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Accused war criminal takes oath of office

Uhuru Kenyatta being sworn-in as Kenya’s president today.

Uhuru Kenyatta being sworn-in as Kenya’s president today.

NAIROBI — Uhuru Kenyatta took the oath of office as Kenyan president today, presenting Western states with the challenge of how to deal with a leader indicted by the International Criminal Court.

Uganda’s president praised Kenyans at the ceremony for rejecting what he called the court’s bid to sway the vote by “blackmail”, a reflection of the distrust or resentment of the court felt by many Africans.

Kenyatta is charged with crimes against humanity for orchestrating an orgy of intercommunal violence that followed the previous presidential election five years ago, an accusation he denies.

When the United States and European powers outlined their policy during the campaign of only having “essential contacts” with court indictees, many Kenyans and some of Kenyatta’s aides accused them of trying intervene in Kenyan politics.

Now those powers have to juggle that policy with their wish for close ties with Kenya, seen as a vital ally in the regional battle against militant Islam.

If the West slips up in its diplomatic balancing act, it risks opening more space to China and other Asian powers that are gaining both political and trading influence in Africa.

Kenyatta pledged to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Republic of Kenya” in his oath, taken on a Bible used by his father, Jomo Kenyatta, who was Kenya’s first president after independence from Britain in 1963.

The peaceful transition of power has helped to rebuild Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable democracies, after the violence five years ago, when 1,200 died. Analysts say the ICC row may have spurred some people to vote for Kenyatta.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the ceremony in a Nairobi stadium: “I want to salute the Kenyan voters on … the rejection of the blackmail by the International Criminal Court”, to cheers from tens of thousands. (Reuters)

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