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Kenya President to Transfer Power While at ICC

FILE - Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is seen in a Sept. 2, 2014, photo.

Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said he will transfer power to his deputy while he is at The Hague, attending hearings on his case at the International Criminal Court.

Kenyatta faces five charges, including murder, for allegedly helping to organize deadly ethnic violence that followed Kenya's disputed 2007 presidential election.

Speaking to parliament in Nairobi Monday, the Kenyan leader said he will honor the court's summons to appear Tuesday and Wednesday for a status conference on his case.

He said while he is out of the country, his deputy, William Ruto, will serve as Kenya's acting president.

Ruto, also faces charges at the ICC in connection with the violence. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and his trial began last year.

Summons to The Hague

Last week’s summons to The Hague came as a surprise to many Kenyans, more accustomed now to news that the prosecution’s case against their president is weak and on the verge of collapse.

Speaking to parliament in Nairobi Monday, the Kenyan leader said he will honor the court's summons to appear Tuesday and Wednesday for a status conference on his case.

Kenyatta had asked to be excused from the court proceeding, but his request was turned down. The court said the case was at a “critical juncture” and his presence is required.

Kenyatta's trial was originally set to begin in February. But the trial has been postponed repeatedly as the ICC's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said the Kenyan government was not providing key documents her office requested.

Kenyatta told the Kenyan parliament Monday he would obey the summons.

“I urge my fellow citizens to accept and to understand my decision. I also urge our African brothers and sisters to stand with Kenya, and all people of good will, and friends of Kenya, to stand with us in this time,” he said.

Last year the African Union resolved that sitting African heads of state should not appear before the ICC, a decision that came after relentless lobbying by Kenyatta.

So the Kenyan president was faced with a dilemma, said University of Nairobi political scientist Adams Oloo.

“The dilemma for the president is how to balance two things: one, his case in the court, versus the African Union resolution. And therefore what he shall be asking himself is, ‘If I do not attend, legally what is going to happen to me?’ “ Oloo said.

Arrest warrant

What would happen is the ICC would issue an arrest warrant, said the head of the East Africa Law Society, James Mwamu.

This could have devastating consequences for Kenyatta and for Kenya, Mwamu said, including possible sanctions from the West.

“President Kenyatta would be a fugitive and a pariah, running away from the law. If you see the situation with the president of Sudan, he cannot travel. And then cooperation with international agencies and donors is going to be a bit difficult,” he added.

But many in Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance have thrown themselves behind the AU resolution, saying a court appearance would embarrass the president.

Before the ICC, Oloo explained, Kenyatta will appear as an ordinary citizen, which could affect his public image.

“Politics is about perception, and therefore the concern of Jubilee is that for those small few moments the president is not going to have the trappings of power that we have come to know him with,” Oloo said.

But in the past, he added, Kenyatta and Ruto have been skillful in using the case to mobilize their base.

“How they were able to get their two communities behind them was to play victim, [to say] that the West have a preferred candidate [and] they want to re-colonize the country. It has worked so well,” Oloo said.

Weak case

Given the weakness of the prosecution’s case, the president's cooperation could actually boost his image back home, Oloo said. That is what many Kenyatta supporters have been arguing, he added.

“Quite a number of them are like, ‘Go there, prove to the world that you always said you would cooperate and you are cooperating. You will walk out of there very tall and say, 'let them have their way, I have had my say,' “ Oloo said.

In the meantime, local media reports dozens of Kenyan lawmakers plan to accompany Kenyatta to The Hague in a show of support.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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