After that picture, Kenya forgives Obama and US - Makokha

President Uhuru Kenyatta with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room of the White House on August 5, 2014. WHITE HOUSE PHOTO | AMANDA LUCIDON
President Uhuru Kenyatta with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room of the White House on August 5, 2014. WHITE HOUSE PHOTO | AMANDA LUCIDON

By now, US President Barack Obama must know that a picture is harmless even when posed next to a fellow world leader facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court.

Mr Obama’s picture with President Kenyatta alongside his spouse taken in the Rose Room of the White House is like a homecoming for a prodigal son. For over a year, Mr Obama has oscillated between coyness and melodrama around meeting Mr Kenyatta.

All this was likely because the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC confirmed murder, rape, torture and
displacement of population charges against Mr Kenyatta in January 2012, before he was elected President.

After Mr Obama’s envoys had pointedly warned Kenyans that choices had consequences when it came to electing their leaders, the US President could not bring himself to congratulate Mr Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto — also facing murder, torture and displacement of population charges at the ICC — once they took office in April 2013.

Right-thinking world leaders swiftly revised their positions on the kind of healthy contact to maintain with leaders indicted by the ICC, especially if they were cooperating with the court.

Mr Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, granted Mr Ruto a vigorous public handshake within a month of his election. Soon after, Mr Kenyatta was presiding over a big UN meeting in Nairobi before heading to the UK to lead talks on peace in Somalia.

There was a little matter of the picture Mr Kenyatta took with UK Prime Minister David Cameron which got lost in the fibre-optic pipeline, but still, everyone knew that the relationship between Kenya and Britain was as right as rain.

During his Africa tour in June 2013, however, Mr Obama deliberately skirted Kenya — going to nondescript places like South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania. All the while, the US kept hinting that Mr Kenyatta and his deputy might not be welcome in New York where the UN General Assembly was meeting in September 2013.

Had Nelson Mandela not suddenly died and thrust Mr Kenyatta’s hand into Mr Obama’s palm at the funeral in Johannesburg, it is likely the US President would have continued to treat his Kenyan cousin as a social leper.


Britain, on the other hand, has been very adult about this ICC thing. It hosted First Lady Margaret Kenyatta in April this year when she ran the London Marathon, allowing her to show the human side of her family when she publicly hugged the President at the end of a gruelling seven-hour run covering 42 kilometres.

Kenya accepts the belated apology for the slights Mr Obama has extended to it by coming within touching distance of the country — as happened when he went to enjoy its lions from the Serengeti in Tanzania. The investors who snubbed Mr Obama’s invitation to cross the border into Tanzania agreed to fly to the US to favour investors there with their regal presence this time round.

The positive gesture by the US President to invite Mr Kenyatta and host him for a photograph will stave off a monumental diplomatic crisis.

Had the frosty relations continued, Kenyans might have started addressing Mr Obama’s ambassador in Mandarin and requiring the presence of a translator every time business had to be transacted with the US. After all, the US is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.

With most of the witnesses dead, recanting their testimony or withdrawing from the cases, it is difficult to see why anyone would get their knickers in a twist over Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto being at international palavers. They are not the monsters imperial powers had made them out to be.

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