Kenyans must think hard before casting ballots in March

What you need to know:

  • Sanctions: Uhuru, Ruto and senior officials will not be allowed to travel abroad. Kenya will die diplomatically
  • Electing the Kenyatta-Ruto pair would mean the country will come under severe economic sanctions

Jubilee presidential nominee Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta doesn’t live in a cave. Jomo’s son is one of the most urbane Kenyans. He was educated at an elite college in the United States.

He’s reputed to have vast business interests in many places.

But Mama Ngina’s son has fallen out with the West. No credible country in the West — and elsewhere — wants him elected to State House. That’s because he’s been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But Mr Kenyatta believes he can only beat the ICC rap if he’s elected president. Which begs the question — what will it cost Kenyans if Mr Kenyatta becomes president?

Let’s get some facts straight. Kenya is a strategic state in Africa. It’s the economic and security anchor of East Africa.

But it’s also a fragile state in transition. That’s why powerful states are keenly interested in Kenya. They will be damned if they let it fall into the wrong hands.

Kenya’s elite — and its middle class — are culturally Eurocentric. Its economy, diplomacy and philosophical outlook have umbilical tethers to the West.

Let’s not cheat ourselves — Kenya would likely fail as a modern state without the West. That’s because it’s still a neo-colony.

It could reinvent itself by “looking East” but that would take decades, and may be for naught. No country in Africa has successfully made that transition.

This reality may be odious to many Kenyans but, as they say, “it’s what it is”. Kenya’s sovereignty is necessarily limited. This is what voters must seriously ponder as they go into the March 2013 elections.

Mr Kenyatta and his partner, Eldoret North MP William Ruto, are playing the “nationalist card” to get elected.

This is their pitch — we shouldn’t let “wazungu” [the West] tell us who to elect. To do so, they argue, is to surrender our independence.

Fair enough. Except that both gentlemen are facing the most heinous crimes known to man. It’s like a suspected wife-batterer telling his victim not to call the police because they’ll violate the home as the “man’s castle”. Not very persuasive.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that the “best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. Voters are gullible, and can be misled.

That’s why it behoves the entire nation to engage in a sober conversation that’s more than five minutes long. This is especially true when the nation is staring down the barrel of a gun.

We were there after the 2007 elections. We danced on the precipice, and almost went over the goddamned cliff. We should heed a wise saying — once bitten twice shy.

Don’t listen to ulterior emotive arguments about sovereignty. Coming from Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, that’s nothing but a ploy for their personal survival. It’s nothing to do with Kenya.

This is what my crystal ball tells me should Kenyans elect the Kenyatta-Ruto duo: Kenya’s international image will change overnight — like flipping a switch.

The country will be twinned with Sudan and every reference will be to Mr Kenyatta’s and Mr Ruto’s indictment by the ICC. That will be the world’s reference on Kenya.

This is gargantuan — we will have lost the public relations war even before we open our mouth. We will be shunned and ridiculed internationally. People will say we are ruled by warlords.

Senior officials

Mr Kenyatta, Mr Ruto and senior officials won’t be allowed to travel abroad. Kenya will die diplomatically. We will become a pariah nation — isolated. We’ll become the butt of jokes in the world.

But even worse, our economy — which is externally-oriented — will come under severe sanctions. Mr Kenyatta even alluded to this when he blamed the “devil” and “dark forces” who asked him to step down for Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi.

He was right. Methinks Kenya’s coffee, tea, minerals, flowers, and other valuable exports will be banned.

Investors and foreign banks will flee, and local ones won’t be allowed to transact with their counterparts abroad. Kenyans in the diaspora may be prevented from making remittances. International hotel chains may shutter. Foreign airlines will desert Kenya and tourists may dry up. Kenyans related to government officials won’t be allowed to either travel, or study abroad.

It could get worse. Foreign aid, the United Nations, and World Bank largesse could be pulled. Diplomatic missions are likely to get out of Nairobi.

The clear beneficiaries here will be Uganda and Tanzania. Their economies will grow, while Kenya’s stagnates, and possibly collapses. Super-inflation will grip Kenya — like Zimbabwe — and render the shilling worthless. Life savings will evaporate.

Very soon, essential commodities will become scarce — and expensive. There will be mass layoffs. Unemployment will skyrocket. Crime will increase, as it does when economies tank. Corruption, which is terrible now, will become a way of life. There will be no incentive for growing cash crops. Farming will die.

Kenyans are likely to be exposed to poverty levels never before seen. Social unrest usually follows such economic contractions. The State responds by becoming more repressive. The leaders develop a “laager mentality” and live in a bubble of their own, uninformed by reality.

Innocent citizens become the enemies of the republic. This is how a republic of fear is constructed.

Hear me out — this is how every failed state has evolved. Look no further than some of our neighbours. That’s why Kenyans must think hard before they cast their ballots in March.

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