A GOOD POLITICAL WEEK FOR RAILA-A JUBILEE NIGHTMARE
One-time British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once declared that a week is a long time in politics.
Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has just had a long week in politics, to the total chagrin and frustration of the ruling Jubilee alliance’s principals, strategists and faithfuls.
Principally, Raila has finally found himself poised to make much-awaited inroads into the key Rift Valley vote blocs of the Kalenjin and the Maasai, two communities that are essential components of Jubilee’s much-vaunted Tyranny of Numbers factor.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto’s strategists and inner circles can barely believe the evidence of their own eyes and ears.
First Raila wrong-footed both friend and foe with his response to an urgent and highly unusual request from Ruto’s United Republican Party’s stalwarts that he testifies for the DP in the crimes-against-humanity trial at the ICC.
Against all odds, Raila responded in the affirmative, adding the rider that what he would actually be doing by appearing at The Hague is defending his political party, the Orange Democratic Movement, of which Ruto was a senior member at the time of the post-election violence crisis of 2007-08.
The spin Raila put on agreeing to testify for Ruto is that the record needs to be put straight that ODM had no PEV strategy and the chaos was entirely spontaneous.
Ruto’s response to Raila’s acceptance of the URP request was rather odd in its coldness. The DP perfunctorily thanked Raila for his concern and declared two things – that his conscience is clear and he has a competent legal team on his case at The Hague.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has called all her witnesses and now it remains for Ruto to call his, which is where some saw Raila’s input as being crucial.
The last word on whether Raila will go the The Hague on Ruto’s behalf does not rest with him but his legal team. This is the same team that informed the ICC, with the Deputy President present in court, that among his fixers were senior presidential aides and securocrats who worked for both President Kibaki and President Kenyatta.
Raila at The Hague televised live, Kenya at a standstill
What Jubilee strategists are beginning to wake up to, and absolutely dread with dawning horror, is the political impact of Raila using the platform of the ICC courtroom to his great advantage.
On Wednesday, Raila issued a clarification that brought only cold comfort to Jubilee. He said he wishes to go to the ICC not so much to clear Ruto’s name but ODM’s as a political entity.
First, Raila’s address to the court would be crafted by experts, among them no doubt his biographer the veteran editor Sarah Elderkin and former aide Salim Lone.
It would be televised around the world, including live in Kenya, bringing the country to a standstill for as long as it took.
The audience ratings could well match those of President Kenyatta’s only two appearances at The Hague, the first in 2011 when he was merely a deputy Prime Minister and the second in 2014 when he was President but travelling as Private Citizen Uhuru.
Among other things, when he knew he had the world’s attention on him, Raila could not possibly resist comprehensively rubbishing the African Court of Justice proposition being advanced and seed-funded by none other than President Kenyatta himself, whose own ICC case collapsed on December 5.
Raila would delight the ICC with his savaging of the African Court idea, particularly by pointing out that Africa’s heads of state and government already preside over judiciaries that cannot so much as warn them against any course of action, so what good would a continental body overseen by the same rulers be?
Warming to his theme, Raila might even argue that the proposed African Court of Justice is a misnomer if the idea is to supplant the International Criminal Court. It should be called the African Criminal Court.
Return of the ‘arap Mibei’ factor?
From where The National Alliance of President Kenyatta is sitting, the most dangerous aspect of a Raila-defends-Ruto scenario would be how it would play out back home at the Rift Valley grassroots. To the man and woman on the ground in the Rift holding their ballot tightly to their chests ahead of 2017, Raila’s testimony would be read as a powerful intervention, even regardless of the fact that the Ruto case too is headed directly for collapse.
It would be popularly claimed forever thereafter that Raila’s ferocious attack on the African Court idea pleased the ICC so much, and Ruto’s model VIP suspect regular attendance of his hearings gratified the judges so much that the case simply collapsed.
When the Rift Valley voted to a man and a woman for Raila in the 2007 Presidential race at Ruto’s passionate urging and even went to the extent of ensuring that none of retired President Daniel arap Moi’s children who stood was elected – two did, Gideon and Jonathan, and flopped – the region conferred a nickname on him, ‘arap Mibei’ (meaning?).
The very last thing that the TNA leaders, strategists and grassroots would like to see is another ‘arap Mibei’ moment.
Would Ruto and Raila do a giant motorcade and rally in the Rift Valley and, or in Nairobi, in the event of a dropping of the charges? And where would the President be?
What is not in doubt is that there would be a worrying (from the TNA perspective) groundswell of support for Raila in the Rift Valley Kalenjin heartland.
The first and last line of defence of the UhuRuto Presidency remains the sheer fact of incumbency. It is the first Presidency in the world to comprise ICC crimes against humanity suspects who then beat the rap at about the halfway point in their first term.
Raila might get votes in the Rift Valley again but surely not enough to defeat an UhuRuto that remains together on one ticket?
That is the $64 million question.