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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kibaki should seek Moi's advice on Migingo

Until Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni spoke so disparagingly about the Luo in relation to the dispute over the Migingo Island, it did not seem like a very big deal. After all, Migingo is a piece of rock measuring just less than one hectare. Nothing grows on it. The fishermen who land KSh1.2 million fish on the island every day see more value in that piece of rock than in a fertile 10-heactare piece of land in the Rift Valley.

Every level-headed person has, until now, thought that the softly-softly approach that Kenya has adopted is proportionate to the size of the problem. Even so, in Migori, Kisumu and Busia, Migingo is a very emotive issue. It comes on the back of perceived official neglect of the Kenyan communities at the centre of the crisis, but especially the Luo.

This is not spoken in polite conversation, but the perceived neglect of the Luo, together with the perceived contempt of President Kibaki’s Kikuyu community for it, place the current crisis in context. Mr Museveni’s careless statement handed President Kibaki an opportunity to deal with the perception that Migingo is suffering neglect because it benefits Luos.

Unless the President takes decisive action beyond the talk-shops he has been having with his Ugandan counterpart, the unfortunate reading will be that Mr Museveni was only echoing his thoughts, or – forbid it – that he was continuing a conversation the two have repeatedly had. The fact that Kenya’s society is divided along tribal lines is an open secret. It is true that Kenyans tribalise all their differences and view them through the prism of ethnic stereotype. But that is a singularly Kenyan prerogative. Friends and neighbours do not have licence to talk about our "Jaluos", our "Kikuyus" and our "Kalenjins" – whether or not they uproot the railway.

The point needs to be made that Migingo is not Luo territory. It is Kenya. It cannot be that the only leaders in Kenya who speak loudly about it are Luo. The apparent lack of seriousness on the part of Uganda in tackling this issue, together with its repeated breaches of diplomatic protocol is designed to produce an outcome that is not peaceful. It is Kenya’s call – to engage on its own terms not on Uganda’s, as has been the case until now.

Whatever Kenya’s military weakness, whatever its shortcomings, the country cannot allow its neighbour to deflect attention from its governance challenges. President Museveni has continued to distract the world from focusing on his own shortcomings by sustaining wars in Northern Uganda, Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kenya must demonstrate that it understands his difficulties but cannot assist him. If President Kibaki is looking for precedent on how to deal with belligerent neighbours, he should give former President Daniel arap Moi a call.

Mr Moi can provide free lessons on how he dealt with Mr Museveni in 1988. He can provide an even more recent example in how he dealt with Somali militants who deigned to steal military hardware. He grounded all flights to Mogadishu and starved the country of khat. Then he issued a 24-hour ultimatum to whoever had taken the tank to return it. Believe it or not, the warlords returned the military hardware in under 24 hours with profuse apologies.

The weaknesses of President Kibaki as commander-in-chief have been more than amply demonstrated in his failure to keep security off the agenda of national discourse for the six years he has been at the helm. He must be reminded that he occupies his position to protect the country from internal and external aggression. It is perhaps his most important duty. He cannot be seen to fail in discharging it.

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