NAIROBI — The potential election of two candidates charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court could have far-reaching political and financial consequences for Kenya.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, parliament member William Ruto, are both charged with crimes committed during inter-tribal fighting which erupted following the last disputed election in 2007.
They face charges of crimes against humanity, as indirect perpetrators of murder, rape and other acts of violence.
The two candidates enjoy popular support in their base in central Kenya, but the charges have raised important questions about whether international partners will be comfortable dealing with a president and vice president facing serious accusations.
Earlier this week, Kenyatta, who is the son of Kenya's first president, said unless he is convicted by the ICC, there is nothing to stop him from campaigning.
“What we must all accept, is that you are innocent until you are proven guilty," Kenyatta said. "And that being the case, the outcome for the court proceedings itself is what one can then use to say whether one is guilty or not, and whether a nation can deal with you or not. But right now, even with that hanging over you, you are innocent.”
Kenya's allies have warned of the implications of Kenyatta and Ruto's possible election.
In a phone briefing with reporters this week, the top U.S. diplomat for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, reiterated Washington's position on the possible election of the ICC suspects, saying “choices have consequences.”
Carson, a former ambassador to Kenya, said the U.S. will not endorse any candidate in the race, and declined to comment on exactly what course of action might be taken.
“I'm not going to speculate on what our actions will be, but we are not signatories to the ICC convention, but I underscore that we recognize and respect what the ICC is trying to do,” Carson said.
The European Union also has a policy of banning all but essential contact with ICC indictees. The candidates have said they have not heard formal positions from any government saying they will be banned if elected.
Macharia Kihuro, a risk management practitioner based in Nairobi, says there could be economic implications to electing the two candidates.
“Actually, they are innocent until they are proven guilty. But there is something that we call perception," Kihuro says. "And perception is the stock in trade in the international market. Can we trust the people who are in leadership? And this applies across the board. If you are going to lend money to an institution, you look at the corporate governance structures. This is a fact.”
Kihuro says Kenya's economy is very reliant on foreign exchange. A withdrawal of investment, or even the possibility of sanctions, could dry up reserves of U.S. dollars, which would slow growth and drive up inflation.
The ramifications of electing the two suspects are not limited to Kenya's relationship with the international community.
It could also pose a direct challenge to the country's new constitution, according to Edward Kisiang'ani, a professor of politics and history at Kenyatta University in Nairobi.
“Article 73, which is the beginning of chapter 6 on leadership and integrity, also says that people should hold office in a manner that brings honor and dignity to the people and to that office," Kisiang'ani says. "If you have been accused of having committed crimes against humanity, that cannot bring dignity and honor to that office.”
Kenya's high court is currently considering a case which challenges Kenyatta and Ruto's eligibility to run for office based on the integrity clause. A decision is expected next week.
The ICC case against the two suspects is scheduled to resume at The Hague in April. That would coincide with the schedule for a possible run-off vote, if no one wins in the first round in March.
The ICC is considering whether to move the trial to a court in Arusha, Tanzania.