When you are a public figure you are prone to public gaffes every now and again; it comes with the territory and is a result of the stress of being consistently under public glare.
We all remember the cost of former Labour Minister Peter Okondo’s statement warning the late Bishop Alexander Muge not to set foot in Busia.
I am also sure the former government spokesman Alfred Mutua still cringes whenever he watches the world’s most powerful man on television, after he once referred to him as ‘just a junior senator from Illinois’. This came to mind when I watched Uhuru Kenyatta tie himself up in knots as he tried to explain what happened between him and Musalia Mudavadi.
Uhuru is a man prone to few gaffes, but when he does make them they are the kind that make everyone wonder whether he understands the ramifications of his words to the rest of the country.
First let us look at his reasons for working with William Ruto. A few months ago I shared my experience in an interview on Kameme FM, a Kikuyu language radio station. I had been invited to speak on issues related to Kenya and the International Criminal Court and in the midst of the interview Hon Kenyatta called in and asked me a series of questions around some of the positions I have taken that are at variance with his.
A key issue was why I do not believe that his political ‘friendship’ with Ruto is really about mitigating against a recurrence of violence between members of his Kikuyu community, and Ruto’s Kalenjin community.
Uhuru has spent a lot of time selling his alliance with Ruto to our Kikuyu community. He argues that peace and inter-ethnic harmony between Kikuyus and Kalenjins in the Rift Valley is only possible when he and Ruto work together.
What he does not understand is that this statement is very dangerous when associated with two individuals who are suspected by the ICC of being responsible for the post-election violence in 2008. By directly investing in the perception that one has the capacity to stop a re-occurrence of such violence you also suggest that you have the capacity to have caused the last one.
In addition, for a man who used the ICC platform to passionately make the argument that the post election violence was the political responsibility of one Raila Odinga, Uhuru contradicts himself when he then argues that peace will only come through a political alliance with Ruto. Such statements also place an unreasonable burden on the two suspects because the message one is sending to Kenyans is that should something happen and their alliance collapses for whatever reason, Kenyans should hold them responsible for any violence between the two communities.
However the above gaffes pale into comparison when compared with the ones Uhuru made last week. The most obvious one is his reference to ‘shetani’ as the reason why he signed an agreement that he would step down from his political ambition to be Kenya’s next president and support Mudavadi.
This reference has portrayed Uhuru as a person who will use any excuse to break a political agreement. It has also irreversibly damaged him with members of the Luhya community who now believe he was referring to Mudavadi and his community as demons, and made the Kalenjins wary that he might use the same excuse to break his word to Ruto.
The other dangerous gaffe he made was when he then explained how this ‘shetani’ used the noble argument of what would happen to Kenya should he win, to convince him to step down. They informed him of how donor aid to Kenya would be cut off, and business between Kenya and the international community adversely affected especially at macro level. He then admitted that he agreed with them, and that on this basis (saving Kenyans from such adverse effects) he would support Mudavadi!
The third gaffe is when he then contrasted the sober voices who he refers to as ‘shetanis’ and what some have referred to as political rabble around him. These politicians told him that his word does not stand for anything unless they say so; they do not care whatever happens to Kenya under his presidency; and they have invested too much in TNA to watch him destroy their political futures ‘just like that’.
Uhuru then says that because of these reasons from the politicians, and despite having accepted the challenges of his presidency as articulated by the ‘shetani’, he has rescinded his decision to support Mudavadi and will now run. I wish him all the best, though I fear he has done irreversible damage to his political career this week.