Kenya’s Uhuru dilemma and Amin’s London visit
Posted Tuesday, February 26 2013 at 02:00
Will Her Majesty’s Government and others in Paris, Washington and Stockholm have to contend with Uhuru? Kenyans will decide next week.
When the chief hunter emerges out of the forest shouting for help, even the snail will look up and run for cover.
That is not an ancient African proverb as such, having only been made up by your columnist, but hopefully it reflects the kind of anxiety Kenya is enduring in the run up to their election.
Last week, Willy Mutunga, the Chief Justice, run to the public with a revelation that he has been threatened by Mungiki, a notorious and murderous militia (he also said that some ka-immigration official had stopped him from taking a flight to Tanzania without clearance. Imagine our Chief Justice Odoki having to get a leave-chit from some ministry before flying abroad!)
Kenyans go to the polls next week with the distinct possibility of electing to the presidency a man who may be shunned by the international community. Uhuru Kenyatta who, along with Raila Odinga, is a frontrunner to become only the fourth President Kenya has had in 50 years of independence (Uganda has had eight), stands accused of crimes against humanity.
Should he win – his running mate and therefore potential Vice President William Ruto is a co-accused – Uhuru will, within days of climbing to the presidency, be required to face trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for murderous crimes committed at the last election in 2007/08.
This is all going to present a lot of awkwardness not only to Kenyans, but to the international community that has to deal with heads of state. Nairobi is the diplomatic centre of eastern Africa, with practically every country in the world having diplomatic representation there. The British High Commissioner has said that if Uhuru wins, anything as simple as a handshake may be difficult to do with him, while America’s top diplomat for Africa says that, “choices have consequences”, meaning that there may be international consequences should Kenyans elect a suspect. (Donors contribute 18 per cent of Kenya’s budget – Uganda’s budget support by donors stands at just under 25 per cent - and so for Kenya should this be touched, it will inevitably affect service delivery). Other key international players have also said that they cannot have contact with ICC indictees.
So how do you deal with an international pariah? While they are fairly different cases, there is a parallel from Uganda’s history. In 1977, Uganda’s international notoriety had just hit new heights with the murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum and two ministers, while the previous year, the country had not exactly covered itself in glory when, in sympathy, it gave succour to Palestinian guerrillas who had hijacked an Air France planeload of people to Entebbe Airport.
Chogm, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, was due to be held in London to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee on the British throne (last year she made 60 years as reigning monarch). Our President, Idi Amin, was technically eligible to attend, though diplomatically he had been isolated.
Amin wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary General: “I shall personally attend the meeting and also be present at all the functions organised for the celebrations of the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen.” He added: “When I come to London, I shall be accompanied by a delegation of 250 people, including dancers ... and others who have not been to London.”
Of course Amin was not invited to the Queen’s celebrations – being there would be gate-crushing. It probably would be okay to be a sole gate-crusher, for that is what people usually do – sneak in on your own. But imagine the jitters of the British, envisioning this hulk of a man, bringing with him wild-eyed Acholi ‘Bwola’ instrumentalists, chattering Baganda ‘Nankasa’ drummers, and energetic Bakiga dancers, newly arrived from Lamwo, Sembabule and Kyanamira, to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Or would they have let Ugandan planes land at Heathrow or Gatwick?
In the event, Amin did actually fly out of Uganda, and at one point in London it was reported that his plane was overflying Ireland, leading a few mzungu faces to turn a deep red – the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, had as foreign minister two years before in 1975 been humbled in Uganda when he was forced to come to Kampala to plead for the life of Dennis Cecil Hills. The British-born Kyambogo lecturer had been sentenced to death for calling Amin a “village tyrant”.
Amin never made it to London, saving the dear Queen her jubilee blushes (he probably remembered that he himself had taken power when his predecessor, Milton Obote, was away at a Chogm meeting in Singapore). Will Her Majesty’s Government and others in Paris, Washington and Stockholm have to contend with Uhuru? Kenyans will decide next week.