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

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs