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January 22, 2019

Current politics following a long-established pattern of broken friendships

Fake friends
Fake friends

I recently came across a quote attributed to an American historian, which just about summarises what we are seeing in Kenyan politics at the present time.

The scholar was Anthony A Barrett, and this is what he had to say: “A delicious malice seems to infect public life, allowing no real friendships: Only temporary alliances of convenience seething with suppressed animosities”.

Well, in recent weeks those animosities, here in Kenya, have not been very effectively suppressed. Rather it has been clear that there is much bitterness between political leaders who just a year ago seemed to be firmly united in their specific political alliance.

I still remember, for example, how less than a year ago, the former Deputy Prime Minister (and, incidentally, also former Vice President) Musalia Mudavadi was quoted as saying, “We recognise Raila [Odinga] as the legitimate President of Kenya and as sovereign people we will see to it that he assumes office. We know that on August 8, Kenyans voted for Raila who emerged winner. Raila and Kalonzo [Musyoka] won that election.”

Remarkable act of courage on Mudavadi’s part. You would have thought that only a true friend would take the step of making such a claim on behalf of another politician. And yet it’s obvious now that in this case too there were “no real friendships: Only temporary alliances of convenience seething with suppressed animosities”.

For if indeed there was real friendship, why have we not seen Raila and Mudavadi providing us with one of those classic TV video clips of hearty handshakes and hugs, which is how Kenyan politicians who are working side by side invariably greet each other?

Indeed, I am not sure that I have seen the two men present at the same event for some time now.

But I am inclined to suspect that these two leading politicians — who have a long history of working together at times, and also of opposing each other just a short time later — will eventually find some basis for reconciliation. What I cannot be certain of is whether the same will apply to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

I would go so far as to say that the whole weight of Kenya’s history opposes any possibility of the two still being ‘good friends’ (whatever that may mean in Kenyan politics) by 2022. In the short term, they will no doubt both make the compromises needed to allow them to run the country one way or another. But 2022 is a long way off, and as the British statesman Harold Wilson famously remarked, “[Even] a week is a long time in politics.”

Uhuru is our fourth President. And all of his three predecessors were not very kind to their first Vice Presidents. Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, was in time to place his first VP, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (Raila’s father), under the kind of preventative detention that was perfectly legal under the law in those days.

Retired President Daniel Moi, never shy to use those same laws to detain his various political opponents, did not detain his first VP, Mwai Kibaki. But he did subject him to all manner of humiliation, designed to cut at the root of his support in Central Kenya. It took a heroic act of perseverance on the part of Kibaki — and the return to multiparty democracy to Kenya, only made possible by the ending of the Cold War — for Kibaki to start again on a decade-long climb, that led him to the presidency in 2002.

You might think that Kibaki’s VP, Moody Awori, fared better. But he did not. I recall that he — or one of his supporters — once had cause to point out that despite “Uncle Moody” staying at Kibaki’s side in the face of the ODM wave sweeping through his backyard in Busia, the moment “Uncle Moody” lost his seat, he was never given any consideration for his deep loyalty to Kibaki.

At one point the most popular politician in Kenya, Uncle Moody did not even get one of those ornamental positions for which he was eminently suited, like the chancellorship of a public university.

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