The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Transition Traditions and Lessons for Kibaki Exit

opinion

Special Correspondent JOE ADAMA considers what history has to teach us about power transitions, and says Kenyans must never again entertain a stealth, fait accompli Presidential Inauguration. We have already had two such shame-faced events . . . with dire consequences

Reports of President Kibaki's Sh50 million gratuity having been factored into the next Budget and talk of a Sh500 million palatial retirement home somewhere near Solio, Nyeri, would seem to reassure Kenyans that the next Presidential transition will involve a much smoother transfer of power than was the case in 2002 when Kibaki was incoming.

So would the prospect of the Assumption of the Office of President Bill, 2012, which is currently with the Attorney-General, and which has facilitated the creation of a special team to be headed by Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia to oversee a smooth transfer of power. But the Assumption of the Office of President Committee is already generating intense controversy and suspicion, along the lines of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Board of Directors recently appointed by Transport Minister Amos Kimemia - its ethnic composition and blatant bias towards the Mt. Kenya region.

The sordid KPA affair, in which 7 out of 10 directors are Mt. Kenyans, is now a court matter. The Assumption of the Office of President Committee issue will soon no doubt be raised in Parliament and most likely be the subject of litigation as 11 of its 13 members are drawn from the Mt. Kenya region.

Having seen only two presidential power transfers so far since Independence, what lessons have Kenyans learned from less-than-perfect procedures and what can they look forward to, to cap their biggest and most significant General Election, which involves only the third change of guard at State House in 50 years?

Stephen Kay, Queen's Counsel, the lawyer for Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta at the second confirmation of hearings session at the International Criminal Court at The Hague is clearly an articulate and formidable counselor. But he made many Kenyans flinch and some even cringe whenever he described the Presidential Inauguration ceremony of December 30, 2007, as a supremely dignified event held on practically hallowed ground.

Thinking Kenyans know different and with abundant good reason.

To begin with, not only was President Mwai Kibaki's second Inauguration as different from his first one on the same date exactly five years previously to the day (but not the hour!) as midnight is from midday, it was actually the trigger of the post-election violence (PEV).

The 2007 inaugural was held at dusk in protected premises, State House, where unsanctioned photography is prohibited even from across the road.

Although it was televised live, the only witnesses to Kibaki's second and final swearing-in ceremony were carefully selected invited guests from only one side of the political equation and a few foreign envoys. The hurried and last-minute nature of this ceremonial was woefully apparent to the trained eye, including the spectacle of State House staffers being dragooned into filling the too many empty seats meant for invited guests who changed their minds and skipped the event.

UNILATERAL INAUGURAL

Unlike all other Presidential inaugurals except one, this one had no foreign heads of states and governments, not even from a neighboring eastern Africa state, it had no military guard of honour, no Armed Forces brass band, no fly-past salute by the Kenya Air Force (only one other inauguration in Kenya lacked an Air Force salute and it, too, was held hurriedly and at State House, which all aircraft except the Presidential helicopter flight are forbidden to overfly, more about that in a moment) and no carefully prepared Inaugural Address complete with memorable quotable quotes.

Thus, although it was televised and broadcast live on radio nationwide and attended by a smattering of bemused foreign envoys and all the President's men and women, the second Kibaki inaugural had a furtive air about it that was undeniable even by his most ardent supporters.

To the opposition massed behind Raila Odinga, who had taken the Presidential contest to a near-photo finish in which both he and Kibaki garnered a minimum of five million votes each, the swearing-in at dawn, without the public or foreign heads of state and government in attendance, smacked instantaneously and suspiciously of a unilateralist and exclusionary take-it-or-leave-it power grab.

KIBAKI'S FIRST COMING

Compare Kibaki's second coming to his triumphal and euphoric first one exactly five years previously. On that occasion the iconic Uhuru Park was filled to the horizon by Kenya's largest-ever public gathering and the Presidential dais was packed with foreign dignitaries, including Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela's wife, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and the entire complement of the Diplomatic Corps. It was a standing-room-only affair, writ on a scale larger than any stadium in the world could hold.

An Armed Forces guard of honour and brass band found itself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with ecstatic, constantly cheering and heaving wananchi under a sweltering sun. It was a wonder that no soldier or bandsman fainted during the long hours of a euphoric ceremony that dragged on until 4pm.

When Kibaki delivered his first Inaugural address, in a wheelchair, with neck brace and one arm and leg in plaster, it was a soaring speech full of regime-change passion and dynamics, including the pledge to give zero tolerance to corruption. It was not a magnanimous speech; Kibaki did not name his successor once or thank him, he only tore into his record. He would never make another speech like that one, and certainly not on the early evening of December 30, 2007.

Kibaki's second coming should not even merit mention in the same sentence and the same breath as his first coming. But could such an inauguration fiasco happen again? Those who do not learn from history are indeed doomed to repeating the worst of it. The 2007 ceremony was not the first time that a Presidential inauguration had been held in an almighty rush, in protected premises with the Kenyan public (read the electorate) pointedly disinvited and without the Air Force salute.

THE FIRST CLOSED INAUGURATION

It is now almost forgotten that the first multiparty General Election in a generation, the 1992 event, which involved massive pre-election violence, including evictions of sections of populations, was capped by Kenya's first fait accompli Presidential inauguration. On January 3, 1993, Kenyans woke to a live televised event from State House that had not been announced either the day before, overnight or in the early morning.

Comptroller of State Houses Franklin Bett (today's Minister for Roads on the ODM side of the Grand Coalition) and his staffers as well as the Presidential protocol people at the Office of the President (OP) at Harambee House worked literally overnight on the night and very early morning of January 2, dispatching invitation cards quickly followed by direct telephone calls to the Diplomatic Corps, selected captains of industry, academics, other professionals and other assorted Kanu-friendly worthies.

The decision to swear Moi in at State House was taken following intelligence reports emanating from Kanu Headquarters at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (the selfsame KICC of 2007 infamy) to the effect that Opposition leaders and Presidential contest losers Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba, Kibaki and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga were on their way to the High Court to petition a not-unfriendly vacation duty judge to stop the Presidential Inauguration, a prospect which Kanu viewed as being expressly engineered to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

In place at Kanu HQ at that time were Cabinet minister Joseph Kamotho as Secretary General, Ambassador Japheth Kiti as the National Executive Officer and trade unionist Johnstone Mwandawiro as Deputy National Executive Officer.

At Nation Centre, Group Managing Editor Wangethi Mwangi, the editorial head of Kenya's and the eastern African region's largest media house, was seated in his office with his large TV set on, the volume low, but he was not paying it much attention as he perused that day's newspapers. When his gaze finally focused on the screen, tuned to State broadcaster KBC, it slowly dawned on him that he was watching a significant State function, happening at State House, Nairobi, and it was not file footage but streaming live. And it looked like, yes, a Presidential inauguration!

Rushing into the newsroom and calling for the photographic editor, Mwangi was stunned to hear that his top photographer, Sam Ouma, was already at State House and had been for a while, as indeed were other press photographers, unbeknownst to their news editors or other higher authorities. In those pre-mobile phone days, Bett and the OP protocol people had somehow reached selected reporters and photographers overnight, promising them the scoop of their careers up to that point in time.

The spectacle of top editors and their staff watching the first Presidential inauguration of the multiparty era, a completely unannounced event, on State TV, their mouths agape, ought to have been a stand-alone major news item on its own.

Moi had already enjoyed three full-fledged and very public Presidential inaugurations (1979, 1983 and 1989) at Uhuru Park, Naiobi, with complete military honours and impressive attendance by other heads of state and government. But he went for the stealth version for his first multiparty era inaugural. However, rushed and exclusionary as it was, Moi's State House inaugural lacked only foreign heads of state and government and the Air Force salute.

SEEDS OF DISASTER

In a very significant sense, the seeds of the 2007 inauguration disaster were sowed exactly five years previously to the day, when the incoming National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) practically ejected President Moi from State House. It was Raila's idea that the country not wait until very early January for Moi to vacate State House and Kibaki to move in, delivered repeatedly and laced with threats of a million-man march on the House on the Hill if Moi did not promptly pack up and go.

There was no shortage of extremely bad blood between the defeated Kanu and a finally united and triumphant Opposition. Moi had been in power so long - 24 years, just a year short of a complete human generation - and had been such a schemer for all that period, outwitting everyone, thwarting and demoting many (Kibaki included), jailing some without trial (Raila included), heading up a regime that was corrupt, brutal, arrogant to the point of hubris, that the Opposition were bristling with impatience in wanting to see his broad back recede over the power horizon and his fingers finally off the levers of the Republic.

Indeed, it did not matter a whit that Moi, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, had gone through an elaborate Farewell to the Chief ceremony at the Lang'ata Barracks just before the election. Every second he spent at State House was a minute too long and the victorious Opposition, now the Government-designate, could not put it beyond him to pull one last fast one, even if it plunged the country into crisis and tore the nation's delicate fabric.

