A finger was quickly pointed at the CORD leader Raila Odinga who, coincidentally, was leaving Kenya for a lecture tour of the United States, at about the same time as the reports were trending on the internet.
The trial of Ruto and Sang, who are facing charges against humanity has been characterized by incessant drama of missing witnesses, allegations of influence peddling, purported lies and excusal and deferral motions, since it started last September.
It has also been surrounded by rumours and innuendos galore. So, consumers of the alternative media were excited when news circulated that a senior Kenyan leader was scheduled to be the 14 prosecution witness. The news also tickled fresh fascination in a case whose public interest has waned considerably.
Adding more fuel to the speculation was the decision of the Hague-based court to abruptly adjourn hearings – for two weeks up to March 31 – without giving reasons, a move that was interpreted by some as a temporary lull before the main storm of evidence was heard from the so-called high-profile witness.
Hours before departing, Raila had announced he was taking a month-long break from politics to tour the United States for a series of presentations and even appointed his close ally, Anyang Nyongo, as interim leader of the party during his absence.
It is obvious now that the reports linking Raila’s absence to the 2007 post-election violence case was the work of shadowy opposition political spin doctors.
That is why I was pleasantly relieved to see Raila on the podium of the Boston University, Massachusetts, a few days later, delivering a key-note address on the failures, successes and challenges of African States. He is a guest of the Africa Presidential Centre, a forum for African leaders to share views on democratization and free market reforms in the Continent.
As I watched the speech on You Tube, I expected fireworks from the ardent critic of the Jubilee Government on the hot topics back home. I expected to hear the usual whining and grumbling about “stolen elections” and “corrupt judiciary” and about the economic challenges presently facing the Government. I was even expecting pinprick attacks on the persons of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. But there was none of that.
What I heard from the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was a carefully framed, tactfully delivered speech that was devoid of any brinkmanship or hatred. He was ebullient, calm and jocular and, I must say, statesmanlike. He maintained his cool even when a Kenyan student David Mundia accused him of remaining silent on the ICC issue because “you want to run in (the next) elections”.
On that the CORD leader said he had nothing against the President and the Deputy President. “They may even be innocent for what we know – but what we are saying is that what happened (that led the two to the ICC) needs to be brought to an end…” He reiterated what he has said many times before that he had opposed the proposal to send the matter to the ICC but colleagues in Parliament had overruled him.
In his previous visits overseas, especially after the violence-ridden 2007 elections, Raila often ranted about stolen elections. It was only during a visit to Washington DC last October when he said he had put the election results behind him and was now focussing on ensuring the effective implementation of the Constitution. That is the position he took when delivering his non-combative speech at Boston University this past week.
He even got a round of applause when he said his decision to accept the Supreme Court judgement – “though we didn’t agree with it” – was based on national and not personal interests.
Raila’s performance was mature, prudent and nationalistic. It is too early, however, to say whether he will stay away from the government-bashing frenzy that he is so fond of at home.
During an interview a day later, Raila described the ICC rumours as “absolute lies.”
That Raila has very passionate supporters among Kenyans in the Diaspora is not a matter of argument. It is possible that some of these fanatical supporters could provoke him into making divisive remarks that could polarize our citizens in the Diaspora. In any case, he will need every Diaspora vote as he embarks on his fourth bid for the presidency.
I have always maintained that Kenyans who go abroad and choose to wash their dirty linen in public are not only impudent but unpatriotic.
And that is my say.