Nairobi - Kenya appears to be punishing nations backing the
International Criminal Court, where President Uhuru Kenyatta faces trial for
crimes against humanity, by keeping envoys in limbo while they wait for
European nations said they would keep diplomatic contact
with newly elected Kenyatta to a minimum due to the looming trial at The
Hague-based court, but eight months after he took office, it is the president's
turn to hit back over their support for the ICC.
"This is a diplomatic move that reflects protest at the
ICC," said Alex Vines from Britain's Chatham House. "It also reflects
how Kenya's foreign affairs have been focused on ICC."
Six ambassadors sent to Nairobi have been waiting for
several months to present their credentials - from France, Germany and Italy,
as well as Japan, Zambia and Iraq.
France, Italy and Germany all back ICC trials of Kenyatta -
now due to begin in February next year - and his deputy, Vice-President William
Ruto, which has already begun.
The two are accused of fomenting political unrest and
violence after a 2007 election in which more than 1,100 people died and several
hundred thousand were forced to flee their homes.
Japan was last year the ICC's biggest contributor of funds.
However, Zambia and Iraq seem to be collateral damage -
because heads of state normally accredit a group of ambassadors at the same
Officially Nairobi attributes its slowness to accredit the
ambassadors to Kenyatta's "busy timetable", a European diplomatic
source said, and foreign diplomats stationed in Nairobi have been playing down
Two separate issues
"The ICC and the accreditation appointment are two
separate issues," one diplomat insisted, saying there had been a sign of
some progress on the issue.
Some ambassadors, who had been appointed by their
governments but whom Kenya had told to stay in their home country until the
freeze on accreditations is lifted, have now been invited to come to Kenya and
to be on stand-by for an appointment in late November, one diplomat noted.
"Given the way things are done locally it's hardly
surprising we don't have anything more precise," the same source said,
noting that appointments are often "set at the last minute".
The diplomat also said the Kenyans "are not completely
cut off from diplomatic reality, they know it can also be a handicap for
Since their swearing-in in April, Kenyatta and Ruto have
filed numerous requests to have their trials postponed or to benefit from
special conditions, arguing that they have to be able to discharge their
They have obtained massive backing from the African Union,
which in May requested that the cases against the two Kenyan leaders be
The ICC has since accepted some concessions for Kenyatta.
While Ruto's trial opened on 10 September, the president's has been pushed back
to February to enable him to handle the aftermath of the attack on Nairobi's
Westgate shopping mall by Islamist gunmen.
Kenyatta has also been exempted from attending parts of his trial.
But the UN Security Council last week rejected another
resolution, brought by Rwanda, asking for both trials to be suspended.
Economy and investment climate
France, Britain and the United States did not use their veto
rights, but abstained collectively, a move that Nairobi slammed as
But Chatham House's Vines said that the delay in
accreditation remains largely symbolic.
"The embassies continue to run with charges d'affaires,
and no protests have been made yet," Vines said. "These diplomats
will eventually be accredited and none of the governments want to exacerbate
the situation by publicly complaining."
However, prominent Kenyan civil society figure Mwalimu Mati
was less sure, arguing the government had adopted an "uncompromising"
position on the ICC.
"Let's wait and see," he said, recalling that back
in the 1990s Kenya broke off diplomatic relations with a major donor Norway,
who was at the time highly critical of Kenya's human rights record.
But he warned that Kenya's economy and investment climate
could be damaged and its currency hurt.
In 2011, a quarter of Kenya's exports went to Europe, while
Japan is one of Kenya's biggest bilateral donors.
"We rely quite heavily on exports to countries that the
government is angry at," Mati said.