How Jubilee leaders are playing into Raila’s hands

What you need to know:

  • Undue attention: Rather than focus on its projects, Jubilee has chosen to lavish Raila with unwanted attention

All isn’t well in the house that the son of Jomo built. The Jubilee regime – now in its fourth month – is in full panic. The “digital” regime is turning out to be truly “analogue”. Gone is the euphoria of the early days. No more jacket-less and rolled-up sleeves at State House conferences. The “new-look” Cabinet of “technocrats” is invisible.

The regime has lunged from crisis to crisis. This seems to be our “winter of discontent”. Which begs the question – why hasn’t Jubilee hit the ground running? Methinks I know why. Jubilee has too many “bogeymen” and “soft underbellies”. There’s a crisis of confidence within the inner sanctum. It won’t get any easier with The Hague trials looming.

Let me tell you why Jubilee is choking. First, you can’t effectively govern if you see “dire threats” and bogeymen everywhere. Most of these threats are either imagined, or “unforced errors”. Let’s focus on Jubilee’s most important bogeyman – former PM Raila Odinga.

Mr Odinga has become a nightmare for Jubilee. But – and you can take this to the bank – this is none of Mr Odinga’s doing. It’s Jubilee that’s turned Mr Odinga into a “bugaboo”.

Rather than focus on its programmes, Jubilee has chosen to lavish Mr Odinga with unwanted attention. Instead of burying Mr Odinga – after “beating” him in the March 4 elections – Jubilee has inexplicably decided to resuscitate him. It’s the most bone-headed thing I’ve ever seen.

Mr Odinga was either going to retire, or focus on re-building Cord in readiness for 2017. He appears to have chosen the latter. It would have been in Jubilee’s self-interest to let Mr Odinga expend his legendary energies on Cord.

But no – Mr Kenyatta’s party has chosen to detract Mr Odinga from Cord. It’s done so very crudely – by poking Mr Odinga in the eye every chance it gets. You can’t humiliate a lion of Mr Odinga’s international stature and get away with it.

Who can forget the mean-spirited slights – denying Mr Odinga access to VIP lounges, demanding that he “retires” from politics to enjoy benefits of a former PM, withdrawing bodyguards and ordering that he returns “official” vehicles?

I wonder who is advising Mr Kenyatta. A new government has no time to waste chasing after its “vanquished” opponents. But the government has spent the last two weeks imagining that Mr Odinga’s former campaign manager, Mr Eliud Owalo, is planning a Kenyan “Arab Spring”.

I laughed so hard I almost cracked a rib. Why make such wild and baseless claims? It’s what we call the theatre of the absurd.

It was a flashback to Kanu regimes of yore – like former AG Charles Njonjo warning that it was “treason” to “imagine” the death of the President. Or the Moi regime accusing me and fellow University of Nairobi leaders of being paid by the Soviets in 1981 to overthrow the government.

The Kenyatta regime keeps on making the same mistake time and again. At the Kisii funeral of school children who perished in a tragic accident, Jubilee leaders were shouted down and forced to abandon their speeches. The surging crowd demanded that Mr Odinga addresses them.

The former PM didn’t disappoint – he delivered a stinging critique of Mr Kenyatta’s fledgling government. The crowd ate up every word. It was a good thing Mr Kenyatta skipped the event. That’s the role of the opposition in a democracy.

But that’s not the way Jubilee mandarins saw it. They accused Mr Odinga of orchestrating their humiliation. Once again, they played into Mr Odinga’s hands. They are fuelling him free of charge.

Jubilee has made other tragic blunders. Take the debacle over the Makueni Senate seat left vacant by Senator Mutula Kilonzo’s death. Jubilee spent inordinate energy to block lawyer Kethi Kilonzo from succeeding her dad. This was unseemly, petty, and heartless. As if that wasn’t enough, Jubilee sought to block Ms Kilonzo’s brother – lawyer Mutula Kilonzo Jr – from running. How these mean-spirited tactics endear Jubilee to the people of Makueni beats me.

But Jubilee was bent on alienating Makueni voters with self-inflicted wounds. This isn’t how you win friends and influence enemies.

This is no way for Jubilee to expand from its traditional strongholds among the Kikuyu and Kalenjin. Has Jubilee ever heard of soft power?

No single Jubilee programme has gotten off the ground. Its most touted programme – the primary school laptops – is teetering on the brink of collapse. It’s ill-thought, and seems to be a boondoggle for vulture capitalists. Why would kids be given laptops when they have no desks, or computer-literate teachers? This is a populist project that can only end in tears.

Other crises have sucked oxygen out of the regime. It was the legislators who set the ball rolling by raiding the public purse. Kenya has the second highest paid legislators after Nigeria. Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto failed to stop MPs from fleecing the public. Quite frankly, it was the teachers – not MPs – who deserved a pay raise.

It’s clear the Jubilee regime doesn’t have traction. The big elephant in the room is what’s going to happen once The Hague trials start in September. I expect that the International Criminal Court will reverse itself and require that Mr Ruto be present for every session of the trial.

He will be out of the country for large amounts of time. So will Mr Kenyatta when his trial begins in November. My point is that the government won’t have adequate time to get its programmes on track once the ICC trials start. There’s reason for Jubilee to panic.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua.

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