Prof Makau Mutua was chair of my board of directors when I served as executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
I have little doubt he is utterly unbothered by the controversy his recent column for the Sunday Nation has evoked. For controversy at least means debate.
The column focused on the possible international implications of a presidential win by somebody facing trial before the International Criminal Court.
Prof Mutua predicted not just isolation but a whole range of novel international sanctions. He urged Kenyans to think hard and long with those consequences in mind before casting their ballot.
For his efforts, he has been termed unnecessarily “alarmist” and “apocalyptic” by other columnists and opinion-writers.
Those of this ilk have even referenced Black nationalists from the United States—referring to him without naming names as a “house negro” doing the bidding of his (evidently evil Western) “masters.”
There are two things the controversy and debate over his column shows.
First, it is both telling and tragic that discussion on the electoral aspirations of the two of the four ICC suspects has come down to this.
Not the ethics and morals of the matter—not to mention our own aspirations for new political leadership. But realist considerations of whether or not they could get away with winning without dragging the whole country down with them.
We have, in effect, normalised what is not a normal situation—anywhere on the planet.
One wonders what happened to the Kenyans that voted in the new Constitution. Are we still out there somewhere? Did we have a change of heart and decide that dubious political leadership is, after all, OK?
Or are we just being our usual schizophrenic selves—with all being good in principle but not in practice if we’re in any way affected? If so, on what basis have we determined we’re personally affected by the ICC suspects standing and possibly winning?
Second, as also noted before, it is also both telling and tragic that, in fact, the “alarmist” and “apocalyptic” scenario may not pertain.
It is true Kenyan taxpayers—and not foreign grants and loans—finance roughly 95 per cent of our recurrent expenditure and 50 per cent of our development expenditure.
Foreign leverage is thus not that big in financial terms for the country as a whole. But it is still big in individual and personal terms for those in political leadership—particularly given our liking to at least appear to be good team players on the international front.
It is also true we’ve manoeuvred ourselves into instrumentally useful positions on both the continental and international fronts. We still are the port of entry for the region’s transit trade. We now have oil. We’re playing important (if somewhat contested) security roles vis a vis our more evidently-chaotic neighbours.
We’re also playing important (and definitely contested) security roles vis a vis the international counter-terrorism effort. All of which makes annoying us rather more difficult for the African Union, its relevant regional economic communities and the rest of the international community today than it was five years ago.
All of which also means that unless we—Kenyan taxpayers—demonstrate more than acquiescence to the electoral travesty that’s unfolding before our very eyes, we cannot expect much more than acquiescence from those outside of ourselves. It is up to us. It’s always been up to us.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France