The average man on the streets of Kampala knows all he wants to know about Kenya’s recently departed retired president Mwai Kibaki; that he was sworn in a hurry for his second and final term.
A simile about doing things in a hurry was created in Kampala arising from that presidential inauguration ceremony that took place in State House Nairobi before the returning officer even got to know the results that he was going to announce.
“Be as fast as one administering Kibaki’s oath!” is still a popular phrase for urging someone to hasten, in Kampala speak where they pronounce name as “Chibachi” owing to mother tongue influence.
The speed at which Kibaki was sworn in a decade and a half ago was indeed amazing to Ugandans because in Uganda the president-elect’s inauguration takes place three months after the election. In fact, after last year’s elections, it took four months for the president-elect to take oath. And if there is a Kenyan election that Ugandans remember, it is that one which ended in the notorious post-election violence and disrupted Uganda trading access to the sea. The two countries’ economies are that closely intertwined yet their politics are extremely different.
From that election violence, Kenya ended up with a joint leadership shared between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, to bemused Ugandans who could not dream of an equivalent joint presidency between Yoweri Museveni and Kizza Besigye.
The violence had erupted in the first place because of Kibaki’s taking oath of office ‘hurriedly’ in State House when the public was still expecting the verification and confirmation of the final ballots, instead of waiting for a dignified swearing-in ceremony with the expected pomp in public arena usually attended by regional heads of state and many dignitaries joining the multitudes of citizens.
Ugandans were amazed that the two sworn rivals executed their joint mandate effectively after a signed agreement. Apparently Kenyans respect agreements and signatures.
And then there was the little matter of thousands of acres of public land Kibaki’s predecessor had grabbed in Mau forest and covered with a tea plantation. The two principals in orderly fashion and following the law repossessed the land for the public (and humanity) and had trees replanted to restore the forest. Ugandans who are chagrined at the grabbing of public forest land by ‘powerful’ people marvelled.
At the end of the power sharing period, top Kenyan politicians moved on to different formations, with Kibaki retiring because they have presidential term limits, and Odinga contesting again against Uhuru Kenyatta this time. But because to Kenyans the law is the law, the matter of post-election violence did not end, because criminal matters only end in a courtroom, not outside. The new president (Kenyatta) had to go and defend himself at The Hague, first handing over power to his deputy, William Ruto.
Last week, Ugandans shared photos of the dead Kibaki and his two departed predecessors and marvelled at the way things are done in Kenya. Kampalans noted the stark contrast in terms of time between the speed at which Kibaki was sworn in and the slow motion of his final send off. But again that was an illustration of the national character when categorizing and handling priorities.
In Uganda, we take three months before swearing in a president while we bury our dead immediately, Muslim style. Kenyans can take seconds after an election to swear in the winner, then take a week to bury a dead person.
When Odinga the other time decided that he was the rightful president of Kenya, he staged his swearing ceremony in the open and then went home. Besigye in Uganda held his secret swearing six years ago and only released images, for which he was charged with treason. He is still asking court to “stop wasting time” and conclude the case since he admitted to the particulars of the charge and so prosecution has nothing to investigate.
In Kenya, Kenyatta is busy supporting Odinga against his own deputy, William Ruto. Such is Kenyan, where they have no political parties, but five-yearly formations.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]