2 February 2016

Kenya: In Politics, There Are Are No Permanent Friends or Enemies


The Hague trials have proved more than ever to be what we have been told again and again but refused to learn: that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. "Permanent interests" in this case simply means - you scratch my back or groin, I scratch yours - we tame the itch and stop fidgeting.

Friendship is a difficult thing to maintain even among the closest of families. Friends are hard to come by, so hard to keep and at times even so hard to get rid of. Not in politics though. Here, friendships are as easy as ABC. You can change them like underwear without having a bath and it is just okay.

Politics is a dangerous and dirty game, and truth is not necessarily fair game. Someone can kill your mother today, but after the burial the person joins your political party and you become the best of friends. This kind of political friendship does not require any standard of proof or evidence beyond any reasonable doubt. It does not care what the rest of the family or bereaved think or feel, as long as you both stand to gain from the friendship. That is "permanent interests" for you.

No case to answer

From the beginning to the current precarious leg of the ICC trials, no one knows for sure what the judges will come up with at the end of the just concluded "no case to answer" recession. No one knows for sure if the judges will accept the ICC prosecutor's submissions that the two accused - Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang - have a case to answer. But what one can vouch for is that "permanent interests" is the ugali (corn meal pasta) with which politics is eaten.

A snake is known by its skin. Even if it crawls out of its skin, it still remains a snake. It can wish to be another animal, cover itself with grass, fly like a bird or jump like a frog, but it's rattling or hissing nature will always betray it.

At this point, matters of those who wish well for the accused and the opportunistic people around come into play. Who really are the friends of the accused?

Kikulacho kinguoni mwako

There is a popular adage among Swahili speakers in East Africa that says "kikulacho kinguoni mwako" (he who harms you is the person closest to you or literally that which eats you up is in your clothing). For instance, a lot has been said about the true intentions of some of the politicians around the DP. How quickly will they move on from, for instance, a conviction? On the other hand, some members of the opposition secretly imagine that they will gain from a conviction. Is this plausible? So, who truly means well for the two accused? Should we take what politicians say about the ICC Kenyan cases seriously, since they keep changing with the tide, adapting to the situation with a well-trained political eye? And who suffers in the course of these political games? Is it not ordinary Kenyans?

As the marriage of convenience between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto - endorsed by over six million voters in the 2013 elections- continues to weather The Hague trials storm, observers wait to see how long this marriage will last. Will it continue long after the trials? Will Ruto and Uhuru continue to be sweethearts when the trials end? Will the bond be that close if there is a conviction? Will Uhuru boycott the 2017 presidential elections for his friend Ruto should the ICC convict Ruto, or will he stand down for Ruto to be president so that Ruto saves himself from The Hague as he did himself, allegedly using his political office?

Striking a common bond

Once members of the opposition, no one dared imagine that Ruto and Uhuru would one day be as close as a finger and a ring a.k.a. chanda na pete. But they had permanent interests - to evade The Hague trials, assume the leadership of their country and hold it tight between them so no one can wrest it away from them. After striking a common bond and targeting a common enemy, they rode on sympathy votes and campaigned on the grounds that opposition leader Raila Odinga had fixed them by taking them to The Hague.

They painted the ICC as a common enemy that was persecuting them like Saul on his way to Damascus and emotionally blackmailed their supporters to feel and suffer with them at the foot of the cross. And they cried out loud to the former ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo: "Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?" And the people heard and voted.

One of Ruto's best friends on the scene is Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria. This is the man who allegedly confessed to having fixed him way after Bensouda closed her case. Despite Kuria appearing on the scene like a mourner at a burial with dripping saliva in his eyes and wailing louder than the bereaved, he is now at the forefront of championing Ruto's interests and pushing for the African Union to withdraw from the ICC. Despite his self-incriminating confessions, no one will arrest him because he serves "permanent interests", and they love and trust him because he is that friend who would lay down his life for a brother.

There are other fixers who were mentioned in the trials by none other than Ruto's lawyer Karim Khan. They serve with Ruto in the same government. Again, they remain untouchable because they serve permanent interests.

Bosom buddies

Ruto and Raila were once bosom buddies, Orange Democratic Party Pentagon lieutenants who shared permanent interests before their political dimes flipped. While on the campaign trail, they sang and danced "Bado Mapambano" (the fight for freedom continues) to the late Mbita MP Otieno Kajwang's deep bass and fly-whisk. They wore the same orange T-shirts and spoke the same language. But like married couples whose love turned sour after an intense honeymoon, Raila and Ruto grew apart like water and oil.

Permanent interests have also seen political and religious leaders hold political prayer rallies for the suspects but not for the IDPs, even against the Court's wishes. The political leaders have nothing to gain from the IDPs. If necessary they can stuff ballot boxes and win elections with or without them. But being on the side of the government is important because one stands to gain enormously: political appointments, tenders, etc.

Who knows about tomorrow in this political world of permanent interests? It would not be a surprise to see Ruto, Uhuru and Raila one day eating, joking and laughing together while sitting at the table of brotherhood, long after their supporters have killed each other, created widows, widowers, orphans and refugees and destroyed property worth billions.

What did Machiavelli say in "The Prince" about how to be a dictator? "Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer."

Omwa Ombara is the pseudonym of an international journalist and author.


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