There are so many ways to parse the saga over Raila’s twin encounters with the “over-enthusiastic” civil servants at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) that in my opinion, all lead to the same endpoint:
Preventing the former prime minister from using a lounge supposedly reserved for VIPs speaks to an (Uhuru) administration that talks a good game but is curiously terrified of Raila Odinga’s (next) moves and is also struggling to deliver on the lofty albeit nebulous campaign promise of “kusema na kutenda” especially as the mantra pertains to humility in victory, embracing former political opponents and being a president for ALL Kenyans including those who supported his erstwhile challenger and nemesis!
In a slight digression, that JKIA has three (3) levels of lounges – State Pavilion, VIP III and Government VIP Lounge – is pretentious obfuscation to be deconstructed on another day in another article!
The letter that formed the basis for denying Mr. Odinga, retired President Kibaki’s co-principal in the Grand Coalition Government, entry into the “aprons of the airport” only reserved for VVIPs that include “retired former presidents of the Republic of Kenya” was written by Mr. Francis Kimemia – President Kenyatta’s Secretary to the Cabinet. The letter was copied to a host of high-ranking members of the president’s men including the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Mr Karanja Kibicho, Interior Permanent Secretary Mutea Iringo, the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, the chairman of the Kenya Airports Authority Mutuma Mugambi and managing director Stephen Gichuki. Finally, the letter was also copied to Mr. Kenyatta’s co-defendant at The Hague and the Deputy President Mr. William Ruto.
One would forgive the actions of the ubiquitous “over-enthusiastic” underlings if they applied a Spartan reading and interpretation of the Secretary’s letter. However, given Mr. Odinga’s gravitas, history, popularity and some would say notoreity not only within the country, but arguably globally, interpreting Mr. Kimemia’s letter to include denying the former Prime Minister access to the lounge reserved for “very very important people” is an unlikely scenario and frankly very audacious of the hapless civil servants caught in middle of the silliness of their leaders. Similarly, I would argue that any claim that Mr. Kenyatta was not aware of such a significant decision; one adversely impacting one of the country’s most visible personalities by a member or members of his administration, including his deputy is asking even his most rabid supporter to suspend belief and lose credibility/objectivity in the process. Now if the president was truly unaware of a decision that basically barred his closest opponent in the 2013 election and former president Kibaki’s co-principal from a privilege reserved for the “most important of persons” then that opens a Pandora’s Box of questions; most regarding the quality of service the president is receiving from those around him including the following:
- Are the individuals listed above that incompetent or so tone-deaf that they did not foresee the furor resulting from the content of the letter they appended their names to?
- And if they foresaw the uproar, why did they proceed with the decision?
You can tell a lot about someone by the way they act/behave in victory and in defeat. The issue for me is the on-going arrogance and hubris of those around Mr. Kenyatta and by extension, Mr. Kenyatta himself. In the piece titled “Getting His Groove?” I wrote that “…the president and his deputy should worry more about the advice offered by those around them than about what Raila and Kalonza will do next. Kenya’s history is littered with presidential aides and others with access to the corridors of power who acted selfishly by lining their pockets and fattening their bank accounts while claiming to act on “behalf of Bwana Mkubwa” or “The Big Man.” It is the actions of these selfish individuals that tend to erect a bubble/filter around the president thereby alienating him from the plight of everyday citizens.” I can now insert actual names of presidential aides and those around the presidency who act selfishly. I also still hold the preceding sentiment re: being wary of those around the presidency to be the case though I will now add that Mr. Kenyatta is not helping himself by keeping quiet when those in his employment – Messers Kimemia, Karanja Kibicho, Mutea Iringo, Mutuma Mugambi and Stephen Gichuki – come across as incompetent, vindictive and petty buffons.
The president’s silence on the disrespect shown Mr. Odinga at JKIA not once, but twice speaks volumes and can be filed under the heading those who refuse to speak out against an injustice are as guilty as those perpetrating the injustice – so goes the saying. Mr. Kenyatta’s silence is tacit approval of the actions of the “over-enthusiastic” civil servants. In failing to come out unequivocally against the disrespect shown Mr. Odinga by the airport employees, based on interpretation of a letter from the Secretary of Cabinet and copied to the deputy president and a host of other senior members of the Kenyatta administration, I can see the germination of the very “kitchen cabinet” that formed the sycophancy that was the hallmark of Mr. Kenyatta’s father’s presidency and that of his mentor Mr. Arap Moi.
Not a good sign.