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Monday, September 6, 2010

How Kenya gained from al-Bashir crashing our big bash

A deep debt of gratitude is owed to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for flying to Kenya, at great personal risk, to attend the promulgation of the new Constitution.

Having the handsome Mr al-Bashir flashing his toothy smile from the dais brought international attention to Kenya no news release or press conference could have enjoyed. And the international media were not reporting famine, corruption and drought or flooding. They had to focus on the positive story, which was that Mr al-Bashir was attending the rebirth of a nation, and give our President and Prime Minister a sound bite or two for context.

The picture of the portly Mr al-Bashir spilling out of his chair at Uhuru Park must have irked all those world leaders who thought they could downplay Kenya’s big moment by skipping the promulgation. Where was South African President Jacob Zuma? Where was British Prime Minister David Cameron? Where was our very own US President Barack Obama?

This was a lesson to all those leaders to take invitations from Nairobi seriously because Kenya is capable of delivering the diplomatic coup of the century, any time.

Within a day, Mr Obama was frothing at the mouth and wishing he had come to occupy the very seat Mr al-Bashir was reclining on. Then Kenya turned on its diplomatic charm, and the result? Mr al-Bashir, who had previously refused to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005 and instead sent his deputy to represent him, melted and agreed to honour everything in it – including allowing the self-determination referendum for Southern Sudan on January 9, 2011, as appointed in the agreement!

Kenya’s envoy in Khartoum has been overhearing Mr al-Bashir speaking in his sleep, fighting with the referendum date, and wrestling with the whole CPA. This was, therefore, quite a coup.

What a tragedy it would have been to allow Mr al-Bashir to continue wrestling with the referendum date and the peace agreement when the Government of Southern Sudan does not even have a spear to go to war with. What would happen, considering that all the GoSS supplies for military hardware ended up in Kenya’s Department of Defence designated as General Ordinance Supplies Services?

For the price of lunch — which Mr al-Bashir ended up skipping since he is fasting as all good Muslims should during the Holy Month of Ramadhan — Kenya wangled even more from the Sudanese leader. Without any prompting, Mr al-Bashir pledged, hand on heart, not to cut off the oil pipeline and plunge Kenya into an energy crisis, thus frustrating the achievement of Vision 2030. Mr al-Bashir’s presence presented Kenya with an opportunity to philosophise about where its true loyalties lie. Some would even have argued that since international treaties and conventions form part of the law of Kenya, Mr al-Bashir would be whisked off to The Hague after 10.15am.

Yet, when Kenya ratified the Rome Statute, and later enacted the International Crimes Act, it was giving up its identity as an African nation. Kenya, too, has obligations to the African Union. Nations like Uganda, Botswana and South Africa obviously do not value their membership of the AU, hence their promise to arrest Mr al-Bashir in the past. Getting Mr al-Bashir to Nairobi should indicate to the ICC that Kenya has the capacity to smoke out fugitives from their holes and lairs. There are rumours that Kenya has been hiding Mr Felicien Kabuga, suspected mastermind of the Rwanda genocide, but that is a little exaggerated. Yet, if Kenya wanted the Lord’s Resistance Army boss Joseph Kony — another man on the ICC wanted list — in State House, he would come. The presence of Mr al-Bashir was meant to send a chill down the spines of those Kenyans suspected of masterminding, financing and directing the 2008 post-election violence that they will be sought and outed.

It may not be violent; they will not be kicking and screaming; but they will come forward. Besides the show and the good TV, Mr al-Bashir’s presence brought a measure of sobriety to the occasion. Celebrations tend to make people get carried away to start imagining that Rome can be built in a day, or promulgating a new constitution can change a country. Mr al-Bashir, who took power in a bloodless coup and has maintained it by shedding only human chlorophyll, has been accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Yet, the rules of natural justice demand that he be presumed innocent until proven guilty, regardless of the number of arrest warrants issued against him by the ICC. For good measure, Kenya should write to the United Nations demanding the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the warrants against Mr al-Bashir.

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