Sunday, 25 August 2013

Looking East won't end Uhuru's troubles by Makau Mutua

In Things Fall Apart, celebrated author Chinua Achebe “pinched” a line from Irish poet William Butler Yates.
The poem — The Second Coming — contains vintage one-liners that defy time.
Several of them describe President Uhuru Kenyatta’s predicament, and the quandary of his regime. Nowhere is this more poignant than in his “escape” East to counter President Barack Obama’s snub, and his awkward dance with the West.
Mr Kenyatta was declared winner of the March 4 election, but “everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”. The poem says that the “best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
We should ask — “can the centre hold,” or is “mere anarchy loosed upon the world?” Will “things fall apart?”
I chose the poem because it best captures the political – and emotional – turbulence eating at Kenya today.
We’ve never been here before — not even in the darkest days under Kanu’s President Daniel arap Moi. Never before have we been so divided, and devoid of civility. The filthiest epithets easily roll from our native tongues.
MPs openly loot the national purse, and then scornfully ask us mta do? The floodgates open. Every worker and professional follows suit and threatens a strike to pig at the trough.
Terrorists and assorted criminals kill and maim Kenyans with impunity. The lethality and brazen nature of the attacks point to a state under siege. The republic seems completely flummoxed.
At the centre of power — in State House — the fledgling regime looks like deer caught in the headlights. It says it’s implementing a Constitution it doesn’t seem to believe in.
Mr Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto can’t decide what to do with devolution of key functions to the counties. They want to cannibalise county governments, but that’s easier thought than done. Nor do they seem to like the Senate.
The new Cabinet and senior bureaucrats are either fumbling for direction, invisible, or are clueless.
The police chief is at cross-purposes with his civilian overseer. It seems the “falcon cannot hear the falconer”. Is “mere anarchy loosed upon the world”? Who will arrest the downward spiral, and restore sanity?
This brings me to the two elephants in the room and why Mr Kenyatta is running East. Everyone, even the defiant Jubilee crowd, knows the March 4 election left the country deeply divided.
We can’t bury our heads in the sand, or manufacture false unity or consensus that doesn’t exist. Nor can we simply “accept and move on”. This is the attitude that has failed Kenya in the past, and contributed to festering historical wounds.
Let me confess: I will throw up the next time someone tells me to “accept and move on”.
Tribal jingoism is the bane of our existence. So are statements like “tyranny of numbers”. How do we avoid “turning and turning in the widening gyre?”
The second elephant — why Mr Kenyatta is really darting East — is The Hague trials for crimes against humanity.
Don’t let anybody lie to you — Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are spending sleepless nights. They’re using every state lever to make the International Criminal Court go away. But it can’t, and won’t. This is their top priority.
Attorney-General Githu Muigai has been put on the ball. The push to have the African Union stare down the ICC is proof positive. That exercise came a cropper. Nor will any “circumlocutions” at the UN Security Council amount to a hill of beans. It tells you that a regime whose two top leaders are personally beleaguered can’t keep its eyes on the ball.
The dagger to the heart of Mr Kenyatta’s regime was delivered by US President Barack Obama. He snubbed Kenya on his African tour. It’s common knowledge that Mr Obama would have liked to use the American state to lift Kenya. But the Kenyan state has shot itself on every conceivable foot.
First, it was former President Mwai Kibaki’s bungled election and the subsequent blood-letting. Then, it was this year’s disputed election of a duo charged with heinous international crimes. In tennis, these are called “unforced errors”.
Let me tell you something — Kenyans missed a golden opportunity to leverage “their son” in the White House. It’ll likely never come again. Does Mr Kenyatta’s refuge lie in turning East?
Every Third World leader who has been shunned by the West tries to “find love” out East. Mr Kenyatta isn’t different.
During the Cold War, many an African state played the concubine to either the West or East. Some — like Somalia — were devastated by that state of concubinage. That’s why Mr Kenyatta must be careful.
He went to Russia and China. The former is a bear, the latter a dragon. He may be the scion of the Burning Spear, but his hosts were beasts of prey. They know how to pounce on their kill. They know Mr Kenyatta is unloved by Kenya’s historical masters. He’s vulnerable. That’s why Mr Kenyatta’s $5 billion “agreement” with the Chinese could be one-sided.
Neither the Russian bear, nor the Chinese dragon, are in love or party to the ICC. That’s why Mr Kenyatta was at home with them. That explains his photo-ops with top Chinese leaders, although the Russians didn’t exactly oblige. The rule of law, human rights, democracy, and The Hague trials are simply minor details to them.
It’s good news, the memory of JKIA’s mysterious inferno has receded without too much international image damage.
But I have news for Mr Kenyatta. Running East won’t resolve the domestic crises of insecurity and economy, nor make the ICC disappear.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. @makaumutua.

Looking East won't end Uhuru's troubles

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