Wycliffe Muga: Kibaki Raila were bound to clash - The Star

In January 2008, I received a commission from an American magazine to write a 1,000 word opinion column explaining what on earth was happening in Kenya, and how it had come that this "island of peace" located in "one of the world's most turbulent areas" had descended into such chaos and madness.

That time, I had recently returned to the country after many months in the US, and was in fact not writing a regular column for any local newspaper.

And looking back, I suppose my perspective back then was really one of "the casually objective outsider" than what I might call "the passionately engaged and deeply disappointed Kenyan pundit", which was the tone of most political commentators at the time.

For what I wrote may easily have been interpreted to mean that I did not really care what happened to the country.

I wrote that in a country like Kenya something of this kind was bound to have happened sooner or later.

That Kenya usually stood out only because it was of geo-strategic interest to the great powers of our time, but it was basically just another poor African country: hopelessly riddled with inequality and tribalism; and that having an all-or-nothing electoral system along with a street culture of instant retributive violence had made it inevitable that sooner or later, political differences would take this extreme form that was now being displayed before our eyes.

I added that we could only hope that the fact that Kenyans had enjoyed about 40 years of uninterrupted tranquility would count for something and that Kenyans' long-nourished taste for peace would in the end prove to be stronger than the bitter tribal hatreds which then seemed to be assuming Rwandan proportions.

It turned out that this was not at all the kind of thing this magazine had expected. I was politely turned down, and the editors found some other Kenyan writer, whose article clinging to the myth of Kenyan exceptionalism was basically an extravagant lamentation at what was so unexpectedly happening to "our beloved country where for over 40 years we have lived as brothers and sisters", etc (Or so I seem to recall for there were so many highly emotional articles of that kind written by Kenyans for Western publications at that time that I may be confusing the article which replaced mine with something I read elsewhere.)

The happy ending to this story (at least where I was concerned) is that, apparently, these top American magazines, if they contract you to write for them, and do not like what you have written, will pay you 50 per cent of the contract sum anyway. This was my first experience of being paid for not having my work published.

And I have often thought since then that if I could regularly receive such useful amounts of money from publishers who had categorically rejected my work, it would be a perfect world.

But the reason I mention all this is that when I look at the current political storm-in-a-teacup that has upset so many observers both here and overseas, I find that the same unfashionable conclusion ("This was bound to happen sooner or later") is the one that presents itself.

I refer, of course, to the current rift in the coalition government over the Prime Minister Raila Odinga, having "suspended" Education minister Prof Sam Ongeri and Agriculture minister William Ruto, following scandals touching on their respective ministries and President Kibaki promptly "rescinding" that suspension, and stating that the PM in fact does not have any such powers to ask a Cabinet minister to vacate office, even if only for three months.

This is an event which has thrust Kenya back into international headlines (e.g, "Kenya's government teeters on collapse" in the Christian Science Monitor).

Admittedly not to the same degree as our unforgettable post-election violence, but still, enough to get foreign observers deliciously speculating if perhaps this is it; if there will once again be an opportunity for the massed cameras of the international media to return to Kenya, one of the few African nations where it is possible to cover a near-civil-war situation by day, and order room service while relaxing in a Jacuzzi in your five-star hotel by night.

So, why do I say that this kind of thing was bound to happen? Well, it is because the personal psychology of each of the two principals, as well as their immediate priorities at this time, made this inevitable. This I will explain in tomorrow's column.

Wycliffe Muga comments on topical issues.

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