NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The charges Uhuru Kenyatta faces at the International Criminal Court would have crippled a U.S. or European politician.
Instead, the accusations that he orchestrated murder and rape in Kenya's 2007-08 postelection chaos, along with a cold shoulder from the West, may have helped propel Kenyatta to Kenya's presidency. Kenyatta on Saturday was named the winner of Kenya's presidential election with 50.07 of the March 4 vote, just surpassing the 50-percent level needed to avoid a runoff. Final results showed him more than 800,000 votes ahead of his nearest rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Odinga is challenging the results, and officials from his party said Monday there's an effort to cover-up cheating that they say handed the election to Kenyatta. The officials said the election commission is ignoring their request to allow them to go through the voter register.
Kenyatta's outright win in a field of eight presidential candidates came despite the ICC charges, and in spite of warnings from the U.S. of "consequences" for the Kenya-U.S. relationship if Kenyatta wins, a sentiment echoed by Britain and some of Europe.
The feeling among many Kenyans is that Kenyatta's win may have come because of those charges and warnings. "The ICC involvement definitely helped Kenyatta," said Francis Eshitemi, a loan officer in Nairobi who supported Odinga. "Kenyans did not like that. But it is still not a good picture of Kenya that a suspect is going to lead us."
William Ruto, Kenyatta's running mate, faces similar charges for aiding the 2007-08 violence, in which more than 1,000 people were killed in tribal clashes. Back then they supported rival candidates. Kenyatta's tribe — the Kikuyus — and Ruto's tribe — the Kalenjins — were locked in battle after the 2007 election. In 2007 Ruto backed Odinga politically, and the ICC later accused Ruto of targeting Kikuyus in the Rift Valley. Kenyatta, who supported fellow then President Mwai Kibaki, a fellow Kikuyu, is accused of supporting criminals that organized revenge attacks against the Kalengin.
The ICC charges appeared to push Kenyatta and Ruto together this election, and their combined tribal voting blocs propelled them to a win. The charges by the court in the Netherlands allowed them to both claim persecution from the outside in an "us vs. the world" struggle.
"Without the ICC Uhuru and Ruto would not be running on the same ticket," said Haron Mburu, a taxi driver in Nairobi. "The ICC boosted Uhuru. Kenyans have always had this sympathy formula. Without the ICC charges I don't think Uhuru would have won."
In early February, President Barack Obama made a video urging Kenyans to reject election violence. He said if the country remained peaceful and continued its progress, Kenya would have a strong friend and partner in the U.S., a statement taken by the Kenyatta-Ruto camp as a positive sign for them despite the ICC charges.
But only two days later, Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. State Department official for Africa, held a news conference in which he repeated multiple times that there would be "consequences" if Kenyatta were to win.
Aly-Khan Satchu, an economist and analyst in Nairobi, said the ICC and statements by Carson and similar ones by EU countries were "the defining narrative of this election." "It allowed Uhuru and Ruto to consolidate their base, to paint themselves as victims of an external conspiracy," Satchu said. "It allowed them to reach outside their base and plug into a very nationalistic, patriotic mood, asking people, 'Look, is this acceptable?'"
An editorial cartoon in the Daily Nation, Kenya's most respected newspaper, showed Kenyatta and Ruto wearing an ICC ball and chain Monday, but the two were kicking the lead-weight ball up in the air with broad smiles.
Even after the election, Kenyatta's and Ruto's team played up the image of outside powers maneuvering Kenyan politics. Their coalition accused the British high commissioner of "shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement" in election decisions, a broadside their base loves but one that further strains Kenyatta's relationship with Britain.
Odinga also suffered from an "O'' conspiracy. Most men from his tribe — the Luos — begin their last name with the letter O. Some Kenyans believed he was part of a plan by then-ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and even Obama to indict Kenyatta and make sure he didn't make it to the presidency.
The ICC on Monday dropped its case against Kenyan politician Francis Muthaura. That decision calls into question the case against Kenyatta, who was charged alongside Muthaura as a "co-perpetrator." But prosecutors say they have more evidence against Kenyatta than they did against Muthaura.
Associated Press reporter Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands contributed to this report.