Obama-Ruto: What is in a handshake?
After Air Force One touched down at Jomo Kenyatta airport last week carrying its famous passenger, certain incidents became obvious because of either their omissions or the way they were done. Observers read into these both the style and substance of Obama’s three-day state visit to Kenya.
The most notable thing was the absence in the Kenyan cabinet line-up to greet the US president, William Ruto. The lame explanation was that he was in another state function to receive other visitors. But we all know that Ruto is still facing an International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment at The Hague for the conduct of the 2010 general elections in which more than 1,300 people were killed.
A second observable occurrence was the warm embrace Obama accorded his half-sister, Dr. Auma Obama. What followed thereafter was even more interesting. Auma was the only person to go ahead and board Obama’s presidential limousine, the Beast, for a ride into Nairobi city. The Beast had been decked with both the American and Kenyan flags fluttering on its bonnet indicating the occupancy of Obama and President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.
The US security personnel made it clear that, despite the Kenyan flag which was there for the auspicious presence of Kenyatta, it was Auma who rode in the car with Obama. Effectively, she replaced Kenyatta in the diplomatic observance of protocol.
It appeared Kenyatta was neither aware of this, nor was he prepared for a plan B for him to ride to Nairobi. He had no immediate car to board, and that left him standing disconsolately beside Air Force One, like the rest of his cabinet colleagues. This was an obvious security glitch which Kenyatta had not foreseen, and it was not until a considerable time, after Obama’s convoy had left, that they organized cars for themselves.
Despite the warm greeting Obama accorded Kenyatta, Ruto’s absence reminded everybody of Kenyatta’s own close shave with the ICC. In fact the manner in which Kenyatta got out the indictment tells a lot about how he got out of it. Nearly all the witnesses the ICC prosecutor, Fastuda Bensouda, had lined up for her case against Kenyatta either disappeared, or changed their pleas under extremely unclear circumstances. It left Bensouda with no option but to withdraw the case against Kenyatta.
It is not the same case with Ruto. It appears that he has not been able to “manage” his witnesses in the same ruthless manner in which Kenyatta dealt with his. And so the case still hangs over his head at The Hague. This must be the reason that Obama was initially reluctant to accord Ruto the airport handshake. It was not until there was some kind of notice of this omission that Ruto eventually got Obama to become aware. With some other African leaders, it may bode well to avoid a handshake because they use it as the first witchcraft entry into influencing, by sorcery, the other person’s performance and conduct.
This kind of character of African politicians went into Obama’s other observances, especially at Kasarani Stadium where he addressed the invited Kenyans; and he lashed out at them for corruption. Again, in what is symptomatic of other African countries, Obama repeated his distaste for the manner corruption has become a traditional practice, complete with tribal cleansing.
Obviously, having done his homework, Obama noted that Kenya loses 250,000 jobs to corruption every year. If this is true of a country that is relatively prosperous in the Eastern region, what about the others? Here in Uganda, the unemployment situation is simply scandalous. In the last statistical survey more than 340,000 people, who graduate yearly go jobless; that does not include those who have gone before them.
And there is a crude attempt every week to paper over the situation with false advertisement in the papers promising jobs. Even were such countable jobs available, the rest is taken care of by corruption, cronyism or tribalism, or all these; and there is no attempt to correct the slide. That was not present in the past regimes, even such as Idi Amin’s.
For Kenya, Obama presented a ray of hope with the injection of one billion dollars in the youth employment initiative to develop their own private investments. However, unless corruption is properly addresses and reversed, instances where the Rutos and their ilk can subvert justice, will bring the jobs promise to naught.