A trove of leaked diplomatic cables has exposed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s private views on former President Mwai Kibaki, CORD leader Raila Odinga, former opposition movement ODM-K, Chinese take-over of Kenya’s economic space and apprehension for ethnic strife in 2007.
The cables, released on August 15 by Wikileaks, were drafted from two meetings held with former Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, the Political Counselor of the US embassy and Ted Craig, a visiting State Department official on October 19 and 20, 2006.
The cables which have not been re-published or discussed in public since they were uploaded, depict Kenyatta as a largely conscientious politician at the time and one whom the Americans concluded “is one of the most perceptive and enlightened of Kenya’s politicians”.
In the cables, he admits seeing the controversial “NARC Memorandum of Understanding”, ironically describes his then party as “terrible Kanu”, dismisses former President Kibaki as a dishonest man, vouches for party discipline, opposes dissolution of parties into coalitions and slights the structure of Constituency Development Fund.
He warns of Kibaki’s folly of assured re-election, decries personality and ethnic politics, abhors Chinese workmanship and vouches for principled politics.
“He governed not as the head of a coalition but as the head of his Democratic Party, which represented only one part of Central Province. Once in power he decided there was no need to change the strong presidency, features of the constitution he campaigned against,” the cables report Kenyatta as having said of Kibaki.
“Then seeing that he had lost his parliamentary majority, he did what even Moi never did, poaching members of other parties to be part of his government. After several years of this, there is no party discipline at all. Confusion reigns,” the cables say while attributing it to Kenyatta.
The leaks report Kenyatta as saying that: “The average Kikuyu has received no special benefit from this (Kibaki’s) government, only the cronies around Kibaki have benefited.” He went on to discourage ethnic warfare and mobilisation.
But in a dramatic shift from these principles, Uhuru would later dump the opposition he led and support Kibaki for the 2007 presidential poll. He, however, stuck to his guns and refused to dissolve Kanu and much later, today, has governed as the head of a coalition.
As President, Uhuru has also poached opposition MPs and appointed them into his Cabinet.
In the cables, Uhuru laments that Kibaki was given a “golden opportunity” to bring Kenyans together. He says instead, the former President squandered the opportunity “and now we are at a worse state of affairs than we were prior to 2002 especially as regards entrenched ethnic sentiments”.
He agreed Kibaki’s regime had done fairly well on the economic front but complains that his regime had locked itself into the mindset that re-election in 2007 was assured by their achievements.
“They have ignored the other side of the ledger, that they have disappointed many. They were shocked by the referendum loss, never seeing it coming. That same arrogance will blind them in 2007,” the cables say.
In 2005, Kibaki’s wing of Narc (Banana Team) lost the constitutional referendum to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Narc wing (Orange Team). Raila’s side subsequently coalesced itself into a political party – the Orange Democratic Movement – Kenya (ODM-K).
At the time of the conversation, Uhuru was part of the ODM-K luminaries which comprised Narc and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) stalwarts among them Raila, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and former Tourism minister Najib Balala among others.
“When Odinga keeps pushing for the dissolution of parties, with no clear reason, the question has to be put to him: what’s your real agenda? Kanu will join with ODM-K coalition to oppose the government and win the next election, but will not dissolve. After all, we did not need to dissolve our parties to win the referendum,” the cables quote President Kenyatta as having said.
Last month, Uhuru rallied about eight political parties to dissolve into Jubilee Party. This despite the fact that the coalition was declared the winner of the 2013 General Election and enjoys majority representation in Parliament.
In the cables, he dismisses ODM-K as “nothing but a collection of personalities and their ethnic constituencies”. He says they (including himself) needed to move beyond and agree on what to achieve for Kenyans.
“If the ODM-K leadership can work together in a spirit of give and take, then we will win the next election. If not, then we won’t. So far, no one wants to fully commit their political organisations to ODM-K unless they are first assured of getting the top seat. This is a bad sign,” the cables say.
In the cables, Uhuru lauds the role of CDF but decries lack of oversight and its inherently weak set up. He says the legislative function of MPs needed to be split from the oversight function and said until this happens, the programme should not be expanded.
Much later during Uhuru’s term as president, a court of law disbanded CDF, terming its set up illegal and contradictory to the principle of separation of powers. MPs however united to re-align the CDF Act to the court ruling. In the cables, Uhuru is apprehensive of the state of the nation. He complained how some of his ODM-K comrades openly complained of being slighted by his ethnic group. He termed it as “a dangerous language”.
“It is both politically expedient and morally right for us to avoid ethnic politics. Tensions are such that sparks from any minor inter-ethnic incident can now ignite an uncontrollable fire. I am worried,” he says in the cables.
Two years later, Kenya burned down over a disputed General Election as ethnic groups rose against each other based on their perceived voting patterns.
In the cables, Uhuru says 2007 would be Raila’s “last real chance” and that he will try with every “ounce of strength” to become the president of Kenya: “He will push right up to the moment when he sees he simply can’t make it and say, let’s cut a deal.”
He also supported dual citizenship in the discussions and warned over impeding over-dependence on China: “The award of an extensive airport upgrade contract to the Chinese will result in a Chinese quality airport to Kenya’s detriment.”
Based on the prevailing circumstances and the conversations with Kenyatta at the time, the Americans concluded that he was “a triple outsider at this point” owing to his opposition to government, opposition to his ethnic group and opposition to some of his colleagues in ODM-K.
“He also carries the historical baggage of Kanu around his neck… he was in fine form despite his many political woes. He delivered his views with reason, conviction and charm.”
Efforts to get comments from the presidency on the leaks were not successful. By the time of going to press, presidential aides in charge of communication said they were still studying the cables.