Five months on, Uhuru juggles one crisis after another

What you need to know:

  • A dispute with the ICC could well be the next big crisis for the Jubilee government”

President Uhuru Kenyatta clearly went through emotionally draining moments during the four-day siege after terrorists took over the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

At his first press conference, some 10 hours after the brazen assault at the upmarket complex on Saturday last week, the strain was evident on the President’s face and voice.

Even the fighting statement on Tuesday evening when he proclaimed victory was telling. He set out to project strength, resolve and a fighting spirit, but one could detect from the timbre of his voice that the President was struggling to hold back tears.

It probably did not help that from the onset of the biggest crisis of his young presidency, the Head of State was distracted by infighting within the security services pitting military commander General Julius Karangi against police service boss David Kimaiyo in a feud over command of the rescue operation.

The al-Shabaab attack on Westgate came less than six months into the Uhuru Kenyatta administration and is clearly the biggest obstacle to date.

Yet it was just but the latest in a series of challenges that have seriously tested the fledgling government.

The Jubilee coalition government, headed by President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto, has endured almost a crisis almost every month since assuming office on April 9.

The problems have centred on security, as well as strikes, political feuds, disputes between the central government and devolved units and, hovering menacingly over everything, the International Criminal Court cases.

President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were elected while facing indictment by the ICC after being accused of being the principal players in the opposite factions that battled it out during the post-election violence.

Though they insist that the March 4 election outcome indicated Kenyans were against the ICC and supported their efforts towards reconciliation, the cases have not gone away.

Diplomatic offensive at the United Nations with support of key leaders from across Africa have not borne fruit. Mr Ruto has already been to The Hague for the start of his trial, while President Kenyatta is scheduled to take his turn at the dock on November 12.

The Deputy President got a respite when the court allowed him time off to fly home and help manage the Westgate crisis. However, he suffered a major setback towards the end of the siege after ICC judges threw out an earlier concession excusing him from being personally present at most of the hearings.

Mr Ruto will now have to become almost a permanent resident of The Hague when the trial resumes on Wednesday.

Some of his supporters have already launched campaigns on social media arguing that the national crisis occasioned by the al-Shabaab attack dictates that the Deputy President cannot afford to be out of the country when there are such pressing matters at home.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has taken a dim view of this campaign, pointing out that Mr Ruto attends court in response to summons and not voluntarily. She has warned that any absenteeism without the court’s leave could result in an arrest warrant being issued.

A dispute with the ICC could well be the next big crisis for the Jubilee government. A powerful grouping in the administration is pushing the view that President Kenyatta should defy the ICC summons, arguing that it would be humiliating if he has to appear in court as a criminal suspect.

They point out that President Omal al- Bashir of Sudan has long been under an ICC arrest warrant but the court is powerless to do anything because it does not have the mechanisms to arrest him.

African presidents have used the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York over the past week to hit out at the ICC over the Kenya cases, and the support for the President and his Deputy is set to be affirmed at a special African Union summit scheduled for Addis Ababa next month.

The likely resolution will be that if the cases are not dropped, then the Kenyan accused have the AU’s blessings to snub the ICC. This will be reinforced with the threat of a mass African withdrawal from the Rome Statute that established the global court.

Outside the AU manoeuvres, President Kenyatta has hinted publicly that he might ignore the ICC summons because both he and his deputy cannot be out of Kenya at the same time attending court hearings in a foreign land.

The shadow of the ICC aside, the Jubilee administration has lurched from one crisis to another that has seriously tested President Kenyatta’s mettle.

The Westgate attack that left more than 70 people dead — with the death toll likely to rise — will have repercussions in the security agencies following failures that allowed the attack, as well as the infighting and blunders that served to prolong the siege and push up the number of casualties.

President Kenyatta will be under pressure to take tough action as the key security chiefs, Mr Kimaiyo, General Karangi and National Intelligence Service boss Michael Gichangi embark on blame games and finger-pointing.

The terrorist crisis came just over a month after a huge inferno destroyed the international arrivals unit of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. A report on the cause of the fire and the serious failings that allowed a small blaze to get out control is yet to be compiled.

Another major crisis that engulfed the government was the teachers’ strike. From June 24, teaching staff in public schools across the country put down their chalk to press demands for implementation of a salary increase.

The standoff lasted weeks as the government refused to budge, eventually emerging triumphant when the teachers accepted a much-reduced offer.

Major security challenges early on in the administration involved the killings in Kikwechi and Mukwe villages in Bungoma County towards the end of April. Nine people died and 58 were injured.

A few days later, at the beginning of May, gangsters armed with pangas, spears, bows and arrows attacked Akabait village in Busia County killing a large number of villagers.

There have also been the perennial clan and ethnic conflicts in Marsabit, Moyale, Turkana, Pokot, Baringo, Isiolo and other remote and neglected counties across vast swathes of northern and eastern Kenya.

While the Westgate attack could be seen as the “big one”, terrorist attacks have been commonplace over the last five months.

Nairobi, Mombasa, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera have been hit in grenade attacks, roadside bombs and shootings attributed to al-Shabaab.

Security aside, the President has also had to deal with major challenges in governance ranging from anger over consumer price increases after the Value Added Tax law; blackmail by MPs over their salary demands; and discontented senators and governors revolting over what they see as efforts to reduce their roles in devolved governments.

Through it all, the President has come across as a hands-on leader very different from his laid-back and disengaged predecessor. As an opposition leader, President Kenyatta once dismissed President Mwai Kibaki as the “see nothing, hear nothing, do nothing” President.

That was before he realised that his path to State House would be eased if he positioned himself as Kibaki’s ally rather than his rival.

Since ascending to the top seat, President Kenyatta has tried to define his own leadership style somewhere in between President Kibaki’s detached approach and President Daniel arap Moi’s meddlesome one-man rule.

President Kenyatta appointed a cabinet of apolitical technocrats, professionals, academics and corporate chiefs, but it appears he also moved to consolidate power at State House unlike Mr Kibaki who gave his ministers a free hand.

Many in President Kenyatta’s Cabinet appear timid and reluctant to make decisions without reference to the State House. “The President has directed” has become a common statement from Cabinet Secretaries.

This ineffectiveness was displayed to the whole world during the Westgate crisis. Interior Secretary Joseph ole Lenku appeared out of his depth while Defence Secretary Raychelle Omamo was virtually invisible, leaving Chief of Kenya Defence Forces General Julius Karangi to dominate.

[email protected] @MachariaGaitho


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