A number of tipping-point events of the most tremendous political significance in Kenya have begun by being under-reported by the media. And then they have gathered momentum, acceleration, reached critical mass, and changed the course of history.
Perhaps the best-known such event happened in early 1983 at Kisii, when the then President Daniel arap Moi cryptically announced that there was a plot afoot to undermine his then five-year-old regime, which had survived a coup attempt only the previous August.
And the schemers, Moi told a large rally, were mostly foreigners, relying on a Msaliti (traitor) embedded high inside his administration.It was not until the third day after the Kisii rally that the Daily Nation picked up the President’s remarks and gave them breaking-news headline treatment.
And thus began the massive campaign of vilification against the then Minister for Constitutional Affairs Charles Mugane Njonjo, Kenya’s first African Attorney General (1963-1980) and kingmaker of the first presidential succession, Moi’s ascent to State House upon Jomo Kenyatta’s death in August 1978. Njonjo would remain out in the cold for 15 years and Moi would rule another 19 years.
For several years after almost missing out on the 'Msaliti' cue, the Nation Media Group took to reporting President Moi’s remarks almost verbatim, even if the function had no more significance than the building of gabions in some far-flung rural area.
This past week, another slow-fuse event of the greatest significance and unfolding dynamics was under-reported in both the Kenyan and overseas media. The British High Commissioner to Kenya, Dr Christian Turner, in office only since June last year, visited Eldoret, where he was hosted by the Most Reverend Cornelius Korir, the Catholic Bishop of Eldoret Diocese, at a most extraordinary gathering.
NO CONTACT WITH INDICTEES
Dr Turner addressed a group of Kalenjin elders and told them in no uncertain terms that though the Kenyan electorate was free to elect a President and Deputy President of their choice on March 4, the United Kingdom does not maintain contact with indictees of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
Only two such candidates are on the ballot at the next g eneral election – Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and former Eldoret North MP William Samoei Ruto.
Uhuru, of The National Alliance (TNA), and Ruto, of the United Republican Party (URP), are the Jubilee Coalition’s presidential ticket.
They face crimes against humanity charges at the ICC in cases scheduled to start in April and arising from the 2007-2008 post-election violence over disputed presidential results.
The ICC has maintained since December 15, 2010, that the two and four others, two of whom were later acquitted, “bear the greatest responsibility” for the post-election violence.
The Catholic prelate of Eldoret was accompanied at the British envoy’s encounter with the Kalenjin elders by Africa Inland Church Bishop Christopher Rutto and his immediate predecessor, Bishop Thomas Kogo.
The Catholic Church and the AIC do not often join hands on any issue, from doctrinal differences to cultural matters. That the regional leaderships of both denominations should come together in this manner in such premises and host such a VIP on such a theme speaks volumes about Dr Turner’s mission.
The encounter took place behind firmly closed doors at the Eldoret Catholic Cathedral on Tuesday, catching not only the media by surprise but also Kenya’s national security intelligence edifice.
The rest of the diplomatic sector, with the possible exception of the North American and a number of European Union envoys, also came to learn of the encounter only after the event.
Emerging from the meeting, Dr Turner said, “It is not for me to say whether those indictees should run or not or who should they run with. That is for Kenya to decide. But we will continue supporting the rule of law. That is vital for Kenya.
The rule of law is a very central part of the new Kenya and I don’t think we should make any apology for that”. Dr Turner also said: “It is well known the position of my government and others is that we don’t get in contact with ICC indictees unless it is essential. But it is not a policy specific to Kenya, it is a global policy and we have discussed it with here with the elders”.
HEADLESS CHICKEN REPUBLIC
The implications, timing and symbolism of the envoy’s encounter with the elders are profound. Dr Turner went to Eldoret barely 48 hours before the all-coalition nominations for the March 4 poll on Thursday January 17 across the country.
He chose his venue, audience and message with surgical precision, to cause maximum trepidation and second thoughts bang in the middle of William Ruto country, speaking directly to a segment of Kalenjin opinion shapers that has great influence over the community’s grassroots.
And although they were busy putting the finishing touches to the Jubilee Coalition’s nominations arrangements, none of this was lost on Ruto, Uhuru and their handlers.
The picture Dr. Turner painted for the Kalenjin elders was a portrait of mounting horror – of a Kenya that would soon be like a headless chicken if its choice for President and Deputy President were to be the ICC Two.
Even at a purely rhetorical level, the envoy’s subtext was unmistakable: If the British Government and a number of other world powers would have nothing to do with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, not even contact, where would that leave the Kalenjin grassroots, and where would that leave Kenya?
And Dr Turner was absolutely inflexible on one point – he was talking international jurisprudence and global diplomacy, not local politics. The ICC indictees will face the music at The Hague whether they are private citizens or the joint CEOs of the Republic of Kenya. The world powers will insist on this outcome, whatever the result of the presidential poll.
HORROR AMONG RIFT VALLEY KIKUYU
Perhaps unbeknownst to D Turner, his message, symbolism and timing were spreading another kind of horror in large swathes of the Rift Valley – the areas settled by Kikuyu supporters of Uhuru and TNA, many of whom bore the brunt of the 2007-2008 violence in which 650,000 persons were evicted from the region.
In the eyes of Rift Valley Kikuyu, Dr Turner, who has made no known effort to reach out to Kikuyu clergy in the mainstream churches or to Kikuyu elders of any description, is a demon in a good suit.
The Jubilee Coalition, derided by its rivals as the “Alliance of the Accused”, has taken one of the greatest gambles of Kenya politics – trying to get the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin to vote on the same side for the first time ever.
The Kalenjin voted in great numbers for Uhuru in 2002, when he stood against the then incoming President Mwai Kibaki, but the Kikuyu have never voted for a Kalenjin for President.
Jubilee has invested a great deal of effort in this enterprise, but now here comes the British envoy, making a beeline for the Kalenjin and apparently trying to rend asunder the most unlikely, delicate, and yet also the most potent, coalition, with no reference whatsoever to the Kikuyu.
This seeming shunting aside of the Kikuyu by the envoy has not gone down at all well among the Mt Kenyan communities, and there is much consternation and grumbling in the region and its multiple diasporas, including on social media networks.
Dr Turner’s failure to address the Kikuyu side of the Jubilee equation is a terrible omission and exposes him as having a horribly blind side. For all his glittering credentials and experience, he is just one more insensitive and shortsighted meddling foreigner designated 'ambassador'.
In this country, you do not cold-shoulder the Kikuyu on a crucial point of the national interest in the international context while addressing all others and pretending that the Mt Kenyans are not a factor. This is sheer folly and the sooner the High Commissioner is seen to genuinely seek to do some damage control, the better.
The official silence that greeted Dr Turner’s Eldoret tour is one of the clearest signs yet of the fallout between Jubilee and a number of presidential power brokers who not long ago backed Uhuru to the hilt but now seem to share the envoy’s antipathy towards the ICC Two and to prefer the United Democratic Forum (UDF) party of the other Deputy Prime Minister, Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi.
One of the keenest ironies of the final weeks of the Kibaki administration is that Dr Turner can do what he has done and the Kenyan Foreign Office, headed by Professor Sam Ongeri, a Jubilee stalwart and pillar in Kisii, does not dare tell him off because no orders are forthcoming from higher up.
Former British envoy Sir Edward Clay (in office 2001-2005) found himself denounced, and or summoned more than a couple of times for having stepped on the administration’s toes during Kibaki’s first term – on top of famously accusing the power elite of such gluttony that it was “vomiting all over our shoes”.
Dr. Turner’s ‘Ten Laws of Diplomacy’
The Eldoret encounter indicates Dr Turner is like no other British envoy to Kenya since Sir Edward Clay (in office 2001-2005) and like no other Western envoy since US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger ( 2006-2011), but these older and more experienced operatives saw Kenya in the round not piecemeal.
When he presented his credentials to President Mwai Kibaki at State House, Nairobi, on June 13, 2012, Turner opened his speech with the Kiswahili felicitations, “Habari Mtukufu Rais. Ni furaha yangu kukutana na wewe”. Among other pointed things, he told Kibaki: “Our relationship brings real benefits: neither side should take it for granted.”
He also touched on the March polls in these terms: “We are optimistic about your legacy of a stable and prosperous future for Kenyan, and want to work with you to help bring it about. As a close friend of Kenya, the UK’s approach is impartial. It is not who wins elections but how they win”. Before his Kenyan posting, Turner was the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Director for the Middle East and North Africa, a 19-nation arc of crises from Morocco to Iran.
The British High Commission website describes him as having “led the UK’s response to the Arab Spring” from the vantage point of this position. He was a documentary filmmaker for TV before entering the Foreign Office a decade ago. On Saturday, September 1, 2012, at Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel, Dr. Turner attended the monthly business club held by investment guru, writer and regular Star columnist Aly Khan Satchu, dubbed “Mind Speak”, and issued his “Ten Laws of Diplomacy”. Dr. Turner’s Laws are:
1. Do NOT mistake expertise for experience.
2. Do NOT mistake knowledge for understanding.
3. Do NOT mistake access for influence.
4. Do NOT mistake the urgent for the important.
5. Do NOT mistake activity for action.
6. Do NOT mistake the universal for the local.
7. Do NOT mistake the answer for the question.
8. Do NOT mistake setting the direction for knowing the destination.
9. Do NOT mistake publicity for diplomacy. *applies to all careers*
10. Do NOT mistake humility for indifference.
But there are those inside the Jubilee Coalition who are insisting that with the Eldoret tour he has broken the first nine of his own laws and been totally unmindful of the 10th. The Kalenjin elders at Eldoret’s Catholic Cathedral were led by their Chairman Josiah Sang. Having given Turner a keen hearing, they assured him only that they would “support whoever wins” and “remain non- partisan”. Sang concluded: “We have discussed peace and security and all the other issues and our position is that we will support whoever Kenyans elect as it will reflect the people’s choice. However, we will not support any party during these elections”.