In Kenya, the heirs are at war

In Kenya, the heirs are at war

Thursday, September 7, 2017 9:26 am

Kenyata and Odinga

Dare Babarinsa

By Dare Babarinsa

In Nigeria, annulment is a dirty word, but for the Kenyan, it evokes the image of hope. For Raila Amalo Odinga, 72, veteran opposition leader and presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance, NASA, the annulment of the victory of his opponent in the last presidential election was good news. If everything goes as planned, Odinga would have another date with history on October 17 when he would be facing his old Nemesis, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in the presidential run-off. Both candidates are standing on their toes, not trusting too much on the competence and impartiality of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC, the Kenya ultimate electoral umpire.

For the two men, it is also a rerun of old battles. Odinga is the son of Kenya’s first vice-president, the veteran nationalist, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Kenyatta is the son of the country’s first President and founding father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Both men were born into wealth and politics.. Now the future of Kenya also hangs on the contending fortunes of these two men. The heirs are at war and the old struggle between the two dead nationalists resonates in every home in Kenya and beyond. Odinga believes he has a date with history if only he could overcome the shenanigan of the electoral umpire. He was happy when the Supreme Court ruled that the presidential election conducted on August 8, 2017 violate the law. Justice David Maraga of the Supreme Court cancelled the result, declaring it “invalid, null and void!” Kenyans trooped out in celebration.

The court has always been a theatre in the presidential politics of Kenya. Like in many African countries, not many people believed that the decision would go against President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party. Now the President has to brace up for the run-off. The electoral commission has announced that the other six presidential candidates would not participate in the re-run, only the two main candidates. For Kenyatta, this is more than an ordinary re-run. It has an international dimension to it. In the last presidential election when he also defeated Odinga, the veteran politician and his supporters believed he was robbed.

President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his son Uhuru, future Kenyan President, 1965. Photo credit:

This led to the post election violence for which Kenyatta and his Vice-President were indicted by the International Criminal Court.Kenya is a country that barely escaped the South-African treatment. In 1952 when then Princess Elizabeth visited Kenya with her young husband, Prince Phillip, she was given a roaring welcome by the more than 80,000 mostly British settlers in the colony. For more than 100 years, British men have competed with Germans and Italians for the ambient weather and fertile soil of Kenya. By the beginning of the 20th Century, Britain had added the country among her prized possessions in East Africa which included Uganda and Tanzania. More than that, because of the clement climate, the British government decided to make Kenya home for many of its citizens and they were given large tracts of land for farming. By 1950, there were more than 30,000 white farmers in Kenya growing tea, coffee and other crops for export to the vast British Empire.

The British colonial officials not only stole African lands for the Europeans, they also forbade Africans from growing their own coffee and tea which they termed “European crops.” Pushed to the wall, the Africans, especially the Kikuyu ethnic group, launched the Mau Mau uprising to drive away the whites from Kenya. It was a bloody conflict that was heavily repressed. The commander of the British forces was General Sir George Erskine, who was later to command the army in Nigeria. Hundreds of whites were killed and driven away from their farms. On October 21, 1956, the Supreme Commander of the Mau Mau, Dedan Kimathi, was captured. He was later tried, found guilty and executed. Almost 5000 Mau Mau militants were killed in the uprising.

The Mau Mau uprising was to aide the ascension of Jomo Kenyatta to power. Though he was not directly linked to the uprising, he was charged to court for treason and one of his lawyers was Chief H. O. Davies from Nigeria. As leader of Kenya from 1963, his reign was turbulent but fruitful and he is rightly regarded as the father of modern Kenya. However, he fell out with many of his earlier comrades including the Senior Odinga and veteran nationalists like Tom Mboya. From 1963 until his death in 1978, he was the dominant force in Kenya politics, not tolerating any opposition to his benevolent dictatorship, reminding his critics that “the hawk is in the sky watching the chicken!”

In his earlier works, the great Kenya writer, Ngugi Wa Thiog’o, especially in his earlier novels like the River Between and Weep Not Child, had romanticized the Mau Mau and the role of the great Kenyatta in it. However, as Kenya became burdened by corruption and misrule, his works also bore the scars of disillusionment and disenchantment. Now like most Kenyans, Wa Thiog’o may also be looking for a reprise in the October election.

