Thousands of Kenyans gathered singing and dancing yesterday for the swearing-in ceremony of their new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president and who faces an international crimes against humanity trial.
Regional leaders and foreign diplomats were expected to arrive yesterday at Kenya’s national soccer stadium, with musicians, dancers and a military parade entertaining an estimated 60,000 people.
However, long before dawn buses arrived from across the country, packed with supporters from central Kenya and the Rift Valley, heartlands of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu people and of his soon to be vice-president William Ruto.
Ruto, like Kenyatta, also faces trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for crimes against humanity over their alleged role in planning 2007-2008 post-election violence.
Security was heavy as Kenyatta loyalists, dressed in the red colors of the winning Jubilee Coalition party, waved as military bands played tunes to welcome the new leader and say farewell to outgoing president Mwai Kibaki, 81, retiring after more than a decade in power.
Crowds cheered as Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s fourth president.
“I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Republic of Kenya,” Kenyatta said, clutching a Bible as he took the oath of office.
Kenyatta, 51 and one of Africa’s richest men, won the March 4 polls by more than 800,000 votes ahead of his nearest rival, outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Odinga and civil society groups filed legal challenges alleging the polls were marred by a series of irregularities that skewed the results.
However, Kenya’s Supreme Court last month unanimously ruled the election had been fair and credible and that Kenyatta and Ruto had been “validly elected.”
Last month’s polls were peaceful apart from isolated incidents, avoiding a repeat of the ethnic killings and widespread violence that followed the 2007 polls, when more than 1,100 people were murdered and several hundred thousand forced to flee their homes.
Odinga was reported not to be attending the ceremony, and newspaper editorials yesterday warned that Kenyatta would face a tough task ahead to unite Kenya.
“Fortunately the country remained peaceful during the elections, but unfortunately many still feel disenfranchised,” the Star newspaper editorial read, warning it is important “to unite the country.”
“A sense of national unity, patriotism, belonging and pride will only come about with a very deliberate program to heal the septic ethnic wounds that so pollute our politics,” the Daily Nation read.
Heads of state of Kenya’s neighbors were expected to attend, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Other leaders due to attend included South African President Jacob Zuma, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Western nations, many of whom have a policy of only “essential contact” with ICC indictees, are expected to send ambassadors.
China was due to sent National People’s Congress Standing Committee Vice Chairman Zhang Baowen (張寶文).
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who faces an ICC arrest warrant for genocide, was not expected to attend.
The new president and Ruto, 46, both face potentially lengthy trials at the ICC for their alleged roles in the violence that followed disputed elections in 2007.
Kenyatta, in his acceptance speech when he was announced the winner of the election, promised to work with the international community but said pointedly he would also expect they should “respect our sovereignty.”
Both he and Ruto have said they will cooperate fully with the ICC.
Kenya, as a signatory of the Rome Statute of the ICC, would be supposed to act on any arrest warrant issued by the court should the pair refuse to attend trial.