A number of unfolding events, among them the integrity court case that has sucked in five of the main Presidential contenders and former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga's announcement that he has entered the race for State House, are either the latest frenetic sideshows on the winding path to the next Presidency or have far-reaching implications for the advent of Kenya's Fourth Republic.
You know it is Presidential transition time in Kenya when bizarre politics and strategies suddenly break out like a national rash. Kenyans rarely change their presidents. Indeed, the office has changed hands only thrice in 49 years; with Founding President Jomo Kenyatta's death in office in August 1979, when he was promptly succeeded by Vice President Danial arap Moi, and when Moi stepped down 24 years later in December 2002, to be succeeded by one-time Vice President and longest-serving Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki.
Across that same period the USA has changed presidents nine times, one of them, Gerald Ford (August 1974 to January 1976), unelected, and Britain has changed prime ministers 10 times Political wags in Central Kenya are fond of saying that if you were amazed at the manner Daniel arap Moi left State House in 2002 after his marathon 24-year-long stay there, you will be astounded at what Mwai Kibaki will leave in his wake after a two-term 10-year stint.Or, as Americans are so fond of saying, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
A Choice of Two Kikuyu Candidates
No political scientist, and certainly no one in the multimedia punditocracy, could have foreseen, even a year before, a situation in which the Moi era would be capped by a choice of two Kikuyu candidates from the shilling billionaire club, Kibaki and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, son of Founding President Jomo Kenyatta. It is said by those who were present at the event that it was actually Kibaki who, in October 1961, actually proposed the name Uhuru (Swahili for Freedom) for Jomo's first-born son by his third and final wife, Ngina Muhoho Kenyatta, seeing as Independence was just around the corner. Kibaki was a protege and lifelong admirer of Jomo's.
By the time they faced off in 2002 for State House, a place Uhuru used to call home, Kibaki and Uhuru had moved in the same elite circles all of the younger man's life. And yet their Presidential race was a real, almost ideological, contest in which a totally tribe-based and -biased society momentarily forgot itself and campaigned and voted as if the ethnic factor had gone on holiday.
Kenyans are unlikely to be offered such a narrow choice in a Presidential contest for the rest of the 21st Century. Another bizarre-politics event had taken place earlier that year - Raila Amolo Odinga had actually been installed as then ruling party Kanu's Secretary General, displacing Kanu hawk Joseph Kamotho!
Ten years later, with Kibaki outward-bound at State House, Uhuru and Raila are again at centre-stage in another season of truly bizarre politics. The sons, respectively, of Kenya's founding President and founding Vice-President, were this week enjoined in an extraordinary court case filed by a group of activists seeking to block them and three other giants of politics from the race to State House ostensibly on integrity and suitability grounds.
Amazingly, among the petitioners is one Augustino Neto, the man who won the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) nomination for the Ndhiwa Constituency by-election to replace former Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode, who perished in a helicopter crash in June. He won the nomination on the very day that the PM, the VP and the second DPM were enjoined in the integrity case.
Neto is apparently named after António Agostinho Neto, the late leader of the the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the war for independence and Angola's first President (1975-79).
How he fares in Ndhiwa after so vigorously joining hands with a group of people who claim that Raila possesses no academic papers at all, not even primary school, will be intriguing to behold. Indeed, at this rate, a POA or even TNA candidate might well take the seat just to spite Neto! The other two Presidential candidates enjoined in the integrity litigation are Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi. They face allegations of fraud, corruption, abuse of office, nepotism and land grabbing.
The first two accused, Uhuru and Eldoret North MP William Ruto, were sued by the group because they have confirmed crimes-against-humanity cases before the International Criminal Court at The Hague that are scheduled to start barely a month after the March 4, 2013 General Election.The petitioners argue that persons facing such serious charges are ineligible for the Kenyan Presidency under the new Constitution's integrity and suitability laws and rules.
A President Hounded by The Hague
Uhuru and Ruto are clinging to the fact that though the charges against them are indeed confirmed they remain far from proven. There is also the fact that the ICC explicitly allowed them to pursue their interests, including seeking the Presidency and even scheduled the full trials for after the polls. But their political rivals and assorted foes and critics counter-argue that it would be an international shame and disgrace for a President, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of Kenya to be seen to be regularly shuttling to and from a crimes against humanity trial as a confirmed suspect.
An even bigger upset and threat to the Kenyan nation brand itself among the community of nations would be for a President Uhuru or a President Ruto to actually be convicted by the ICC and handed a custodial sentence.
What then?Until recently, Raila was sitting pretty, even occasionally throwing a barb or two in Uhuru and Ruto's direction, heavily implying that considering the seriousness of the charges against them - which include murder, mass rape and expulsion of populations - they belong behind bars until cleared, not in a Presidential race starting line. However, the charges brought against the PM by the activists also include an alleged role in the PEV and otherwise seek to paint him in a very bad light over a very long period indeed. The activists also seek to rope in Mudavadi as an instigator of the PEV in his then capacity of Deputy Leader of ODM.
Of the five, only Kalonzo is not accused of a role in the PEV.
None of the Presidential contenders relishes being in court under the new and fast-evolving Judiciary this near to the highest-stakes Presidential election in Kenya yet. It is an assertive Judiciary whose judges are clearly no respecters of the wielders of political power and influence in the old deferential, even sycophantic and fawning, tradition of Kenya's court system.
The candidates and their handlers are well aware that anything can happen. What's more, they are all too aware of the energies, resources and time that this kind of unprecedented litigation taking place under this kind of still evolving Judiciary can drain away from their own efforts as contenders in the campaign for the Mother of All Presidential Elections, the Kibaki Succession poll scheduled for March 4.
The cases are going to be a major test for Supreme Court President and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, whose reforms, processes and new ways of doing things remain an unknown quantity. The Judiciary has its own issues; Mutunga's Deputy President and CJ, Nancy Baraza, recently suffered a massibve setback, being adjudged by a Presidential tribunal to be unfit to head the Judiciary, arising from her conduct during and after the Village Market affair.
Mutunga and the Bench that he leads are going to require wisdom-of-Solomon jurisprudential prowess to decide on these five extraordinary cases, decide on time and decide comprehensively. And whatever the courts decide will be epochal. If the Mutunga Court clears the PM but disbars The Hague duo, there will be an almighty rumpus. It will be called the revenge of the activist-political detainees of the 1980s against the old Kanu elite.
It will suddenly and suspiciously be recalled that the PM was instrumental in getting Mutunga to apply for the job of head of the Supreme Court. If the Court borrows a leaf from the ICC, which reduced its list of the Luis Moreno-Ocampo Kenyan Six to Four and lets Kalonzo and Musalia off the hook, but adds Raila to Uhuru and Ruto, the country could find itself looking instability squarely in the eye once again. And if the Court disqualifies all five, the shock will go completely off the political Richter Scale and reverberate around the world wherever there is a Kenyan.
Only in Kenya!
No other electoral process in recent times has been overtaken by anything remotely resembling what we are seeing unfolding in Kenya today. Nowhere else have the top five Presidential candidates been encumbered with reputation- and career-threatening court cases before a Judiciary packed with judges who are clearly determined to make a point and leave a mark virtually on the eve of the Presidential contest itself.
In the event of a blanket disqualification, Kenyans' scrutiny would finally be turned full-blast on the petitioners themselves. Who, really, are they, and what are they up to besides making history and securing their Warholian 15 minutes of fame? They are completely unknown quantities; it is also likely that they could fail even more rudimentary tests of character, reputation and track record than are prescribed in the new Constitution that they have invoked so massively.
What kind of reforms and what quality of democracy allows such total cyphers, such shadowy characters, really, to attempt to rewrite history at such a sensitive juncture just because they have the amorphous appellation "activist"? If the petitioners were instead, say, John Githongo, Okiya Omtatah, Maurice Odhiambo, President of the National Civil Society Congress, and Gladwell Otieno everyone would know where they are coming from and where they think they are going.
If Mutula bites the bullet and his Supreme Court indeed disqualifies these giants of Kenyan politics all the way to a fast-tracked final appeal, the country will enter uncharted territory. There will be those who salute the CJ for finally effecting such a clean break with the past and breaking the mould of the status quo by virtually seeking to skip a generation of leaders, three of whom - the PM and his DPMs - have distinctly dynastic tendencies.
But the handlers and millions of supporters of these three powerful personalities might not take such a bold move lying down. They could declare that Kenyans deserve better than being given a choice of third-tier "Mickey Mouse" Presidential candidates and even operationalize the little-known device in the new Constitution that requires only a million signatures to effect a constitutional reference and stop the General Election itself since there would be no time whatsoever for a national referendum to decide the matter.
Kenya would descend into constitutional crisis and grid-lock and Kibaki would continue to preside over an unprecdented abeyance. In the Prime Minister's corner, there would be no doubt that the whole thing was little more than the ultimate gambit in the now serial multi-faceted attempts to prevent Raila from stepping into the Presidency after Kibaki that have included, according to his own brother Assistant Finance Minister Oburu Oginga and first cousin Jakoyo Midiwo, MP, earlier this year, a high-level assassination plot.
Conspiracy Theory Time
Mr.Neto obviously got the Ndhiwa nomination as a reward for having put Uhuru and Ruto in their "proper place" - i.e. fighting for their candidature in a court of law before judges who are not as pliable as the Kenyan Bench used to be until very recently indeed. But what happened on the way to "fixing" Uhuru and Ruto that ended up in a dragging in of the PM himself based on allegations that, if even only halfway true, only Intelligence officers or very determined private detectives can come up with?
In the Vice President's corner, conspiracy theorizing is filling the air in late-night counter-strategy meetings. Everything and everyone is suspect. Even the idea that the enlargement of the initial cases against Uhuru and Ruto is a move that is being viewed as actually sponsored by one or two of the frontline Presidential candidates themselves, in a vast conspiracy, as a Samson Option (in the Old Testament Book of Judges, the blinded Samson brings down the temple by toppling two pillars and killing all the Philistine lords within as well as thousands of other people). There is suspicion that someone, somewhere has decided that if they cannot get to lead the Fourth Republic they will take every other viable candidate down with them.
Millions of Kenyans have yet to wrap their minds around what is unfolding and where it is heading. This is a moment of stasis. How would the removal of the five from the State House race impact the fortunes of the minor Presidential candidates, people like Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth, Raphael Tuju and John ole Kiyiapi? Or would the Fallen Five (assuming they indeed fall) be still in a position to pronounce their own "toshas" and bring into play completely new actors and forces?
As suspicion swirls throughout the political sector about where all this is leading, many analysts will be on the lookout for rogue intelligence agents and staged psychological warfare scenarios. There will be many claims and counter-claims; there will be huge allegations; there will be many a twist and a turn, but one thing is for sure: The Kibaki Succession has just entered the bizarre-politics phase.