A week ago, a very closely watched election was held in Kenya, and late last week a president-elect was declared. It was closely watched for a number of reasons. In that geographical location, elections are usually a very, very messy affair, often stolen, often breaking out into violence and wholesale slaughter. The incumbents also rarely lose, and despite consitutional limits to the number of times an incumbent can run, constitutions are regularly changed to remove such limits. Military juntas also routinely change governments - even elected ones. The election in Kenya was unique in a different way, but one of the remarkable occurrences was that an incumbent was retiring, making the next president quite an open affair.
The election was unique and interesting not because it featured one of the former president's sons, but that the now-president elect and his running mate have been indicted by the ICC on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity, bankrolling militias that killed an estimated 1133 individuals. Ironically, this happened in the previous election. The most interesting part about the charges, is that the belief is that the now president-elect bankrolled these militia to retaliate against, among others, the members of the community of his now-deputy president.
The United States and its allies, particularly the United Kingdom, find themselves in a quite a pickle. Kenya is one of the most pro-western, robust and for the most part stable countries in the Horn of Africa, and cooperation between the United States, her allies (for example, the Israeli raid on Entebbe to rescue hijacked Israelis in 1976) has been evident over the years. 212 Kenyans were killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and Tanzania. Kenya has tried a number of pirates stemming from counter-piracy mission arrests such as NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, the EU’s NAVFOR Operation ATALANTA and the US' Combined Task Force 151. Kenya sits strategically close to the Arabian Sea - an importance that is heightened by the failure of the Somali state and its gradual slide into a terrorist training and hosting patch of land.
Over the past ten years, Kenya has gradually turned to the East - to China. The move towards China was for the most part guided by the thinking that the west was demanding - for example, of good governance, reducing corruption - without any perceived benefits in a change in the way the country did business. In exchange for resources and training, Kenya has vastly improved its infrastructure, supported by growing innovation in areas such as mobile money, agriculture and being a gateway for trade and imports to the landlocked countries of South Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and Eastern congo. The recent discovery of oil in the north of the country has made Kenya even more important as a development partner and a strategically placed country, one that the United States would prefer to have in its corner. The Chinese do not ask many questions, least of all, they do not concern themselves with issues of democratization and corruption. And they are willing to provide the money - for a foothold, perhaps - but nonetheless, this ought to concern the United States and her allies.
The United States is not a state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC); in fact, it is one of the three or so countries to unsign the Rome Statute. So plausibly, it could decide that what the new president-elect is accused of has no implications for US national interest and therefore, it will conduct business to ensure that its national interest is what is guiding interactions with Kenya. That would probably be pragmatic foreign policy; the only downside is that ten years ago, it went to a war ostensibly to, among others, democratize a particular country. Democratization, tolerance and such imply that when there are disagreements in elections, you don't butcher your own people as a consequence. Indictment by the ICC is not a good thing as Bashir has discovered, and there are few countries that cooperate with ICC indictees; the United States cannot possbly justify doing so in the case of Kenya, lest the hwole democratization line go up in smoke.
The current US president traces his paternal roots to Kenya. Not only does the situation of the new president elect complicate the relationship with the United States government, it also complicates any efforts to get President Obama to visit Kenya any time in the next four years. Most certainly, if he decided to go see his grandmother, the visit would not be in an official capacity, but when you are POTUS you do not visit a country in any capacity other than. These debates, and others regarding how a president and his deputy administer a country from The Hague, were forefront in the election battle, but the sheer numbers game - and the fact that Tribe is King there - made any such calculations futile.
It seems that Kenya's election consequences have created unpalatable choices all around.
On the positive side, the president elect may be found not guilty, because it is difficult to believe that the ICC indicted him and not the several individuals who had been running for positions in government; it may be the case that this whole thing will be a temporary misunderstanding and will be cleared up in no time. The ICC is often considered to be the "Court for Africans" - and maybe one Yugoslav - and its work has found little favor among most African countries and governments. But for the time being, the United States is in a quandary regarding the Kenyan question.