There are many ways of sending signals that something might be in the offing, or that power barons are reassessing various stands as they affect interests.
Invitations to high profile functions rank at the top and they can come through state officials or proxies as NGOs and think-tanks. While NGOs do not elicit confidence, think-tanks have elements of seriousness and glamour in them as the abode of behind-the-scenes power brokers and opinion-shapers.
Influential think-tanks in the world are not many, although many powerful countries strive to have them not only for domestic use, but also for projecting power outside their borders. Some are direct state operations, set up by states, with colourings of autonomy to advise government officials on likely threats and opportunities. The big think-tanks, well connected with giant global media as part of the global establishment, impose their views on the rest as if they are universal.
France, for instance, has the French Institute of International Affairs, IFRI, with global outreach and has operations in East Africa. It is the Anglo-American think-tanks, however, that tend to dominate the world of think-tanks and opinion manufacturing. Among them are the British Chatham House and the American Council on Foreign Relations, CFR.
Invitation to address Chatham House is often a sign that the bosses at Chatham consider the particular “invitee” to have serious potential as a “leader” who might affect their interests. Understanding the leader in place, or to be, becomes the driving motif in efforts to craft policy on how to handle the person in advancing and protecting British interests. Only a few Kenyans have received the invitation to Chatham House.
Among the Kenyan invitees were President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Prime Minister Raila Amollo Odinga, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, and now Deputy President William Ruto. President Kenyatta addressed Chatham House in April 2018 on domestic priorities and and regional peace. Mr Kenyatta had also, the previous month, embraced the “handshake” with Raila Odinga but it was Mr Odinga who was doing all the interpretation of what it meant.
In October 2017, Chatham House had invited Mr Odinga to address his effort to sabotage the court ordered repeat presidential election. His attempt to argue “democracy” made little impact. Waiguru, ambitious to make a national political mark, followed Uhuru, in July 2018, to address the obstacles that women politicians face in elections.
The invitation to Dr Ruto was not so much for what he had to say, it was just to look him over and probably extract a few things. Along with Uhuru Kenyatta before 2017, Dr Ruto was pariah to the British and American elite who went out of their way to stop the two politically. This included orchestrating the International Criminal Court, ICC, indictments and trials, using the local media to pile pressure on the Kenyans, and issuing threatening statements.
Among the threatening statements were those of British High Commissioner Christian Turner warning of essential contacts. There was also Johnnie Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former US ambassador to Kenya, telling Kenyans that political choices have consequences.
The objective of such threats was to deny the presidency to Uhuru but the effort failed. In Uhuru’s final term, Kenya’s leadership fluidity has various extra-continental interests reassessing their positions on Kenya. Having been wrong on President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto, at least twice before, the British, and possibly other Euro powers, want to hedge their bets.
Inviting Dr Ruto to address Chatham House, therefore, is a sign that the British are taking him seriously as a potential president. Chatham House, being a promoter of British global interests at the policy and intellectual levels, tends to guide world leaders on what to think.
The substance of Dr Ruto’s public presentations, therefore, is not the issue. Although Dr Ruto performed well at Chatham House, but struggled at Stephen Sakur’s Hard Talk show, it is his other unpublicized engagements with power brokers and investors in East Africa that is of interest.
He probably assured them that their interests are not under threat. The assessment that the Brits make regarding Dr Ruto’s future needs scrutiny.
Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU