The American diplomatic cables that give a comprehensive profile of Kenyan politicians and offer vivid details of their thoughts about each other are likely to shape next year’s presidential campaigns and may play a significant role in emerging political alliances.
The timing of the cables, with about 14 months to go before the 2012 presidential race, could not have been worse for the key candidates.
The dispatches are part of a collection of 250,000 released by whistle-blowing agency WikiLeaks.
The ones relating to Kenya offer a record of US ambassadors being brutally honest in their assessment of virtually every member of the political elite with an eye on the presidency.
They also give one of the most comprehensive records of President Kibaki’s time in office, material that scholars and political observers could rely on in analysing his legacy.
United States International University professor Macharia Munene says the biggest value of the WikiLeaks revelations was that Kenyans were getting to know candid views on their leaders before the traditional 25-30 year period when some of the cables would have been released to the public.
“The judgements of the Americans in Nairobi and the views they passed on to their superiors would eventually have been revealed but the key difference is that Kenyans are learning about them before declassification,” he said.
Dr Joshua Kivuva of the University of Nairobi says the cables leave all the main politicians with the formidable task of repairing their image.
He says some of the accusations in the cables lend authority to rumours that have long circulated on the political grapevine and could be used as fodder for attacks on political opponents in 2012.
But he said the impact of the revelations may be countered by the entrenched ethnic and political interests that are key dynamics in presidential politics.
“The material is good because it has demystified many of the leading politicians. But we are so polarised that some of the key alignments have already taken shape and are rigid.
“What these revelations will do is give ammunition to the politicians and those with the best communication strategy will win. It will be a question of blowing up accusations against others while downplaying those against your friends.”
The Sunday Nation has obtained thousands of the cables that relate to the region, a collection that illuminates the Americans’ view of leading politicians and records government officials’ assessments of their rivals and partners. These are some of the key assessments and their possible impact on local politics.
The Head of State receives one of the most complex and nuanced analyses by US diplomats. The picture that emerges is of a politician who is a bundle of contradictions. He is, they report, astute, healthy and engaged and is lively and well briefed during one-on-one meetings.
But Mr Kibaki at the same time surrenders most of his powers to aides, with one cable describing Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura as the government’s “shadow president”.
The cables say Mr Kibaki is surprisingly image-conscious in contrast to the laid-back technocrat many Kenyans are familiar with.
In one cable, US ambassador Michael Ranneberger describes a meeting he held with Mr Muthaura to press for action on the reform agenda.
“During the course of a long and candid discussion, I challenged Muthaura on most of these points with the bottom-line being that if things are going on in the reform process as Muthaura alleges then this needs to be explained to the Kenyan people. That was a point that Muthaura took, admitting that the coalition government has done a terrible job of presenting its accomplishments, and the challenges it faces, to the Kenyan people. (Interesting) and probably coincidentally – Kibaki subsequently began a systematic tour of the entire country intended to lay out what the coalition government is doing, including how it is addressing the impact of the global economic crisis.)”
The biggest blot on President Kibaki’s record that emerges from the cables is the assertion that he is cautious in his support of comprehensive reforms and that he is unenthusiastic about the war on corruption.
Diplomats repeatedly note that he was reluctant to act on some of the most notoriously corrupt members of the government in his first term and, in the assessment of former ambassador William Bellamy, he feigned ignorance of the problem.
Courtesy of Saturday Nation