Wednesday, February 20, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

In my village, we a say that when a village strongman steps on your mother’s smoking pipe, you dare not challenge him to a fight; or if a government official arrests your mother, it is time you turned a blind eye lest you be locked up too!

President George Bush has been in the neighborhood for six good days; a very long time for the most powerful man on earth to be next door. And by the look of things, he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to go home. He started with Benin, came dangerously close to Kenya in Tanzania from where he dispatched his Condoleezza Rice with a special message to Kenya before flying to Paul Kagame’s Rwanda.

The question on everybody’s lips all this time has been: why did Bush seem to have a special interest in Kenya’s political crisis? What is so special about Kenya that can make an American President talk about it so much, send two top American diplomats to Nairobi and finally write a personal note to Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga? How come when civil wars were raging in many countries in the region, no American president showed as much concern?

Despite the terse messages that have been coming from Bush and Condi Rice, the political establishment has seemed to think they could dare him publicly. Before he embarked on his African tour Bush met with his top aides in Washington and made it clear that Kenya must return to full democracy in the shortest time possible. When Condi arrived, there was a variation of the same message but equally terse. She talked of genuine and real power sharing because something went terribly wrong in Kenya’s last elections.

George Bush has not been the only tough talking international figure on the Kenyan crisis. Britain, the entire European Union and the United Nations have not been left out too. In just six weeks, Kenya has seen a galaxy of world leaders flocking to Nairobi in the middle of raging violence. It all started with Bishop Tutu to be quickly followed by four retired African heads of state. As if that was not enough, President John Kufuor of Ghana, then chairman of the AU also jetted in to try and sort out the crisis. As he departed, Kofi Annan landed with Graca Machel and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania to start serious mediation talks. In the middle of all this, the UN Secretary General, the American Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs and the EU Humanitarian chief also jetted in to give support to the Annan mediation efforts. Almost any body that needed to come to Nairobi to help solve the crisis has done so. It would appear like outsiders are more concerned about our current crisis than we do!

A few years ago, George Bush was keen to get rid of a regime in Afghanistan that he thought was not democratic enough. He had another reason. He strongly believed that Kabul was the headquarters of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist soldiers that were bent on destroying America. They had already demonstrated their capability by bombing the American Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and three years later hit America where it hurt most, the commercial capital of the United States on 9/11!

After 9/11, George Bush needed no further excuse to invade Afghanistan and go after terrorists.
Two years later, Bush turned his eyes on another axis of evil, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For Iraq, apart from being suspected of financing suicide bombers in the Middle East that targeted Americans and Israelis everywhere, Bush believed that Saddam was manufacturing Weapons of Mass Destruction to be used on Israel and American allies. Several attempts to persuade Saddam to open up for international atomic experts to inspect his facilities fell on deaf ears.

While Saddam and the Talibans were engaged in public rhetoric, George Bush was assembling his war chest. For those who have lived longer to witness the outcome, the Taliban regime, Saddam Hussein, his sons and allies are no more. They were bombed to smithereens.

Kenya is strategic to the Americans and the international community in more ways than one. In fact Kenya does not belong to Kenyans anymore. When it became a member of the East African Community, the AU and the United Nations, it ceded part of its sovereignty along time ago. When it offered to host numerous UN Agencies in its capital, the whole world invested in Kenya.

But perhaps the two most important factors why Bush and the world cannot afford to let Kenya slide into statelessness is the fact that Kenya is the lifeline of several states in Eastern Africa. The economies of at least seven countries in the region directly depend on Kenya’s stability. If Kenya goes up in smoke, the whole region burns too. More importantly, Kenya must remain stable for international humanitarian operations in Sudan and Somalia can go on. It must remain stable for Americans to manage terrorist cells in neighboring Somalia.

If the regime in Kenya cannot listen to George Bush, he may do to them what Americans have done to the regimes in Kabul, Baghdad, Panama, Kosovo, Serbia and Philippines! Mark my words.