News / Africa

Mall Raid Rallies Foreign Support for ICC-Indictee Kenyatta

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation on the Westgate shopping mall attack in the capital Nairobi, Sept. 22, 2013.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation on the Westgate shopping mall attack in the capital Nairobi, Sept. 22, 2013.
Reuters
While it hurts Kenya's tourism and investment, the bloody Nairobi mall assault by Islamist militants will help President Uhuru Kenyatta bolster international support as he confronts charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague.

Accused by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court of fomenting post-election bloodletting in 2007/2008, Kenyatta leads a nation that is now in the spotlight as a victim of crimes punishable under international law.

Saturday's raid on Nairobi's upscale Westgate mall, in which Islamist militants killed dozens of civilians in a hail of gunfire and grenades, has won Kenya words of support and firm condemnations of “terrorism” from leaders around the world.

This could shift the diplomatic scenario for a 51-year-old president, whose election in March as Kenya's head of state had already added a new dimension to the ICC prosecution against him. He denies encouraging the post-election violence that killed upwards of 1,200 people.

Kenyatta's allies are arguing that the security implications for Africa and the world of the weekend mall attack claimed by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab from neighboring Somalia should take priority over the president's obligations to the ICC, where he is due to face trial on Nov. 12.

“Do you want to focus on the ICC when so much has to be done?” Moses Kuria, a strategist for Kenyatta's Jubilee coalition who has worked alongside him, told Reuters.

He suggested the ICC suspend its ongoing prosecutions against Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for two to three years, to allow them to confront a threat to Kenya's security that the Kenyan leader has called an “international war”.

“The security concerns of the world at this time would better be served by us focusing all our energies on fighting terrorism, and ... ensuring the whole of Africa will not be a safe haven for terrorism,” Kuria said.

“Therefore, it will be untenable to have these cases continue,” he added.

ICC judges on Monday adjourned Ruto's trial, which began this month, for a week to allow him to return home and deal with the mall attack crisis.

ICC spokesman Fadi El-Abdallah said Kenyatta's defense lawyers had filed a request for the Kenyan president to not physically appear at his trial in the Hague next month, but participate via video link.

All requests for adjustments, suspensions or postponements would be considered by the judges on a “case by case” basis, he told Reuters, without commenting further.

Western governments, obliged to walk something of a diplomatic tightrope in their relations with the ICC-indicted pair after their election, now seem willing to work more closely with them, especially in anti-terrorism cooperation.

Tackling Terrorism: 'Essential Business'

“I would regard the need to combat terrorism as essential business,” the European Union's Africa Director Nick Wescott told Reuters. He was in Nairobi specifically to discuss with the Kenyan authorities the security implications of the weekend attack, which killed several expatriates as well as Kenyans.

Asked whether this would mean greater Western flexibility towards dealing with Kenyatta, Wescott said the two issues - the Kenyan leader's ICC trial and his international role in fighting Islamist extremist violence - should be kept separate.

But he added “Let's see how it goes. It is essential that we all work as closely together as possible to deal with threats like this in Kenya, in Somalia, everywhere.”

Reflecting this intensified cooperation, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku said the United States, Israel, Britain, Germany, Canada and the police agency Interpol were  assisting in the investigation of the Westgate mall incident and the identities of the attackers.

But for those who want Kenyatta to face justice and an end to what they call a culture of impunity in Africa, the idea of giving the Kenyan leader any judicial leeway is anathema.

“As tragic as the events at the Westgate mall are, the number of people killed there is a fraction of the people who were killed in the course of the events Kenyatta is accused of orchestrating,” said Makau Mutua, a Kenyan-born law professor at New York's State University.

He criticized the one-week postponement of the Ruto trial, saying the ICC acted emotionally rather than logically. He added he saw “short-term sympathy” over the mall attack but “for Kenya, not for Kenyatta”.

Global risk consultancy Maplecroft said the Shabaab attack on Kenya's leading shopping mall showed up how the ICC trials against the Kenyan leaders would be “hugely disruptive to the processes of governance” in east Africa's biggest economy.

“As such, the attack will provide another opportunity for Kenyatta and Ruto to demand that their hearings are switched from The Hague to Arusha in neighboring Tanzania, or postponed altogether,” Maplecroft said in a briefing note.

Ratings agency Moody's said the assault would dent Kenya's growth, particularly by depressing tourism.

But Moody's Assistant Vice President Edward Al-Hussainy added in a statement “We also expect it to give President Uhuru Kenyatta's new Jubilee coalition government an opportunity to galvanize a broader mandate and dull the international and domestic political effect of the ongoing International Criminal Court trial of the president and his deputy.”

'Stand with us'

Kenyatta, who has up to now publicly pledged his cooperation with the ICC, has made clear that he is actively seeking international backing to confront the widening threat posed by cross-border jihadists like the weekend mall raiders.

In a speech addressing the nation and its “friends” late on Tuesday when he announced that security forces had defeated the attackers after a four-day siege, Kenyatta stressed that “terrorism is a global problem that requires global solutions”.

“Kenya will stand with our friends in tackling terrorism and I ask our friends to stand with us,” a somber president told his nation, adding that Kenya had “stared down evil and triumphed”.

Since the mall attack, Kenyatta has received calls and messages of support from world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

  • Women carrying children run for safety as armed police hunt for gunmen who went on a shooting spree in Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • A police officer tries to secure an area inside the Westgate Shopping Center where gunmen went on a shooting spree in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • Injured woman is helped out of Westgate Shopping Center where gunmen went on shooting and grenade-throwing spree, Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • Security officers secure an area inside Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi September 21, 2013.
  • Customers run following a shootout between unidentified armed men and the police at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • A mother and her children hide from gunmen at Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • A Kenyan army soldier takes cover behind a wall at Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi September 21, 2013.
  • A journalist rescues a woman injured in a shootout between armed men and the police at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Sept. 21, 2013.
  • Soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) arrive at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Sept. 22, 2013.
  • Relatives help a woman at the Nairobi City Mortuary after she identified the body of a victim of the mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 22, 2013.

Kenya is seen as a key ally in the fight against violent Islamist extremism in the Horn of Africa and Kenyan troops form  part of an internationally-backed African peacekeeping force in Somalia that has put al-Shababon the defensive.

In contrast, another ICC indictee, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who is accused of orchestrating genocide in Darfur and is defying an arrest warrant, is treated as a pariah by the West.

Kenya's government, backed by east African states and some other nations on a continent that is increasingly suspicious of a perceived anti-African bias by the ICC, had already asked the ICC to suspend the hearings scheduled for Kenyatta and Ruto.

African leaders are due to discuss the Kenyan prosecutions at the African Union next month, amid some calls for a walkout by African states from the decade-old ICC.

The Hague court's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, who is leading the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto, has given no indication so far that the ICC will ease up on the prosecutions.

In a statement on Tuesday, Bensouda said she was ready to work with Kenya and the international community to bring to justice those responsible for the weekend raid in Nairobi.

“Such attacks by armed groups upon innocent civilians are contrary to international law and may constitute a crime under the Rome Statute, to which Kenya is a State Party,” she said.

Evelyn Ankumah, Executive Director of Netherlands-based Africa Legal Aid, said that from a legal point of view the Nairobi mall attack should not affect the ongoing ICC cases.

But Ankumah, whose organization supports human rights and criminal justice from an African perspective, said she could not rule out the possibility of the U.N. Security Council asking for Kenyatta's ICC trial to be deferred, maybe for a year.

“It would be naive to say that international criminal justice is not political,” she said.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid