By MACHARIA MUNENE, Business Daily
Rarely in performing public service does an official get a chance to stand above the crowd by defending a position that at first appears unpopular, but which ends up in the long run as being right and in the interests of those concerned.
The perception of standing on principle against odds raises the stature of the person.
The issue of Sudan President Omar al-Bashir’s presence in Kenya seemingly gave Moses Wetangula an opportunity to stand against odds as he declared he had no apologies for advancing Kenya’s long-term interests. It was Wetangula’s moment.
Wetangula was not the first to acquire such a stature.
In the 1970s, then foreign minister Munyua Waiyaki asserted that Kenya would go against the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) position on apartheid South Africa over his dead body. Its commitment to the OAU position remained intact.
At times, surrounded by countries dominated by waves of “socialism”, Kenya’s insistence on being “pragmatic” seemed odd but it held its own and generally remained in good books with both the capitalist and socialist camps.
This explained why it was frequently called upon by the OAU to provide, according to Waiyaki, “a dynamic compromise” to sticky issues.
It was this ability to be the link to opposing sides, therefore, that allowed Kenya to play peacemaker several times.
These included the Congo in the 1960s with the Tshombe group meeting the Lumumba group in Nairobi, only for the effort to be sabotaged by Americans and Belgians.
In the Angolan crisis, Kenya hosted three factions led by Holden Roberto, Augostino Neto and Jonas Savimbi, who agreed to work together only for the agreement to be scuttled once they returned to Angola.
The scuttling of peace efforts, CIA official John Stockwell claimed was done by the United States, which encouraged apartheid South Africa to invade Angola.
In the Mozambique civil war, argues Bethwell Kiplagat, it was Kenya that eventually brought the two sides together thereby facilitating peace.
This happened because both sides had developed trust that Kenya would do the right thing.
It was the same trust that brought John Garang of Southern Sudan and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement( in Nairobi in 2005.
In many ways, therefore, peace in Sudan is Kenya’s responsibility which obligates it to do everything possible to ensure there is no breach of the peace over the coming referendum in Southern Sudan.
This then appears to be the background to the presence of President al-Bashir in Nairobi during the promulgation of the Constitution last month.
Bashir’s presence, a surprise to most people because the ICC wants him arrested, elicited condemnation of Kenya for not arresting Bashir.
Some even tried to make political capital out of it.
This happened particularly in Parliament where Wetangula responded to any question that arose.
It turned out that the decision to invite and host al-Bashir was done by the coalition government since the meetings were chaired by top officials of both sides.
In addition, Bashir was received by ministers from both sides.
The import of Wetangula’s stand was that Kenya, a committed African Union member, was clear regarding its priorities.
This implies that Kenya will not be tricked into sacrificing primary interests and the African Union position at the altar of secondary issues.
Subsequently, the link between peace in Sudan, stability in the region, and that of Kenyan people made it necessary for Kenya to take the action it took, in its own long term interests, and without any apology.
The writer teaches at USIU-Nairobi.