Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kalonzo squarely to blame for his tribulations


I’ve been accused of being “too hard” on Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. I will be “fair” today. Allow me first to state the obvious: Mr Musyoka is a deeply frustrated man these days.

He cannot seem to catch a break. Cartoonists frequently lampoon him. Crowds gleefully heckle him. Kenyans seem to have a hard time believing any word that comes out of Mr Musyoka’s mouth. Are these self-inflicted wounds or, as Mr Musyoka intimates, is Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his main rival, behind his woes?

What went awry for the dapper and articulate presidential hopeful from Mwingi North? A week, let alone a year, is a lifetime in politics. 2012 is way off in the distant horizon. That’s why it’s premature to write Mr Musyoka’s political obituary. Many a politician has come back from the dead. President Mwai Kibaki himself lost twice before winning on his third try. Mr Musyoka is going through a rough patch that threatens to dim his hopes. The credibility gap with the electorate could be fatal to his ambitions.

Being labelled wishy-washy, or untrustworthy, is a kiss of death for any politician with presidential ambitions. These labels are virtually impossible to overcome once they stick. Mr Musyoka seems to think that Mr Odinga’s supporters and ODM are behind the public’s hostility towards him. He hopes to make hay, and win public sympathy, by pointing the finger at Mr Odinga.

But this strategy won’t work because Mr Musyoka’s problems go beyond Mr Odinga, his nemesis. My two cents worth is that Mr Musyoka is solely to blame for his tribulations. Kenyans did not suddenly discover his flaws. They know his chequered political history. It is on this balance sheet that his foibles poignantly stand out. He made his name as a Kanu hawk at the height of repression. He only abandoned former President Daniel arap Moi in 2002 just before Kanu got shipwrecked.

But Kenyans are a forgiving people. They welcomed Mr Musyoka into Narc and gave him a second chance. Many were disappointed when he and Mr Odinga split ODM and opened the door for Mr Kibaki’s second term. Mr Musyoka has remained close to Higher Education minister William Ruto and Mr Moi, two rabid anti-reformers. He talks reform when it suits him, but often reverts to his anti-reform Kanu mould where he feels more at home.

Nowhere is this duplicity more poignant than in the quest for a democratic constitution. As a Kanu mandarin, Mr Musyoka never supported the struggle for a democratic constitution. He doesn’t believe in people power and the democratisation of the state. Mr Musyoka likes to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. During the day he is with Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga supporting the 'Yes' camp. At night he will be with the Christian clergy, Mr Moi, and Mr Ruto signalling his support for the 'No' camp.

The latter is his natural political home. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. That’s why the hoi polloi, the wananchi, accuse him of kuyumbayumba — doing the yo-yo dance with the constitution. This doublespeak has created a credibility gap for him. He wants to pander to the clergy and Mr Ruto’s 'No' camp and yet walk with Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga. Unless he is a miracle worker, Mr Musyoka cannot be in two places at the same time. It matters how Mr Musyoka comports himself in public. He comes off as too calculating and scripted to be believable. One wonders whether he is saying what he is thinking. Watch his mouth and face as he speaks and you get the impression that he’s either spinning you, or telling you what he thinks you want to hear.

Leaders must lead from the front, not walk with a tail between their legs, afraid to offend on matters of conscience and conviction. Mr Musyoka should categorically oppose the proposed constitution if he doesn’t like it. Being “in-between” only reinforces his duplicity and widens the credibility gap.

Mr Musyoka holds himself out as a God-fearing, born-again devout Christian. That is a matter between him and his God. But it is an image that he has parlayed to his political advantage. He has amassed a devoted coterie of right-wing Christian fundamentalist supporters from America’s Bible Belt. Some of these American evangelicals have been pumping money into the 'No' campaign through Kenyan churches. This partly explains why Mr Musyoka cannot untether himself from the 'No' campaign. It’s fair to presume that much of the largesse for his presidential run will come from them. He will need the grassroots networks of the 'No' clergy. He’s also counting on the Kalenjin vote.

Can the son of Tseikuru be faithful to all these interests and support the 'Yes' camp? This realpolitik has him boxed in. That’s why his credibility is on the line. I doubt that Mr Odinga has anything to do with Mr Musyoka’s hecklers. Mr Musyoka needs to look in the mirror instead and decide who he is.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.

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