NAIROBI, Kenya — Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as the Kenya’s fourth president Tuesday in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of Kenyans and a dozen African leaders.
Kenyatta, 51, the son of Kenya’s first president, becomes the second sitting African president to face charges at the International Criminal Court over allegations he helped orchestrate the vicious tribe-on-tribe violence that marred Kenya’s 2007 presidential election.
A jubilant crowd swathed in Kenyatta’s campaign color of red loudly interrupted the swearing-in with rapturous cheers.
The ceremony stood in stark contrast to a rushed ceremony closed to the public five years ago to swear in outgoing President Mwai Kibaki, whom political opponents accused of stealing the 2007 vote. Those suspicions set off weeks of tribal violence that killed more than 1,000 people.
It is that violence that Kenyatta now faces charges for at The Hague in the Netherlands. Kenyatta denies the prosecutor’s charges that he helped orchestrate the violence and has pledged to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. His trial is scheduled to begin in July. Kenyatta’s deputy president, William Ruto, faces similar charges. His trial is set to begin in May.
Because of those charges, the top U.S. official for Africa just days before the March 4 vote warned of “consequences” if Kenyatta was voted into office. European countries offered similar warnings. But the U.S. ambassador and European ambassadors were in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony, and analysts say they doubt the pre-election warnings will amount to very much.
Kenya is the lynchpin economy for East Africa’s economy and the West’s most vital security partner. Kenyan troops are helping battle al-Shabab militants inside Somalia, and Kenya hosts a U.S. military base near the Somali border.
Kenyatta — the son of Jomo Kenyatta — beat seven other presidential candidates with 50.07 percent of the vote. That slim win was challenged by outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga — who got 43 percent — and civil society groups that complained of myriad anomalies in the voting process. The Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta’s win after nationally televised hearings.
That court process and requests by Odinga for peace, helped Kenya avoid the bloody deaths the country saw for two months in late 2007 and early 2008.
Even as thousands cheered the dignitaries arriving at the Nairobi sports stadium, some in the crowd had Kenya’s past violence on their mind.
“Kenyatta should put reconciliation as his priority. He must make sure we come as one nation,” said Ndungu Kariuki, a 35-year-old engineer who was at the ceremony. “The charges against Uhuru are framed. I was affected by the postelection violence and I know what happened. Kenyatta will be free.”
Thousands of Kenyans began arriving at the stadium as early as 5 a.m. on Tuesday, seven hours before Kenyatta took the oath from the country’s chief justice. Many wore badges with pictures of Kenyatta and waved red flags.
“I am excited because I am coming to witness the swearing in of a new president and his deputy,” said Newton Githaiga. “Normally in any election people are split, but in a few months people will be together. Kenyans should be reconciled because as a divided people we cannot go far.”