The American diplomatic cables that give a comprehensive profile of Kenyan politicians and offer vivid details of their thoughts about each other are likely to shape next year’s presidential campaigns and may play a significant role in emerging political alliances.
The timing of the cables, with about 14 months to go before the 2012 presidential race, could not have been worse for the key candidates.
The dispatches are part of a collection of 250,000 released by whistle-blowing agency WikiLeaks.
The ones relating to Kenya offer a record of US ambassadors being brutally honest in their assessment of virtually every member of the political elite with an eye on the presidency.
They also give one of the most comprehensive records of President Kibaki’s time in office, material that scholars and political observers could rely on in analysing his legacy.
United States International University professor Macharia Munene says the biggest value of the WikiLeaks revelations was that Kenyans were getting to know candid views on their leaders before the traditional 25-30 year period when some of the cables would have been released to the public.
“The judgements of the Americans in Nairobi and the views they passed on to their superiors would eventually have been revealed but the key difference is that Kenyans are learning about them before declassification,” he said.
Dr Joshua Kivuva of the University of Nairobi says the cables leave all the main politicians with the formidable task of repairing their image.
He says some of the accusations in the cables lend authority to rumours that have long circulated on the political grapevine and could be used as fodder for attacks on political opponents in 2012.
But he said the impact of the revelations may be countered by the entrenched ethnic and political interests that are key dynamics in presidential politics.
“The material is good because it has demystified many of the leading politicians. But we are so polarised that some of the key alignments have already taken shape and are rigid.
“What these revelations will do is give ammunition to the politicians and those with the best communication strategy will win. It will be a question of blowing up accusations against others while downplaying those against your friends.”
The Sunday Nation has obtained thousands of the cables that relate to the region, a collection that illuminates the Americans’ view of leading politicians and records government officials’ assessments of their rivals and partners. These are some of the key assessments and their possible impact on local politics.
The Head of State receives one of the most complex and nuanced analyses by US diplomats. The picture that emerges is of a politician who is a bundle of contradictions. He is, they report, astute, healthy and engaged and is lively and well briefed during one-on-one meetings.
But Mr Kibaki at the same time surrenders most of his powers to aides, with one cable describing Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura as the government’s “shadow president”.
The cables say Mr Kibaki is surprisingly image-conscious in contrast to the laid-back technocrat many Kenyans are familiar with.
In one cable, US ambassador Michael Ranneberger describes a meeting he held with Mr Muthaura to press for action on the reform agenda.
“During the course of a long and candid discussion, I challenged Muthaura on most of these points with the bottom-line being that if things are going on in the reform process as Muthaura alleges then this needs to be explained to the Kenyan people. That was a point that Muthaura took, admitting that the coalition government has done a terrible job of presenting its accomplishments, and the challenges it faces, to the Kenyan people. (Interesting) and probably coincidentally – Kibaki subsequently began a systematic tour of the entire country intended to lay out what the coalition government is doing, including how it is addressing the impact of the global economic crisis.)”
The biggest blot on President Kibaki’s record that emerges from the cables is the assertion that he is cautious in his support of comprehensive reforms and that he is unenthusiastic about the war on corruption.
Diplomats repeatedly note that he was reluctant to act on some of the most notoriously corrupt members of the government in his first term and, in the assessment of former ambassador William Bellamy, he feigned ignorance of the problem.
The cables also allege members of his family were involved in the maize scandal, the biggest corruption scandal in the early years of the coalition.
It may also be noted in records of the President’s legacy that Mr Kibaki is partly to blame for the problems besetting the coalition, due to his reluctance to allow Prime Minister Raila Odinga sufficient power to exercise his authority.
In one cable, Mr Ranneberger notes: “Kibaki and those around him have not fully supported Odinga’s authority as Prime Minister ‘to supervise and coordinate the functions of government.’
Early on Odinga moved assertively and rapidly — with Kibaki’s tacit approval — to stake out his interpretation of his authority, focusing largely on influencing economic and social policy.
“(Later) Kibaki moved steadily to reclaim and reassert his presidential prerogatives; for example, almost unilaterally appointing and firing civil service, parastatal, and judicial officials… One glaring example of Odinga’s lack of authority is that he formally accepted the US offer of FBI assistance to investigate the murders of the human rights activists but we subsequently received a letter from the Foreign Minister, a PNU minister, formally rejecting the offer.”
The PM will not be happy with the profile that emerges from the dispatches of embassy officials in Nairobi to Washington. Mr Odinga receives praise for acting as a statesman in agreeing to join the coalition, despite considerable pressure from his allies.
Diplomats also praise him for accepting to the April 2007 Cabinet appointments which eased public anxiety that the coalition could collapse only two months after it was formed. This was despite the fact President Kibaki refused to yield some of the key ministries he demanded, as noted in a cable describing the talks.
“On April 12 Odinga and Kibaki flew to a presidential retreat for a private one-on-one discussion. The two met without having informed their teams of their plans, and without having consulted them about the final compromises to be made. Odinga pressed Kibaki hard, but Kibaki was unwilling to give up additional ministries beyond Local Government. Odinga accepted the deal, and it was announced by Kibaki on April 13.”
The rest of the descriptions of Mr Odinga are mostly negative. The PM, who has cultivated a reputation as a change agent, is said to be unwilling to tackle corruption among his allies and family members.
The cables claim that members of his family were involved in the maize scandal and say he is “part of an elite” that has governed the country for four decades.
Mr Odinga is also criticised for running what Mr Ranneberger says is an office which is described by both friend and foe as disorganised and inefficient.
“Odinga got off to a good start,” one cable says, “but his failure to come to grips with corruption and the incompetence of his immediate staff, to enforce discipline within his own ODM ranks, and to gain control of key portfolios has weakened his position vis-à-vis Kibaki.”
In another cable describing why Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta may mount a serious presidential bid, Mr Ranneberger says: “Odinga is increasingly perceived as feckless, unable or unwilling to govern effectively and move forward the reform agenda. There is growing disillusionment within his camp (as conveyed by key interlocutors of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, ODM, party to the Ambassador).”
But the assessment ends on a positive note of Mr Odinga’s chances, saying it would be unwise to count him out and noting his capacity to recover from setbacks.
“Odinga’s being seen as in a weakened position may be wishful thinking given his political resilience and the fact that he could yet emerge as a reformer, but he has clearly lost significant popular support.”
No politician is described in less flattering terms in the cables than Mr Musyoka. In an assessment of his chances leading up to the 2007 elections, Mr Ranneberger offers an unusually personal assessment of the ODM-Kenya leader.
“Though Musyoka presents himself as a born-again Christian with the purest of political intentions, keen observers see Musyoka as largely an opportunist interested primarily in advancing his political ambitions… Though Musyoka is polished and glib, some astute observers consider him an intellectual lightweight. Thus far he has not presented a credible national political agenda.”
The VP has dismissed the cable as a work of fiction and the result of a “very creative mind.”
But while Mr Musyoka may not be hurt politically by the ambassador’s assessment, the bigger challenge will be repairing relations with President Kibaki, whose health he describes unflatteringly in the cables.
This is because Mr Musyoka tells the Americans he believes his best chance of getting to State House in 2012 is by winning Kikuyu support.
Despite the blow that appears to have been struck at his ambitions, Dr Kivuva says the impact will only be temporary since political alignments are already in place and it is unlikely that any of Mr Musyoka’s allies will switch their support to ODM.
Mr Ruto is not a popular figure with the Americans. They describe him as an obstacle to reform and a figure they claim was involved in the post-election violence.
In a meeting with Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, National Security Council Senior Director for Africa Michelle Gavin and Mr Ranneberger, Mr Ruto emerges as the only politician who told the US off in a direct meeting after they asked him to support reforms.
He is quoted as saying the Waki report is “rubbish” and “unfairly incriminating” and is “non-committal” on other reforms.
The key worry for Mr Ruto will be what impact the WikiLeaks revelations will have on the alliance the cables say he has forged with Mr Kenyatta. US diplomats say President Kibaki was determined not to include him in the Cabinet and also say he had a role in the 2007/8 post-election crisis, during which Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta and by extension their communities were on opposite sides.
Mr Kenyatta receives a mixed assessment by embassy officials. He is described as having “several major strengths” that are balanced and potentially offset by important weaknesses. “Kenyatta is bright and charming, even charismatic. He is enormously wealthy, and therefore has not had to engage in corruption... Kenyatta’s liabilities are at least as important as his strengths.
He drinks too much and is not a hard worker (though he surprised everyone by the acuity of the budget, which reportedly resulted from some tough work over long hours).”
The cables say Musalia Mudavadi, the PM’s presumed running mate in 2012 was “implicated in the Goldenberg scandal after succeeding Saitoti as Minister of Finance in the mid-1990s.”
Mr Mudavadi has brushed aside those claims, saying he was cleared by the Bosire commission of inquiry. Dr Kosgei is also quoted in the cables saying he lacks the “energy and money” to mount a serious presidential run.
One of those who come out well in the cables is Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua. The cables say she resigned after being “sidelined for (her) outspoken nature and tendency to fight battles publicly.
“Karua, who is one of the more honest and intelligent members of the political elite, is an activist genuinely committed to reform, so her absence from the Cabinet contributes to even less action on reform.” The cables say she is incorruptible and honest, although the envoys claim that she has a temper and a big ego.
Dr Kosgei offered the Americans one of the most candid assessments of her cabinet colleagues.
The key challenge for the minister will be what her view of Mr Ruto as being one of the key anti-reformists in the Cabinet will have on her new alliance with the Eldoret North MP.