Will Obama ‘ignore Ruto’s handshake’ during his visit?

Will Obama ‘ignore Ruto’s handshake’ during his visit?

Will United States President Barack Obama meet Deputy President William Ruto when he visits Nairobi this week?

Opinion is divided on whether the most powerful leader in the world should meet Ruto who is facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court.

President Uhuru Kenyatta insists his deputy remains an integral part of the jubilee administration and would co-host Obama.

And while it is clear that President Kenyatta will be at hand to receive his U.S. counterpart, questions abound on whether Ruto will play an active role in hosting Obama, given the crimes against humanity charges hanging on his head.

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Johnny Carson had prior to the 2013 General Elections cautioned against the Kenyatta-Ruto presidential bid, since they were facing charges at the Hague and warned of diplomatic consequences.

While Kenyatta is off the ICC hook, Ruto is still fighting to clear his name, raising questions whether he will meet Obama during his 3-day visit.

“The last time I checked Ruto was a key member of the government, and this visit by Obama is about Kenyans and their leaders,” said President Kenyatta.

Some international relations experts, however, claim diplomatic issues could arise if Obama was to meet Ruto and send mixed signals to the International Community on the United States’ stand in the fight against impunity and crimes against humanity, but political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi submits that Ruto must meet Obama at all cost.

“If I were Ruto, I would put in my best suit and the best smile and proceed to JKIA, line up next to Uhuru and let Obama refuse to shake my hand. That way, Obama will be the loser and Ruto the winner,” he posted on twitter.

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nairobi in May this year, Ruto featured nowhere in the top level Kenyan delegation led by President Kenya that met the American leader, in what was deemed a pre-Obama tour, a situation that was also seen as an indicator that Obama would prefer to keep off Ruto until he sheds the ICC tag.

“That was Kerry, and Kerry is not Obama. There is no way Obama will decide who he wants to meet and who he doesn’t want to meet. The presidency is a pair, how does he shake Uhuru’s hand and ignore Ruto? That will be contemptuous of the choice of Kenyans at the ballot,” added Mutahi.

There are indications that Ruto could strategically get busy elsewhere if it became clear that Obama was not keen on meeting him. Another school of though is of the opinion that Obama could meet Ruto in private without a photo opportunity.

“If Ruto decides to go to Muranga or Nyeri for a Harambee to stay away from Obama, it will be seen as an admission of guilt. Ruto must do everything to shake Obama’s hand,” Mutahi stated.

The deputy president’s bid to have ICC charges dropped has been boosted after the trial chamber rejected Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s application to use as evidence a document she claims shows Ruto and his co-accused Joshua arap Sang had an organised network in the 2007/08 post-election skirmishes.

Obama arrives on Friday evening and will be in Nairobi for three days with his itinerary indicating a series of public and private engagements before he departs on Sunday afternoon for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Report by Francis Gachuri