THE White House yesterday said President Obama would invite President Uhuru Kenyatta to Washington for a summit in August.
Uhuru is still technically an ICC indictee although there is widespread speculation that his delayed trial at the Hague is about to collapse.
The indictment is one reasons why Obama is yet to visit the homeland of his late father as president despite visiting Tanzania on an African tour last year.
Obama will invite 47 African nations that are currently in good standing with the United States or are not suspended from the African Union. Egypt, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Guinea Bissau will not be invited. Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir has refused to go to the Hague to answer charges of human rights abuses in Darfur.
Uhuru will join fellow African leaders in a landmark US-Africa summit in August seeking to widen US trade, development and security ties with Africa. After the Westgate attack in September, Obama spoke to Uhuru on the telephone.
Before the election in March 2013, the US and the European Union warned that only ‘essential contact’ would be possible if Kenyans elected ICC indictees as president and deputy president. US assistant secretary of state Johnny Carson advised that “choices will have consequences”.
Deputy President William Ruto is already on trial but ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has asked for another adjournment in Uhuru’s case as she no longer has witnesses.
“The Brits broke the ice with the invitation to the Somalia conference in May. From that point onwards, it was always likely that invites like this would be forthcoming. It’s not a big turnaround,” said a British foreign correspondent in Nairobi yesterday.
Yesterday multiple diplomatic sources in Nairobi suggested that the US had decided to work with Uhuru since his case seemed to be collapsing.
“The US can now invite Uhuru to the conference because he is off the hook at the ICC and is palatable again,” said a European ambassador yesterday.
“There must have been a lot of behind the scenes dealings before the invitation but it is now clear that the ICC case is over. They no longer have any witnesses alive, uncorrupted or unintimidated,” he said.
Another diplomat close to Washington said the US has been working behind the scenes after Uhuru’s victory and it is not surprising that Obama has shifted position.
“The record of the past several months shows that there has been no drop in the quality of engagement between the US and Kenya,” he said.
The idea for the summit, which takes place with Washington increasingly aware of China’s attempt to enhance its own diplomatic profile in Africa, was first announced by Obama in a speech in Cape Town in June.
“This is not a zero-sum game. This is not the Cold War. You’ve got one global market, and if countries that are now entering into middle-income status see Africa as a big opportunity for them, that can potentially help Africa,” the president told reporters. The news was also welcomed by Kenyan leaders.
Senators Mike Sonko and Beth Mugo said Obama had realised that the ICC case case was collapsing. “He has realized that Kenya is a very important partner and ignoring President Uhuru and his administration would be disastrous,” said Sonko.
“This is good news because Obama has been treating Uhuru as a suspect. The US has realized that they have no choice but work with Kenya’s leaders. President Uhuru should now take advantage of this new relationship to strengthen ties with America,” said Lugari MP Ayub Savula.
Former assistant Foreign Affairs minister Richard Onyonka described the invitation as a “diplomatic coup” for Uhuru. “The invitation amounts to recognition of Uhuru as President and the will of the Kenyan people. I ask Uhuru to also extend an invitation to Obama. The rest of the world which is yet to recognize Uhuru should now follow suit,” said Mwingi North MP Joe Mutambo.
“We occupy an important place in the history, culture and economy of Africa and the world, and I’m glad the US recognises that by inviting our President,” said Teso North MP Arthur Odera. “America does not want to lose Kenya to China,” said nominated MP Isaac Mwaura.