These two dire prospects did not happen under Moi's final days at State House however, instead they lurked in wait for the end of Kibaki's first term. The suspicions that attended Moi's exit were as nothing compared to the suspicions surrounding the end of Kibaki's first term five years later, so thick was the atmosphere that you could slice it with a butter knife, or, as was soon and massively the case, a bloodstained machete.

The 2007 General Election was Kenya's largest ever national electoral event, far outstripping the euphoric felling of Kanu a mere 60 months previously. Just look at the numbers - on the late afternoon of December 30, 2007, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced Presidential election results in which both Kibaki and Raila each almost exceeded the total number of votes, 5.4 million, garnered by both Kibaki and Uhuru in 2002.

Kibaki's margin of victory was so narrow and Raila's sense of grievance as somehow having been robbed of victory so acute that calmer and more rational presidential advisers would have counseled a more inclusive, much more public and truly dignified Inauguration, complete with a carefully crafted speech that sought to address the disputed result and the various ways forward, and timed for early January.

The problem was that there was, literally, no time whatsoever to organize this. Now it may well be that certain key political advisers pushed the situation, through strategic procrastination, in this direction, ensuring that there was no time left. Precisely because of Raila's own strategic insistence five years before that Moi leave State House and the levers of power early and almost unceremoniously, there would have been a constitutional crisis on the stroke of midnight on December 30-31, 2007.

At a minute past midnight, Kibaki's first full five-year term was set to expire. In an atmosphere so pregnant with chaos, following ODM's strenuous disputing of the Presidential election results as announced by the ECK, a section of the Armed Forces could willfully misinterpret the situation (or interpret it all too correctly) and reach the convenient conclusion that there being neither President nor Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kenya duly in office as of December 31, 2007, an intolerable power vacuum was in place and a National Redemption Council based at the Department of Defence (DoD) was therefore stepping into the breach.

It would have been the most seamlessly effortless overturning of the constitutional order and, many would argue and agree, a much worse prospect than the PEV.

FULL-FLEDGED INAUGURALS

The greatest lesson of the disputed 2007 Presidential results ought to be that the formbook for Presidential Inauguration should be re-written. Kenya must not suffer the polarizing prospect of a third Presidential inaugural that disinvites the public, the region and the world. Presidential inaugurals must never again be held at State House or other restricted, protected and exclusionary State premises, except perhaps in times of war or other extraordinary national calamity, for instance the sudden death of an incumbent and many members of the Cabinet, including the line of succession, for whatever reason.

Presidential elections losers and the opposition generally must be invited guests at all future inaugurals, beginning with the next one. Inclusiveness, not a winner-take-all exclusiveness, must become the order of the day at these democratic transition events.

What's more, a decent interval between the exit from State House of an outgoing incumbent and the inauguration of the incoming President must become the norm and the tradition. In America the President is elected on November 4 and sworn into office on January 20, whether incumbent or incoming.

The spectacle of Kenya's two shame-faced and stealth Presidential inaugurations, the second one of which led directly to disaster, should stand as a strong warning and deterrent for the format of all future inaugurals, beginning with the 2012 event, which will cap an election that is much bigger in scope, stakes and numbers than the last two euphoric events put together.

Saying that a new constitutional order is in place is hardly enough. As these two stealth events clearly illustrated, political strategists can create the conditions of apparent crisis to justify a non-public inauguration at the drop of a hat. Fully public, full-fledged, fully-loaded Presidential inaugurals must become Kenya's transition tradition as firmly as they are in more mature democracies.

And this is why the two mechanisms created by the new Constitution - the Assumption of the Office of President Bill, 2012 and the special team to be headed by the Secretary to the Cabinet to oversee a smooth transfer of power - are so critically important.

But there are complaints emanating from civil society and soon to reach the political sector and constitute yet another of the seemingly endless flashpoints of passionate public debate that generate more heat than light and debase our national discourse. Civil society activists are warning that that 11 of the 13 committee members are drawn from one ethnic region.

As things stand now, the prospective members of the Assumption of the Office of President Committee are Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia; General Julius Karangi, the Head of the Kenya Defence Forces; Major General (Rtd) Michael Gichangi, the Director-General of the National Security Intelligence Service; CID Director Ndegwa Muhoro; Commissioner of Police Mathew Iteere; Attorney-General Githu Muigai; PSs in the ministries of Internal Security (Mutea Iringo), Finance (Joseph Kinyua), Foreign Affairs (Thuita Mwangi), Information and Communication (Bitange Ndemo) and Constitutional Affairs (Gichira Kibara).

The Comptroller of State Houses, the Clerk of the National Assembly (Patrick Gichohi) and Chief Registrar of the Judiciary (Gladys Boss Shollei) complete the 13-officials team.

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