If Odinga is able to get an upset then he would have fulfilled a life-long ambition that has trailed him since childhood. When his father challenged the older Kenyatta, the old man responded by making Kenya a one-party state. Odinga inherited his father’s steady nerves and persistence under danger. No Kenyan has spent longer period in detention for political reasons than Odinga who has invested his considerable fortune and talent in fighting entrenched Kenya establishment. He was detained from 1982 to 1988. When he was arrested in 1989, he was not released until 1991. His biographer, Babafemi Badejo, in the book, Enigma, revealed that Odinga may have played a central role in the failed coup of 1982. Now power is dancing seductively before him like an enchantress.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Odinga had alleged that some elements sympathetic to Kenyatta had gained entrance into the IEBC’s computer server and manipulated the result in favour of the President. Because of this, he is also campaigning that the electoral body be re-constituted. This may be a tall order since the appointing authority is still the President and there is simply no time to do so. Besides, the members have just been appointed some few months ago. What is now required is for the opposition to be vigilant and ensure that the will of the people becomes manifest at the October election.

The lesson for us in Nigeria is we should always remember that the court, especially the Supreme Court, is a sacred institution that is vested with the ultimate power of arbitration in a democracy. Everything should be done to protect its integrity and safeguard its independence. Even under the military, the Supreme Court was held with substantial respect, if not in awe.

In 1999, Chief Olu Falae had carried his petition against the election of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to the Supreme Court, asking it to void Obasanjo victory at the presidential election. Falae was the candidate of All Peoples Party, APP, which was in alliance with the Alliance for Democracy, AD, under the auspices of Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement. Obasanjo carried the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. During the hearing, someone from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF (I am not sure now whether it was the SGF himself) testified before the court that the government was not in custody of the Instrument of Pardon for General Olusegun Obasanjo.

Obasanjo was one of those sentenced in the phantom coup of 1995 and it was because he was pardon (for an offence he never committed) that allowed him to contest. Otunba Solanke Onasanya, one of the leaders of Afenifere, called the leadership of Idile Oodua, saying that he had been informed by someone close to the Supreme Court that unless the Instrument of Pardon is found, the court would have no choice but to void the election. It would mean that Obasanjo was not qualified to contest, not to talk of winning, the election. Onasanya said steps must be taken quickly to save the transition Programme. By this time, all elections have been concluded and Nigerians were eagerly waiting for civilians to take over by May 29, 1999 as promised by the military.

That night, Idile dispatched two leaders to go to Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State. to meet with Senator Abraham Adesanya, the leader of Afenifere. The two men who went were Engineer Bayo Adenekan and then Prince Adedokun Abolarin (now our royal father, the Orangun of Oke-Ila, Osun State). From Ijebu-Igbo, the two men detoured to Ijebu-Ode, once they were told that Adesanya was at the Ijebu-Ode meeting with the Awujale, Oba Sikiru Adetona. They met Adesanya at the palace in the company of Kabiyesi and some other Ijebu chiefs. Also with Adesanya were some top leaders of Afenifere including Sir Olaniwun Ajayi and Chief Ayo Adebanjo. Adenekan and Abolarin stated their mission.

After a lengthy discussion, it was agreed that we cannot afford a crisis at that point that may jeopardies the entire transition Programme. There was the danger that some military adventurers in the wing who may want to stage a coup once there was an excuse. The two men at the centre of the drama were outside the country. Obasanjo was somewhere in the Americas meeting some world leaders in preparation for his taking over. Chief Falae was in London as a guest of Chief Harry Akande, Nigerian global icon and businessman.

The Ijebu-Ode meeting agreed that the best thing to do was to get Chief Falae to withdraw his petition. A call was put to his lawyer who said he can only take instructions from his client. Finally after a long time, the meeting got Chief Falae on the phone in London. Falae said he cannot give such instructions to his lawyer until he gets home and evaluate the situation. Harry Akande promised to fly him to Lagos in his private jet within 24 hours. In the end, it was Senator Adesanya who saved the day. He reached out to a top member of the government headed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar and he promised to intervene. When the court resumed the following Monday, the same officer who said he could not find the Instrument of Pardon, tendered it before the Supreme Court.

The court is a conservative institution that is capable of occasional radicalism. However, it cannot go beyond the evidence and pleading before it. It cannot manufacture its own evidence or act in a void. What happened in Kenya is a lesson to us, especially in election and corruption cases, that to save our democracy a lot still rest on the courts, especially the Supreme Court.

Credit: The Guardian

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