Alternative voices needed to push for national dialogue

Tuesday February 13 2018

Robert Godec

US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec with other envoys addressing journalists at the Bomas of Kenya in October 2017. The western envoys have dismissed Mr Odinga’s mock oath of office, notably borrowing the Jubilee depiction of the action as illegal, and, therefore, open to criminal proceedings. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUO 

By Macharia Gaitho
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That opposition leader Raila Odinga is today angrily telling Western diplomats to stop meddling in Kenyan politics is a perfect illustration of how far the circle has turned.

Throughout a lifetime fighting for democracy and human rights, Mr Odinga has greatly depended on the West for succour and support.

From the beginning of the early 1990s struggle against President Daniel arap Moi’s one-party Kanu dictatorship, Kenya’s democracy, human rights and anti-corruption campaigns have relied on strong backing from Western diplomats.

HEMPSTONE

The pioneer ‘meddler’ was the irascible American ‘Rogue Ambassador’ Smith Hemsptone, onto a succession of like-minded envoys, including his countryman, Michael Ranneberger, Niels Dahl of Norway, Bernd Mutzelberg, of Germany and Britain’s Edward Clay.

Ahead of the 2013 elections, Western countries were united in opposition to the Jubilee alliance presidential ticket of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were then facing charges before the International Criminal Court out of their alleged roles in the 2007-2008 post-election butchery.

WESTERN INTERVENTION

The Odinga-Kalonzo Musyoka Cord campaign ticket was quite happy to suck up to Western intervention, lobbying hard to get the Jubilee duo ostracised.

When Jubilee won, President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto were, indeed, treated as pariahs by the West.

They responded by playing the nationalistic and sovereignty card, dismissing the Western powers as meddlers, reviving the Moi-era rhetoric against neo-colonialism, and accelerating the ‘Look East’ foreign policy started by President Mwai Kibaki.

Once the ICC cases collapsed midway through the Jubilee first term, Western countries abandoned the isolation of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto.

When US President Barack Obama made his long-awaited ‘homecoming’ visit in 2015, he openly embraced President Kenyatta’s leadership, but shunned Mr Odinga and other opposition leaders.

WAKE-UP CALL

This visit should have been rude wake-up call from a leader whom Mr Odinga had always claimed to enjoy a special relationship.

He should probably have gotten a hint the previous year when he spent a lengthy sojourn on a US lecture tour.

He missed the point that he was on a programme specifically designed for retired African leaders, who the US State Department thought needed to be kept busy so they don’t get up to mischief.

SUSTAINED PRESSURE

The statement released on Saturday by Western envoys in Nairobi was the outcome of sustained pressure fronted by US Ambassador Robert Godec, British High Commissioner Nic Hailey and German Ambassador Jutta Frasch from the moment Mr Odinga’s National Super Alliance announced it was boycotting the repeat presidential election of last October 26.

That was when the Western bloc lost patience with Nasa and abandoned all pretence at neutrality.

Key to their position was that Mr Odinga could not offer any compelling reason to reject the repeat poll after he secured a historic Supreme Court annulment of the August 8 election.

The Western envoys have put it clearly that they recognise the election of President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto.

RAILA OATH DISMISSED

They also dismiss Mr Odinga’s mock oath of office, notably borrowing the Jubilee depiction of the action as illegal, and, therefore, open to criminal proceedings.

A big message out there is that any continuing push for dialogue and reforms will not be founded on Mr Odinga’s quest for electoral justice.

As long as the opposition refuses to accept this basic reality and pushes hopeless demands for yet another election, they have lost it.

A downside is that the initiatives aimed at addressing the critical issues that invariably lead to ethnic-political violence will likely be buried.

There is real and present danger that President Kenyatta will be emboldened to pursue even more aggressively the dictatorial campaign criminalising all forms of dissent, especially in harassing and arresting opposition leaders, and silencing media and civil society. He has the seal of approval from the west!

Finally, we have an opposition absconding watchdog duties in Parliament, thus giving Jubilee a free rein to pass repressive laws, neuter independent oversight bodies, and appoint known thieves and thugs to the Cabinet.

There has never been a better time for alternative voices to emerge and lead the push for a national dialogue not tied to the Kenyatta-Odinga dynastic feud.

 

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho