By Njonjo Mue
President Kenyatta had invested over a year of his presidency badmouthing the ICC to only recently sit subdued in The Hague for his case proceedings. But this was only after much national ‘fanfare’ and grandiose but empty symbolisms and rhetoric that pretended to pursue and protect the sovereignty of the state and people of Kenya
Kenyans learned a very expensive lesson the other week: that the President is like the Titanic, very difficult to turn around. Or, to put it more accurately, that eating presidential humble pie can be a costly national exercise. For whatever spin politicians try to put on that week’s bizarre events, they amount to little more than so much pomp and circumstance to justify Uhuru Kenyatta’s having to eat humble pie and appear before a court he dismissed barely a year ago as “a pantomime, a toy of declining imperial powers”.
Kenyatta had invested over a year of his presidency badmouthing the ICC and sending his ministers crisscrossing the globe in search of allies to back his impunity bandwagon. He had staked his diplomatic reputation to mobilize fellow African leaders to answer his call to arms against the ICC and they had dutifully played along, going so far as to swear that no African head of state would ever appear before the ICC and to amend their own laws to provide that they could never be prosecuted before a regional court yet to be created. And yet on the date that he should have been toasting to Uganda’s independence anniversary with his comrade-in-arms, YoweriMuseveni, Mr. Kenyatta sat subdued in court, expressionless and mute, as if dutifully playing the lead role in a pantomime.
But to justify why he was now going to travel to The Hague and appear before the “toy of declining imperial powers,” President Kenyatta had to first make a big show of temporarily handing over power to his Deputy, “so that Kenya’s sovereignty is not subjected to a foreign jurisdiction.” And so various organs of state had to be convened in emergency sessions including the Cabinet, the National Security Council and Parliament to be informed that the President of the Republic was donating his ‘P’ to William Ruto and becoming a mere Resident of the Republic, or an unPresident if you like, so that he could travel to the ICC in his individual capacity.
And we all played along. We pretended not to remember that Mr. Kenyatta was charged before the ICC as an individual because the ICC only prosecutes individuals, not presidents or prime ministers. We pretended that had he travelled to The Hague without all the fanfare of signing legal instruments handing over power to his deputy, power would still have been automatically transferred to Ruto as it always is every time the President travels abroad. We pretended that our sovereignty was now safe and secure at home in the hands of Ruto and forgot that our sovereignty was never vested in Uhuru Kenyatta in the first place; it always vests in the people of Kenya.
In other words, just as Uhuru Kenyatta was signing an instrument to temporarily hand over power, we collectively also seemed to temporarily take leave of our senses. At least, the MPs did, and the Cabinet, and the National Security Council, and the media who faithfully reported this farce, this melodrama from the theatre of the absurd, as if it was really news and analysis. But as Uhuru Kenyatta took back his ‘P’ from Ruto, it is my hope that we too resumed our senses. For only then would we realize just what an expensive melodrama this was when we calculate just how much this latest chapter of the ‘personal challenge’ actually cost the taxpayer. From the recalling of parliamentarians from recess to witness a constitutional non-event, to flying the whole House to make a spectacle of themselves in The Hague, to flying unPresident Uhuru and unFirst Lady Margaret out and flying back President Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret, to blocking Nairobi traffic for seven hours, to paying off hysterical praise singers.
More importantly, it is my hope that as we resume our senses, we will also remember to whisper a prayer for the souls of the 1,133 Kenyans who could not be present to witness this costly non-event because the events of 2008 permanently removed them from our midst without giving them the option of coming back from the grave and resuming their personhood at a time of their choosing.
Njonjo Mue is a Program Adviser with Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ), a civil society coalition.