Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why Uhuru-Ruto coalition may be the worst thing that could happen to Kenya

By KIBIWOTT KURGAT

If recent newspaper accounts are to be believed, Uhuru Kenyatta of The National Alliance (TNA) and William Ruto of the United Republican Party (URP) will lead a coalition of leaders from several regions as presidential candidate and running mate, respectively, at the next General Election on March 4.

All that remains, apparently, is a formal signing of a pre-election agreement on November 20, bringing together the two alongside Mrs Charity Ngilu (Narc), Mr Eugene Wamalwa (New Ford Kenya) and Mr Najib Balala (Republican Congress Party) before the coalition embarks on a nationwide round of campaign rallies.

The determination of this emerging coalition to form the next government is an open invitation for Kenyan voters to begin to confront squarely the implications of a victory for Uhuru and Ruto, who face serious criminal charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Contrary to the stance taken by the two candidates, Kenya simply cannot wish away the ICC cases or the likely impact on the country’s domestic performance and relations with the world.

Hours after the defiant pair’s open-top ride into State House, the diplomatic reverberations of the collective vote of no confidence in Kenya will shake the very foundations of our country.

The promise of a country that prides itself as one of the four economic pillars of Africa — the others being Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa — will wither before our very eyes.

The trillion-shilling plans to finance Africa’s largest infrastructure project to serve South Sudan and Ethiopia will likely run aground.

Which is why some in the Uhuru-Ruto camp have claimed that once in office, the Kenyan Constitution entitles the two to immunity from prosecution on the ICC cases while they remain in office.

This could not be further from the truth. As a signatory to the Rome Statute, Kenya will be under obligation to meet the terms of the ICC, which the accused are well aware of.

Any attempt at circumventing the law would drag the country the way Omar Al-Bashir has done to Sudan; a pariah state that exists perilously on the fringes of the international scene.

Under the diplomatic cloud that would follow, it is not difficult to fathom another attempt to prise Unep out of Nairobi.

It is well known that Germany, France and South Africa have previously been linked to offers to host this key agency, but Kenya has so far had the international goodwill on its side.

The very thought of this should worry many businesses anchored around the UN agency — including property owners — and its hundreds of local employees. Kenyans might not know this, but the UN establishment in Gigiri is one of Kenya’s main sources of foreign currency, perhaps as important as tea or coffee.

Voters have a right to know early enough that should Kenya confront the international community in the manner suggested by the coalition, it will suffer this and other economic and diplomatic consequences.

If the coalition has any plan to counter the economic disruptions that will follow, this has yet to be articulated.

What is clear is that the loss of Western goodwill would lead directly to cutbacks in international financing for important sectors such as infrastructure, health and currency stabilisation, leading to economic turmoil.

It is a situation reminiscent of a period Kenyans would like to forget in a hurry, the aftermath of the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008. Within months, the economic meltdown caused by lost production, slump in tourism and a halt in investment inflows reversed GDP growth into negative territory, a trend that Kenya is only now recovering from.

Reaching out to Tanzania and Burundi for diplomatic support, as the coalition leaders have done in recent weeks, would appear to suggest that they do not appreciate the sheer magnitude of Kenya’s predicament under an Uhuru-Ruto leadership.

Whether or not similar visits planned for Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda go ahead is neither here nor there. Voters are therefore called upon to balance the right of the ICC pair to run for office against the overriding interests of 40 million Kenyans.

Prof Kurgat teaches English and Communication at the United States International University, Nairobi.