Kofi Annan, the indomitable African who became the first black UN Secretary General, will never be forgotten in Kenya. To some – especially the so-called Ocampo Six – he will live in infamy. To others – especially victims of the near-genocidal election violence in 2008 – he will forever be the voice of the voiceless. It’s not surprising that victims and perpetrators would see the world differently.
But whatever side of the aisle you sat, you would’ve to be a complete ignoramus not to acknowledge Mr Annan’s towering legacy as a champion of democracy, human rights, and moral probity. Lucky for us, history isn’t always written by “victors” today. Annan gave Kenyan victims a voice, even if they didn’t receive justice.
Annan made humongous contributions to our world – and for Kenya. First, Annan stepped into our space at a time when Kenya was on the verge of collapse. As is customary in Kenya, only two elections have gone right – in 1963 and 2002. The rest of them have been sham elections.
As a consequence, most elections in Kenya have devolved into bloodbaths or cycles of despondency and repression. The 2007 elections pitting PNU’s Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga’s ODM would be the most explosive yet. It’s now common wisdom – and knowledge – that Raila handily won that election but was robbed. The country exploded in an orgy of violence never seen before. We were ready to kiss Kenya goodbye.
More than 1,300 people were murdered, most because of their political affiliation or ethnic identity. Hundreds of thousands became refugees in their own country. Thousands more were raped, pillaged, and mutilated. We saw scenes reminiscent of the 1994 Rwandan genocide – right here in Kenya.
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Images of an African state in free fall – stereotyped – were beamed to the world by CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera. Kenya – the exceptional African country – became the rule. I heard with my own ears Africans from other states “laugh” at Kenya and contentedly say that “Kenya had now become an African country.” Kenyans everywhere hung their heads in shame. It was at our lowest ebb – when we slaughtered each other – that Annan came to our rescue.
A neighbour who walks into a burning house to rescue your kids is an angel. That’s what Annan was to Kenya. It’s true he was an emissary of the West sent to Africa under the aegis of the African Union to recover humpty dumpty – and put him back together again. In painstaking negotiations, Annan got Raila and Kibaki to “yes.” Raila made the biggest sacrifice. For the sake of Kenya, he agreed to concede the presidency to Kibaki although PNU had carried out the electoral heist. My respect for Raila will never waver because of what he did to save Kenya. I told him so in person when I saw him.
Annan wasn’t done with Kenya. He wanted justice for victims. The Waki Commission gave him The Envelope which he turned over to ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Six people, among them Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM’s William Ruto, were in The Envelope. They were indicted for crimes against humanity.
Through State-directed sabotage, individual machinations, and plain-old skullduggery, the ICC cases against the Ocampo Six died out. Witnesses disappeared, recanted, or met their maker in grisly circumstances. Annan still didn’t give up. He argued that folks indicted by the ICC – Kenyatta and Ruto – shouldn’t have been allowed to stand in the 2013 elections. But they did – and were controversially declared winners. Annan didn’t congratulate them.
I am sure Kenyatta and Ruto – though they may not have fuzzy feelings for Annan – must have respect for his consistency and unwavering advocacy for the things he believed in. He was a worthy opponent. Kenyatta in fact sent a statesman-like message of condolences to Annan’s family upon his passing at the age of 80. That’s respect – no matter how begrudging – for a worthy adversary.
That’s Annan’s legacy. Principle. Discipline. Honour. Doggedness. Courage. Service to fellow humans. How many people can we say that about? That’s why the Nobel Committee lauded him with the 2001 Peace Prize. He stands alongside South Africa’s Nelson Mandela among the most compelling Africans who’ve left us.
Although in recent years Annan had largely disengaged from Kenya, I am sure he was pleased with the “handshake” between Raila and Kenyatta. It was high diplomacy among two protagonists – after another sham electoral process – but this time without international masters pushing them to “yes.” Time will tell whether the “handshake” leads to a marked maturation of Kenyan politics, as Annan would have wished. Kenya can honour Mr. Annan’s legacy by using the “handshake” to forsake electoral chicanery.
- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua