Book review: Lessons from 2008 for 2022 presidential contenders


ODM leader Raila Odinga when he shook hands with retired President Mwai Kibaki after a peace deal was agreed upon after the 2007/8 election. [File,Standard]

Barely a year to elections, there is a book that is a must-read, especially for politicians eyeing the presidency.

Back from the Brink: The 2008 Mediation Process and Reforms in Kenya offers lessons on how not to do politics.

It is an easy-to-read 309-page book that describes the remarkable intervention of the Panel of Eminent Persons (PEP), comprising former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former South African First Lady Graca Machel and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

The trio were asked to mediate as Kenya teetered on the brink after the controversial 2007 presidential contest pitting President Mwai Kibaki of Party of National unity (PNU) against ODM’s Raila Odinga.

The leaders were to negotiate a political settlement that would tackle the root causes of conflict, mend Kenya’s failing institutions and reduce its profound inequalities.

Back from the Brink was published in 2014 and names those who were in the 2008 negotiation teams from PNU side as former Cabinet ministers Martha Karua, Sam Ongeri, Mutula Kilonzo and Moses Wetang’ula.

ODM was represented by Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto, Sally Kosgei and James Orengo. Fast forward to August 2021, one year to the next polls, those eyeing the 2022 presidential election include Deputy President Ruto; former vice presidents Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka; former Prime Minister Raila; Wetang’ula and Mukhisa Kituyi.

Ironically, Uhuru and Raila, who contested the 2013 and 2017 elections, have since buried their differences following the handshake, and have been working together as Ruto feels sidelined.

Narc Kenya chairperson and former Constitutional Affairs Minister Karua vied in 2017 and lost to the incumbent Uhuru.

Ocampo Six

Indeed, since ‘Back from the Brink’ was published, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. One of them is that the six PEV suspects were named and taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, but later acquitted.

Deputy President William Ruto and Kass FM presenter Joshua arap Sang’s case was terminated for lack of evidence.

The other suspects were President Uhuru Kenyatta, Henry Kosgei, Francis Muthaura (Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet) and Mohammed Ali (former Police Commissioner).

Another major event since the 2008 PEV is the recent High Court judgement declaring as “illegal and unconstitutional” attempts by President Uhuru and Raila to amend the 2010 Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

With the advantage of an insider’s account, Back from the Brink describes how PEP deployed their diplomatic and peace-making skills to stop the bloodshed, and how, from 2008 to 2013, Annan, Machel and Mkapa remained deeply engaged in Kenya’s efforts to build a durable peace.

The authors dedicated the book to the victims of the PEV and for those who continue to fight for sustainable peace, stability and justice through the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Says Annan in the foreword: “In January 2008, when I responded to Ghanaian President John Kufuor’s personal appeal to lead a Panel of Eminent African Personalities to help mediate Kenya’s post elections crisis, I could not possibly have conceived that I would still be so involved in Kenya some five years later.”

Labour of Love

According to the former UN SG, his deep engagement with Kenya turned into “a labour of love – love for the Kenyan people and fervent desire to see enduring peace and prosperity through the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

The book does not purport to ‘set the record straight’ on the Panel’s role in Kenya. Annan clarifies that it aims to inject fresh perspectives on the mediation and its implementation between 2008 and 2003.

Indeed, the chair of the Panel noted that most critically, the book seeks to draw out the lessons learned from the entire period with a view to making them accessible to students, academics and practitioners alike, and for possible replication in other situations where mediation is being undertaken.

Says Annan: “My hope is that as the book answers the reader’s questions, it will also engender many more – about Kenya and the prospects of peace, prosperity and democracy in Africa in general.”

The author is Office of the African Union Panel of Eminent Personalities, while the publisher is the African Union.

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