When President Uhuru Kenyatta finally writes, or authorizes the writing of, his memoirs, his first visit to Britain as Kenya’s Head of State and Government could well rate a chapter to itself.
Uhuru was in the UK to attend the Somalia Conference in London at the historic Lancaster House, venue of the Kenyan negotiations for the Independence Constitution more than 50 years ago.
His entourage included Attorney General Githu Muigai, Chief of the General Staff of the Kenya Defence Forces General Julius Karangi and Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Mwangi Thuita.
However, UK’s first visit to the UK as President, as his fan base fondly referred to it on social media, will not form the happiest chapter of his memoirs in the fullness of time.
The tour was fraught with a bad press and subtle diplomatic snubs, not the least of which was the denial by Prime Minister David Cameron, his host, of a photo op.
Throughout his three days in London, Monday May 6 to Wednesday 8 , President Kenyatta and his entourage were constantly reminded of his status as an International Criminal Court indictee of crimes against humanity by the UK media and the international media based in London.
RELENTLESS REFERENCES TO ICC
The references were relentless. Every report of the President’s visit, before, during and after, in the multimedia North American, British and mainland European press was prefaced by mention of the President’s ICC status. TV news network Sky even went as far as headlining news of the visit on its website with the epithet 'Criminal President' in reference to Kenyatta.
And on his last day in London, the office of ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda itself announced that it was adding gunfire killings to the charges against President Kenyatta in the matter of the post-election mayhem in Naivasha in early 2008.
And then the Associated Press said this of President Kenyatta’s visit: “Britain, like the rest of the European Union and other Western powers, has a policy of only ‘essential contact’ with anyone charged by the ICC. A British government source said the invitation of Kenyatta to the Somalia conference was an example of essential contact.”
It was British High Commissioner to Kenya, Dr Christian Turner, who inserted the narrative that Britain does not deal with ICC indictees except when it is absolutely essential among the thinly veiled warnings to Kenyans against electing the Uhuru Kenyatta/William Ruto ticket. This week, Dr Turner travelled with President Kenyatta to London.
OF PHOTO OPS AND PROTOCOL SNUBS
When President Kenyatta finally met Prime Minister Cameron, it was on the sidelines of the Somalia Conference at Lancaster House, not Number 10 Downing Street.
As of Thursday morning, many Kenyans on social media were still wondering whether the meeting had indeed taken place, where and why there were no photos of it to be found anywhere online.
Cameron was, for instance, photographed shaking President Museveni’s hand warmly in an image posted online within minutes of the hand clasping (http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www1.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Y...)). No such image of the Kenyan President and the British PM was to be found on the Net, not even from Kenya’s Presidential Press Service (PPS).
The only reference of the warmth of Cameron’s welcome for Kenyatta was in the following definitely backhanded remark by British author and political analyst Richard Dowden from his May 8 article headlined, “Kenyatta, Ruto and the ICC: major diplomatic earthquake in the offing”, which is bound to become instantly and hugely controversial: “But instead of slipping on the handcuffs this week, Mr Cameron grasped Mr Kenyatta warmly by the hand and welcomed him to London”.
Dowden, the Executive Director of the Royal African Society, is the author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (2008), with a foreword by Chinua Achebe.
The only still picture of President Kenyatta the British authorities released widely to the media was the one of his being welcomed to Lancaster House by the UK Africa Minister Phillip Hammond.
All other pictures of Kenyatta at the Conference showed clear evidence of being carefully cropped to edit out the faces of British and other officials anywhere in his vicinity, except members of his own entourage or nondescript foreign figures.
President Kenyatta must have endured not a few bizarre moments in London. He is surely aware that, at the height of the Cold War, Soviet and Chinese totalitarian leaders Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong’s handlers routinely ordered that perceived enemies be airbrushed out of photographs, as if they had ceased to exist. Premier Cameron’s handlers went one better than the dictators of the mid-20th Century – an entire episode of the Somalia Conference was simply digitally censored, as if it never happened, and, as in the case of the totalitarians, there was no official explanation forthcoming.
The conference was co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Somalia on May 7 and attended by at least 50 diverse national delegations. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was among the invitees.
The conference was called to extend international support for the government of Somalia, the first modern state to collapse completely, in rebuilding their country after decades of anarchic conflict.
Prime Minister Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague also met a number of the heads of the other delegations at Lancaster House rather than at Number 10 Downing Street or the Foreign Office. In protocol terms all the heads of government and, or state visits were designated “official”, just like Uhuru’s, as distinct from “State visit”.
On a full-blown State visit, a foreign head of State is received at Victoria Station by the Queen and Prince Philip and rides to Buckingham Palace in a splendid horse-drawn carriage, where he or she salutes their own national anthem and Britain’s God Save the Queen before inspecting a guard of honour and continuing with other elaborate rituals, including a call on Number 10.
However, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met Prime Minister Cameron at No. 10 Downing Street and also took the photo op outside the iconic front door. He was also photographed arriving at Lancaster House with Cameron.
‘UK PROSPERITY & SECURITY + 2 OTHERS’
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose motto, incorporated in the masthead of all its communications to do with the developing countries, both print and online, is the eye-catching, fairly candid and intriguing “Strengthening UK relationships in Asia, Latin America and Africa to support UK prosperity and security + 2 others”, was among President Kenyatta’s most unbending tormentors when he was a presidential candidate. However, as Dowden wrote on May 8, “When Britain and 121 other countries ratified the Rome statute establishing the ICC (a further 31 signed but have not yet ratified), it was assumed that states would cooperate with the Court. No one envisaged a situation in which someone indicted for crimes against humanity would be elected president”.
‘MIDDLE CLASS WILL LIE DOWN ON AIRPORT ROAD’
Dowden, who routinely refers to President Kenyatta as a "warlord", also wrote that it is "unthinkable” that Uhuru and Ruto will indeed cooperate with the ICC all the way to full-blown trials.
He asserted, “Even if they agreed to go, Kenyans – including the middle classes – will lie down on the road to the airport to prevent them going. Never mind that Kenya was given the choice to hold them to account in the Kenyan courts but failed to do so.
Never mind that Kenya’s international treaty obligations oblige the country to deliver them to The Hague. Never mind that both should already have been arrested by the Kenyan police and put on a plane, delivered to the court and locked up. They are not going to go”.
This is the kind of outburst that seriously gets the goat of UhuRuto’s fan base and which saw them vote like they have never voted before at the March 4 General Election. On the very same day that Dowden posted these views, the government of Kenya announced it was appealing to the United Nations Security Council for a discontinuation of the cases.
The last time this happened was during President Kibaki’s watch in a frenetic shuttle diplomacy mission undertaken by former longtime Foreign Affairs minister and then Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka when it was by no means clear that Uhuru and Ruto would go for nothing but the ultimate political prize – the Presidency.
Indeed, Kalonzo this week had occasion to recall his intercontinental shuttling that also included petitioning the UN in New York. Speaking at the Requiem Mass for Senator Mutula Kilonzo on Wednesday, in front of both Deputy President Ruto and retired President Mwai Kibaki, Kalonzo reported that Kilonzo had opposed him strenuously regarding what the former VP told the congregation was “the famous, or was it infamous?” shuttle diplomacy effort. Both the Deputy President and Kibaki’s handlers thought that Kalonzo’s was a very cheap shot indeed.
Ruto and Kibaki, who had their own fond memories of Kilonzo (including an advocate-client relationship in Ruto’s case) and shared them with the congregation, let Kalonzo’s barb ride.
There will be hell to pay for the protocol treatment meted out to President Kenyatta in London, particularly given Kenya’s famed hospitality credentials and avoidance of embarrassing or humiliating a guest at whatever level of engagement – high, low or “essential”. No British official has ever been treated in Nairobi the way Uhuru was treated in London.
The UhuRuto establishment will no doubt want to point out that Kenya has been largely responsible for restoring a semblance of peace and a genuinely new beginning to Somalia, that the President and Deputy President have so far cooperated with the ICC and that protocol bad manners at the very top, whatever the circumstances, are considered to be the pits in African, particularly Kenyan, tradition.