Two Kenyan presidential hopefuls suspected of crimes against humanity have said they intend to join forces in next year’s vote by running on the same ticket.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former cabinet minister William Ruto announced the deal at a rally hosted by Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and Kenyatta’s The National Alliance party in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, 140km northwest of the capital Nairobi, on Sunday.
Under the agreement, Kenyatta will seek the presidency and former rival Ruto will be his vice-presidential running mate.
“We have agreed here to make a government with Uhuru Kenyatta as the president, and William Ruto will be the vice president. We have agreed that God-willing, next year URP and TNA will form the next government,” Ruto told thousands of supporters gathered in a stadium.
Both Uhuru and Ruto face charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in having orchestrated post-election violence in 2007-2008 that killed at least 1,300 and displaced more than 600,000.
Kenyatta faces five charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts, while Ruto faces three charges of crimes against humanity.
Both have claimed their innocence, remain free and have promised to co-operate with the court.
“Our union is not to attack anyone, but to build Kenya,” Kenyatta said at Sunday’s rally in one of the areas worst hit by the post-poll ethnic violence. “Our work is to preach peace, and make sure there is no blood spilt again.”
The alliance brings together URP and Kenyatta’s The National Alliance party (TNA) under the slogan Umoja Kenya
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow said the two candidates make a serious political force in the country.
“Uhuru Kenyatta comes from the largest ethnic group in the country. William Ruto comes from the third most popular tribe in Kenya. So together, they actually make the winning ticket,” Adow said.
Adow said a future administration combining these two politicians is worrisome to many Kenyans.
“These are two men who’ve got charges of crimes against humanity hanging over their heads. Although they deny them, these are very serious charges and the International Criminal Court is trying to pin down convictions,” he said.
“They want to save themselves and they will do anything within their powers to make sure they survive any conviction and even if it means defying the ICC.
“To defy the ICC, they need to win the elections.”
Kenya, as a signatory of the Rome Statute of the ICC, would be forced to act on any arrest warrant issued by the court should the pair refuse to attend trial.
Worst wave of violence
The ICC trials, set to begin on April 10, could coincide with the elections, set for March 4, but which potentially could enter a second round vote within a month.
The pair received a boost this week after the unexpected withdrawal of a petition seeking a court ruling on whether they are eligible to run, as under a new constitution adopted in 2010 those holding public office and charged with a crime must step down.
The violence shattered Kenya’s image as a beacon of stability in east Africa when the then-opposition leader Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging his way to re-election.
What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, which launched reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of violence since independence in 1963.
Despite efforts to heal the wounds of the ethnic killings four years ago, tensions still run deep between communities, with many key grievances that fed into the violence — most notably land ownership rights — still unresolved.
Several presidential hopefuls are expected to unveil alliances ahead of a Tuesday deadline, including Kenyatta’s expected main challenger, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, himself a former ally of Ruto.