‘The Leader is back!’ – This was the text message I received from a friend when he saw the Prime Minister in Eastleigh on Thursday last week, speaking to Kenyans there. The PM had landed in the wee hours of the day from an international trip, then gone to Eastleigh in the afternoon to speak about the explosion that had blown up a ‘matatu’ and killed several people.
This incident had happened earlier in the week and no other senior member of government had seen the need to warn members of the public against what seemed to be simmering inter-community tensions that were threatening to burst into open conflict. The PM assured the residents that the government was concerned about what had happened and was doing something about it.
The day after, the Prime Minister was off to Garissa where he met security chiefs in the area, toured the hospital where victims of the shooting were admitted, and went to the site where a market had been burnt down. He then had a public meeting where he assured the residents of Garissa that the government was concerned about what had happened.
Again, despite the fact that the Garissa violence happened when he was away, no other senior government official, including all those others competing with him for the presidency, had seen the need to go and speak with the Kenyans living in Garissa after what seemed like State-sanctioned war against them.
This is not the first time this has happened.
When there was a fire in Embakasi, the Prime Minister was the first person on site; likewise when there was an explosion on Tom Mboya Street. When people went blind and some died in Kiambu he went there the next day. When there was violence in Tana River he flew there. In most cases where there has been a national situation, the Prime Minister will be the first to react.
I once raised this with a friend working in the camp of one of his presidential rivals, and asked why. The answer was that the Prime Minister is an opportunist who uses such incidences for cheap publicity. I was greatly amused.
Politics has been described by some as the art of snatching opportunity to help the public and/or identify themselves with them during a crisis, so that you can build rapport with them and they in return can elect you as their political representative. Jesus explained it best when he condemned those who refused to visit with the sick, those in prison or mourning, etc.
For those who think this is opportunism, be informed that this capacity by the PM to do the uncomfortable and inconvenient as a senior government officer is what earns him support from people like myself.
Last year I was part of a team that organised a public ‘vigil’ for victims of post election violence at Uhuru Park. This was during the weekend when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were at the Hague with a team of 40 Members of Parliament as ‘cheerleaders’ and supporters of the two suspects had planned a mammoth ‘home-coming’ party as soon as the two landed after that first appearance, to show-case what was claimed as a victory over Moreno Ocampo.
Those of us who understood that the ICC is primarily about fairness for victims felt that such a party was a slap in the face for PEV victims. We believed ICC was about justice for victims, primarily because if there had been no victims there would have been no suspects. We needed to remind the Kenyan public why some Kenyans were at The Hague.
We partnered with several civil society organizations, international community, government agencies and the media to put up pictures from ‘Kenya Burning’; pictures of violent acts committed during the post election violence, and of the various political processes before, during and after. We set up at Uhuru Park for two days, had video stations and a photo exhibition, and invited the public to come ‘remember’ with us. Over 100,000 people came over the two days.
The effects of that small exercise were so profound that by the time the two suspects came back to Kenya no one could speak of the suspects and the Hague case; the narrative around the ICC had turned back to what it is supposed to be; the victims.
As we head into the next general elections I call upon members of the Civil Society to consider a similar exercise, especially as we go into the 5th anniversary of the last general elections.
Please remind us why four Kenyans have been confirmed as having cases to answer for crimes against humanity, at The Hague. Remind us why 1,133 Kenyans, including babies, are moulds of dust. Remind us why over 3,000 women suffer the stigma of rape.
Remind us why millions are carefully analyzing where in Kenya they want to be during the next general elections.
Civil Society, over to you.
(Wambugu is the Founder and Director of the Change Associates Trust).