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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.