A recurring criticism of President Kibaki has been that he sits on the fence too much; that he is a leader that rarely sticks his neck out or takes a robust position on any issue in the public sphere.
That assessment has not always been fair. It has sometimes been the plaintive cry of a nation that grew used for decades to the heavy hand of an overbearing strongman president.
In the past week, however, Mr Kibaki has been guilty of an abandonment of duty. The nation has gone to war. Hundreds, possibly thousands of troops, have been sent into dangerous, uncharted territory in a conflict in which casualties are inevitable. There is almost no doubt that this is an enterprise that will cost a considerable amount in terms of blood and treasure.
It is a historic deployment of a peacetime army to curb a growing threat to national security. This is not something on which the nation should be addressed solely by the ministers for Internal Security and Defence. This is a situation on which the nation deserves to hear from the Commander-in-Chief of the republic.
Wars are costly, messy affairs. They require considerable sacrifice not just on the part of the military but also from a public that will ultimately foot the bills for the action at the front.
Across the world, it falls to the head of the government to explain the reasons for the war to the public and to rally them to support the cause. This in turn can serve to boost the military’s morale.
When a war goes well, the dividend, in terms of national pride and unity can be immense and can even serve to define a president’s legacy.
Two examples in Africa stand out. On October 6, 1973 Egypt’s Anwar Sadat sent his troops to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula that was under Israeli occupation.
When the action got under way he rallied popular support for the cause explaining it as an attempt to restore national and Arab pride. The success of that military campaign is cited to this day as one of the factors that have accounted for the unity of the Egyptian people through the years.
Closer home, Julius Nyerere is celebrated for the 1979 ouster of the tyrant Idi Amin in a war for which Tanzania had to make immense economic sacrifices but which the President skillfully explained as a just war.
President Kibaki must show similar leadership soon. He should summon a special session of Parliament from where he can explain the decision to send the military into Somalia and ask the public to back the action.
There should also be a vote on the military effort by MPs to satisfy the demands of the constitution. Article 132 (4,e) which demands this is one of the clauses that the security forces opposed in their written response to the draft constitution because they felt it exposes Kenya to attack by tying the nation’s hand in its response to aggression.
But we have seen situations elsewhere where the president has authorised military action then gone back to Parliament later, the most recent being President Obama’s order for US troops to attack Libya without congressional approval.
The legal arguments aside, President Kibaki must play his role and address the people. He does not need to offer inspiration at the level of Winston Churchill’s famous Second World War oratory.
He simply needs to rally the nation behind this historic – and necessary – war effort.