Why Queen Mother must not take sides in certain contests

Barrack Muluka

Former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

Diplomatic immunity is the one thing beneficiaries do not want to put at risk. For it allows you to get away with a lot of stuff. Understood in strict terms, this is the exemption diplomats enjoy in countries of accreditation.

They are protected from taxation and legal action. They have safe passage through war zones, among other benefits. Diplomats have enjoyed immunity from law and war for thousands of years, going as far back as 3000 BC.

Invariably, therefore, both the notion and practice have undergone transformation in time and space. Traditional diplomatic immunity was not legislated. It was based on a general understanding between communities considered sovereign. Modern diplomatic immunity is captured in international law, beginning from the Congress of Vienna of 1814, and solidified in the UN system today. 

In Africa, unstated domestic diplomatic immunity is enjoyed by members of ruling families. While it is common to criticise and even berate the person who for the time being is the Head of State, their families are largely no go zones.

It is under the greatest pain that the First Lady, for example, could be openly criticised, even by the political class. She has to go completely beyond the pale for this to happen. Even more sacrosanct is the mother to a sitting Head of State, the Queen Mother.   

These people symbolise the nobility in us, and especially in those around power. Like Bathsheba in the Biblical Old Testament, the Queen Mother is no ordinary female. She dispenses wisdom even to the wise King Solomon himself. The king rises from his throne and bows down to her when she steps into his presence (1 Kings 2:19). He brings a throne for her and she sits at his right hand.

These are amazing women, in the ranks of Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3) and the wise woman of Abe (2 Samuel 20), both who prevent bloodshed by exercising extreme wisdom. They carefully choose when and where to speak, why and to whom. They carefully weigh their words, for each word that departs their lips counts.  

These women sit around power and share in it, without being a part of it. They are in a sense the hidden power behind the throne. When they are possessed of fierce energy, wickedness and recklessness (like Jezebel, 1 Kings chapters 17 to 21), they bring destruction. 

Yet even Jezebel enjoys domestic diplomatic immunity. It is only the men of God called Elijah and Elisha who can confront her, to tell her that she has crossed the red line. Accordingly, royal matriarchs must never forget what they are to their nations, and especially in public.

In the Kenyan context, Mama Ngina Kenyatta is the ultimate First Lady. Those of us who grew up in the Jomo Kenyatta years regard Mama Ngina as our mother, almost the same way she is President Uhuru Kenyatta’s mother, even if she and her family may not know this – or even want it.

We grew up with her son. We remember him as one of us, as children.  Even when some, like this writer, may criticise some of his words and deeds in columns like this one, we still love him as a brother. 

We are proud of him as our president. We are happy for him that he got there. However, we will not stop criticising him when he disobeys court orders, or seems to lead the country astray. Fidelity to country and duty calls upon us to do so, regardless of how and where we were brought up.

This duty extends, too, to Deputy President William Ruto, if he has no other avenue to reach the president and to confer with him. 

For her part, the Mother of the Nation must safeguard her diplomatic immunity by being measured in her public pronouncements on Kenya’s civics, if she must make any.

If she begins to openly take partisan sides in politics of the day and to criticise how and where some people were brought up, she opens up the Pandora Box. She and her family might not like the subsequent debate.  

Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor.