'Choices have consequences,' US tells Kenyan voters

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson speaks during the Donor Conference on Mali January 29, 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mr Carson said he duty of electing Kenyan leaders rests with its people but "choices have consequences" February 7, 2013. FILE
By KEVIN KELLEY, New York  ( email the author)

Posted  Thursday, February 7   2013 at  17:06

The United States top diplomat for Africa has said the duty of electing Kenyan leaders rests with its people but added the rider that "choices have consequences".

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson refrained in a conference call with reporters from naming Jubilee presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta or his running mate William Ruto, who are facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr Carson, a former US ambassador to Kenya, did not specifically say that the US-Kenya relations would suffer if Mr Kenyatta is elected on March 4 or in the second round of voting.

But the diplomat warned repeatedly in response to questions referring to Mr Kenyatta that "choices have consequences".

Noting that "we live in an interconnected world," Mr Carson suggested that the choices Kenyans make in the election will have repercussions internationally.

"People should be thoughtful about those they choose to be leaders, the impact their choices would have on their country, region or global community," he told reporters.

Asked about US attitudes toward Mr Kenyatta specifically, Mr Carson said: "Individuals have histories, individuals have images, individuals have reputations. When they are selected to lead their nations, those images, histories and reputations go along with them."

Mr Carson was also asked whether the US might adopt an arm's-length position toward a Kenya-led by Mr Kenyatta as it has done in the case of Sudan, which is led by another ICC indictee, Omar Bashir.

He acknowledged that the US has a policy of not engaging with President Bashir and other Sudanese who have been charged but not yet tried by the ICC.

"We have taken our distance, our diplomatic distance," he said.

Mr Carson then drew a distinction between Sudan and Kenya.

"I don't want to make a comparison with Sudan in its totality because Sudan is a special case in many ways."

He noted that the US has "rigid and tough sanctions" in place against Sudan due to its government's actions in the Darfur region. Sudan is also on the US list of countries that support international terrorism, Mr Carson said.

"None of that applies to Kenya," he emphasised.

Mr Carson sought throughout his 30-minute conference call from Washington to reinforce President Obama's comments in a videotaped message on Wednesday to the effect that the US does not favour any candidate in Kenya's elections.

He repeatedly affirmed on Thursday that the election of a president is a choice for Kenyans alone to make and that the US will not be involved in that choice.

But Mr Carson also tried to lend nuance to Mr Obama's remarks. Using cautious diplomatic language, he worked to leave an impression with listeners that the election of a candidate charged by the ICC would potentially have consequences different from those that would ensue if another candidate is chosen.

He also urged for a peaceful and fair election in Kenya. Mr Carson stressed Kenya's importance as the principal US ally in East Africa as well as its economic and political significance to states throughout the Horn and Central Africa.

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