The International Criminal Court (ICC) cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua arap Sang have brought out differences of opinion among Kenyans on various issues. This difference is evident in the robust debate that is going on in the public sphere.
In the fringes of this debate is a growing community of political opportunists, historical revisionists, pretended nationalists, propagandists, apologists and other forms of turncoats who have seen an opening to reap benefit from the trials and the desperation that is creeping in.
However, among the more sober observers, two clear and opposite sides have emerged. One is a proponent of the sovereignty of Kenya, the other a proponent of the drive against impunity. Both sides, I believe, love this country and want the best for it.
The proponents of sovereignty want Kenya to assert itself before the community of nations so that her concerns are taken seriously. They feel that on the ICC issue, Kenya is being taken for granted internationally and decisions that affect the country are being made without regard to the views of Kenyans or the convenience of the nation.
The proponents of the drive against impunity on their part want the ICC trials to go on to their final conclusion, whatever the outcome. They look back to where Kenya has come from on the issue of impunity and they believe that if for any reason the trials were stopped, impunity will have won the day.
Each side has its critics. The critics of the proponents of sovereignty see them as supporters of the suspects while the critics of the proponents of the drive against impunity see them as supporters of the political opponents of the accused.
Though both sides have a credible view point, they cannot agree on a common ground. Indeed, they have become so polarised that increasingly, only the most courageous of each dares to openly say what they think. Both sides have now entered a competition of chest thumping as each believes they will eventually carry the day.
But we have a long journey ahead on this matter and Kenyans have yet to start weighing in their final positions on both view points. When they do, the chips could fall either way or somewhere in the middle.
It would not be the first time in the world that what started as a popular view point with public support became a discredited and unpopular position to hold. I can think of two such instances in history. In 1940, France was faced with being over-run by Nazi Germany as the latter spread its military spheres of influence. To avoid conquest and occupation, not to mention the damage that would precede them, the French government decided to strike a deal with Nazi Germany. France agreed to stay out of the war and not to join up with any nation against Germany in return for Germany keeping out of French territory.
The French were largely happy with the deal that saved them from the destruction of war. But some proponents of sovereignty rejected the deal and swore to fight back against Germany. Led by the military leader General Charles de Gaulle, these proponents of French sovereignty went into exile from where they sponsored resistance against Germany and assisted the Allied powers to defeat the Nazi regime.
As it turned out, they were on the right side of history. The government that had co-operated with the Germans lost popular support and after the war they were arrested and charged with treason. Many of them were hanged. General Charles de Gaulle was fully accepted by the French and they selected him as their leader.
In America, a similar change of fortunes occurred over the Vietnam war. When it started, it enjoyed such popular support that Congress gave its approval unanimously, and in the Senate only two members objected.
Then students from the university began protesting against the war but they could hardly raise a respectable number. The rallies were attended by an average of 2,500 people. When the body bags began arriving, public opinion drastically changed. The average rally was now attended by 300,000 people where they sang songs against President Lyndon Baines Johnson asking him “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many children did you kill today?” He had become so unpopular that he voluntarily withdrew his re-election bid.
Those who are in the debate for or against ICC should learn from this history that it eventually pays to keep a sober mind in one’s view points. In the changing fortunes of time, sycophancy can be very expensive.
Paul Mwangi is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya