16 February 2013

Kenya: Papal Resignation and a Comedian Contender


"In today's world...in order to govern...both strength of mind and body are necessary...I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me," proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI's as he renounced the papacy on February 11, 2013.

With that he left many Catholics stunned, but also carried with him the profound respect to the rest of us who are not practising Catholics.

As a point of governance, Pope Benedict's ability and capacity to judiciously introspect and critically self-interrogate are clearly rare; as showcased via the debate between Kenyan presidential candidates on February 11, 2013.

One question sharply provided us with the platform to make this assessment: the question required a "clear plan" on how Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta proposed to run the country while still attend his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) where he will be required to personally be present for at least the next two years. All one can say is that we are still waiting for the articulation of the "clear plan" requested; like we still await a woman Pope.

Critically, it is each Kenyan's analysis of the answer - or lack of it - to this question that will either liberate Kenya or keep it imprisoned in the dark dungeons of impunity; much as Uhuru weaved and bobbed with the cunning of Muhammed Ali when asked this question (resulting in no-answer), the inevitable conclusion surely is that Kenya will be damned if he is elected to the presidency. This is the invariable and sobering conclusion drawn through the keen exercise of this question with the mind rather than the heart (which we learn from musician El Debarge is not so smart).

Here's why: If Uhuru is popularly elected the fourth Kenyan president, he will still have to go to Den Haag to attend his trial at the ICC. He will have a big decision to make: cooperate or refuse to do so. Should he cooperate, then he will spend the majority of at least the next two years at The Hague. So how will he run the government? Jokes aside: Skype, Face book, twitter and the internet, etcetera, are not an option.

This was why one leading cartoonist portrayed the ICC as the menacing elephant in the room with respect to these presidential elections. There are clear and concrete fears that the election of UhuRuto to the presidency of Kenya will lead them to argue that they consequently enjoy the sovereign immunity due to a head of state and his or her representatives under the Geneva Conventions and that this supersedes the enforcement of the Rome Statute. This would definitely lead to a warrant of arrest issuing against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto for non-cooperation; and it should be clear from the case of Sudan's Omar Al Bashir that this is not a desirable national outcome for Kenyans from these elections.

So there: Kenya is damned in the event of full cooperation by Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto - with them transforming from the coalition of the accused to the coalition of the absentees. On the other hand, in the event of non-cooperation, Kenya will certainly become an international pariah...another positively undesirable outcome.

Both ways, and only precipitated by the Jubilee coalition ticket, present a certified, shooed-in disaster for Kenya. And these are not the only consequences: evaluations of the possibility of an UhuRuto presidency indicate that, in the event of non-cooperation and, hence, the attainment of international pariah status, they would need to systematically undermine all rule-of -law institutions so as to enhance their chances of success to escape the warrants of arrest that would certainly ensue from non-cooperation. And in the context of the critical need to fully implement the 2010 constitution of Kenya, this would be simply calamitous.

Outside the ICC question, the other candidates also displayed both acumen on the one hand or incompetence on the other in their responses to questions around other forbidding national concerns. For instance, Raila Odinga's stumbling and fumbling on questions of corruption and financial waste made him, in this area, a monumental blunderbuss.

Each candidate had their moment, even the near invisible Musalia Mudavadi was seen by some commentators as a steady of safe pair of hands: problem is - this only further messes up with his metaphor of being the new Lionel Messi of Kenyan politics. The reason here is simple: the real Messi will never be associated with the use of his hands in his footballing articulation of the beautiful game: this metaphor only aptly settles on predominant football goalkeepers such as German's Oliver Kahn.

Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua and Paul Muite generally gave, in my view, very excellent accounts of themselves during the debate. The one area requiring more of their attention, on review of all the answers, is the area of security sector reforms. Here, a background reading of the October 2009 Report of the National Task Force on Police Reforms (the Ransley Report) would have illuminated the content of their respective answers.

However, it was the refreshingly comical performance of Abduba Dida that towered above the rest; this by a 39-year-old former Lenana High School teacher who was also the only Muslim in the competition. Outside the levity provided by the delivery of his statements, Dida introduced genuinely brutal freshness to the debate and a close examination of his responses unearths profound nuggets of wisdom. "It is a well-known legal principle that public officers facing crimes should step aside for investigations and return after they are cleared. Why is it different for Uhuru and his friends?" Dida posed with regard to the UhuRuto ticket as correlated to the ICC question. He added, "justice is justice and it doesn't matter whether it is delivered in Europe, Kibera or Tanzania. You can only question it if you want to compromise the process." Profound!

However, it was his view of Kenyan "eating" habits that should perhaps provide a new philosophy with regard to corruption; of which "eating" is the metaphor: "If you want to be healthy, eat only when you are hungry." No?

Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.

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