NAIROBI (AFP) – President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in Nairobi Thursday to crowds cheering him home, a day after becoming the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity charges.
Kenyatta, who was given a red carpet welcome with a military honour guard as well as dancers singing songs declaring he “is innocent”, had appeared in The Hague-based court on Wednesday.
Supporters chanted his name and waved Kenyan flags after he landed in Nairobi airport shortly after dawn, with the president standing out the sunroof of a car addressing cheering supporters.
“What is important is our unity… let us work together to improve the well being of Kenyans,” Kenyatta shouted in a brief speech, to loud shouts of welcome, thanking all those who had supported him.
“We are one and there is nothing to fear because Kenya is stable.”
Kenyatta, 52, faces five counts at the ICC over his alleged role in orchestrating unrest in 2007 and 2008 that left 1,200 people dead and 600,000 displaced.
He had been summoned to answer questions at his floundering trial for allegedly masterminding the deadly post-election violence, with the judges now to deliberate on whether to send the case to trial – or to possibly abandon it after the prosecution said it did not have enough evidence.
The president, who left the airport on a triumphal procession waving to supporters to the centre of the capital, where he is expected to make a speech to the nation, “received a hero’s welcome”, the presidential office said in a statement.
He was welcomed at Nairobi airport by Deputy President William Ruto, a fellow ICC defendant to whom he had temporarily handed power while away, so as to “protect the sovereignty” of the east African country, travelling to Amsterdam on a regular flight as a “private” citizen.
Ruto is already on trial at the ICC for his part in the violence, while Kenyatta’s trial has yet to begin despite a drawn-out three-and-a-half-year legal saga.
The Kenyan leader had appeared at the ICC before, but not since he was elected president in March 2013.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last month asked for an indefinite postponement, saying Nairobi had refused to cooperate with a request for financial and other statements, so she did not have enough evidence for a trial.
They want Kenyatta’s bank statements, tax records and telephone records relating to the period of unrest. They believe that the documents could prove Kenyatta’s part in bankrolling and orchestrating the violence.
The repeatedly-delayed case has seen at least seven prosecution witnesses drop out, allegedly through bribes and intimidation.
Prosecutor Ben Gumpert said on Wednesday that since being elected, Kenyatta had “an exceptional constitutional duty to make sure that these obstructions do not take place”.
But Kenyatta’s lawyer Steven Kay said the case had “failed in a way that there’s no prospect to go further”. Judges could also find, as the prosecution has requested, that Kenya is not cooperating, and postpone the case pending a referral to the Assembly of States Parties of countries that have signed the ICC’s founding Rome Statute.
“There is no time limit in this type of decision. The judges will now deliberate and issue their finding in due course,” ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told AFP.
Bitter memories are still fresh from 2007, when elections escalated into ethnic conflict, for which Kenyatta and Ruto were charged with crimes against humanity. Both reject the charges.