” The message follows a direct call from U.S. President Barack Obama for a free and peaceful vote.

In a telephone briefing with journalists Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said Kenya's general elections on March 4 represents a “wonderful opportunity” to “demonstrate to the world the vitality of Kenya's democracy.”

But he was asked repeatedly about Washington's position on the candidacy of two politicians charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes related to the inter-tribal fighting that followed the last presidential election in 2007. 

"Choices have consequences," Carson said. "We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices have on their nation, on the region, on the economy, on the society and on the world in which they live.  Choices have consequences.”

​ ​​Presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto have both been charged by the ICC, and are facing trial at the Hague.  They are accused of crimes against humanity in relation to violence in which over 1,000 people were killed and more than 300,000 people were displaced.

The two ICC suspects have been cleared to run in the election by the country's independent elections board (IEBC).  They are awaiting a verdict from Kenya's high court, due next week, on whether their candidacies violate the terms of the new constitution dealing with the integrity of the country's leaders.

Carson declined to speculate on what sort of “consequences” the election of two ICC suspects might have on relations with the U.S.  He noted that the United States is not a signatory to the court, but does support what it stands for.

He said Kenya's leaders must be held accountable for election-related violence committed today as well as in the past.
“Accountability for political violence, including that perpetrated during the 2007-2008 electoral crisis, is an important part of building a peaceful and prosperous country," he said.

Carson's comments came after U.S. President Barack Obama released a video message, subtitled in Swahili, urging Kenya to hold free and fair elections.

“The choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people," he said.  "The United States does not endorse any candidate for office, but we do support an election that is peaceful and reflects the will of the people.”

Obama called on Kenyans to resolve any post-election disputes “in the courts, not in the streets.”