Of protocol and political realities on the ground
Published on April 28, 2008, 12:00 am
By Dominic Odipo
I was watching television the other day when I saw President Kibaki stop, bend and peer into one of the tents housing internally displaced people (IDPs) at the Eldoret Showground.
About ten seconds later, I saw him straighten up again with a pained look on his face.
I noticed also that the President made no attempt to enter the tent (it was empty). Literally, he did not get onto the ground inside the tent. He left without getting the real feeling of what IDPs are going through.
Here was the President acting as he so often does: He remained, or seemed to remain, above the fray.
When the President saw those thousands of IDP tents at that showground, did it immediately strike him why those tents were there?
Did it strike him that these IDPs were living in such deplorable conditions because of the manner in which the Electoral Commission of Kenya had bungled last year’s presidential elections?
Did it strike him that if the presidential votes had been counted and tallied openly and announced in broad daylight, those tents would not be there? Might it have struck him that his sudden and precipitate swearing-in at State House, Nairobi (instead of Uhuru Park as in 2003) was one of the major reasons why these tents were there?
Shortly afterwards, the presidential party arrived at the Kipchoge Keino Stadium and the entire nation was treated to an extremely fascinating and revealing protocol contretemps.
Prof George Saitoti, the Internal Security minister, called upon Prime Minister Raila Odinga to speak before Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, hoping to institutionalise the fiction that the Vice-President is politically senior to the Prime Minister.
Once again, the President appeared to remain above the fray by not addressing the issue as challenged by Raila.
To those unfamiliar with the politics of the last few years, the incident at the IDP tent, which has now been named ‘State House’, and the protocol flap at the stadium appeared to be totally unrelated. In fact, these events were just two sides of the same coin. As statisticians would say, they were connected not only by correlation but by causation as well.
For some reason, Kenyans, especially their political leaders, do not seem to read and appreciate the actual conditions on the ground. They neglect or ignore the correlation between their actions or omissions and political realities.
They erroneously believe that if they stick to a particular game plan long enough, the inconvenient realities will disappear. In a sense, a lot of our politicians speak and act as if they don’t live in this country.
Very poor advice
The problem of IDPs is not going to be solved overnight. The Government will not solve it by throwing billions of shillings at it. It is not going to be solved by the building of more and more police stations. It is much more complicated than that.
The President has lately been preaching to us that we should forget what happened after the last General Election and move on. If he believes that, then he is obviously being given very poor advice. We cannot afford to forget what happened, any more than the Rwandans can forget the genocide of 1994 or the Jews the Holocaust of World War II.
It is in our collective memories of the aftermath of the General Election that we shall seek, and hopefully find, our way forward. It is in these collective memories that we shall seek, and hopefully find, one sure way of cleansing our national soul.
What the President should be telling us is that we should try and forgive all those who killed our relatives, burned our houses or wronged us in any way whatsoever — not to forget what happened and why.
The protocol fiasco that we witnessed last week is all part of this problem. Many of our top politicians are confusing the political realities on the ground with their own fantasies and imagination.
The reality on the ground is that the Prime Minister is the second most important political player in this country. When Chief Mediator, Dr Kofi Annan, used to talk about “the two principals”, everybody understood which two men he was referring to.
At the meeting held at Sagana State Lodge which produced the final list of Cabinet ministers, the Vice-President was nowhere in sight.
Trying to confuse the obvious is merely making fools of ourselves.
The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi