Kenyatta summit speech tipping point in Africa-West relations

“More than ever, our destiny is in our hands.” This was Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s clarion call in a fiery speech to an extraordinary summit of African leaders gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on October 12.

Peter Kagwanja Political Analyst

As they used to say in the Old American South, this was no ordinary moment when a “negro was letting off steam”.

The speech was delivered with the no-nonsense tone of Kenya’s new virulently nationalistic and pan-African foreign policy.

Kenyatta’s “destiny speech” had familiar echoes to Winston Churchill’s eternal “Finest Hour” speech delivered on June 18 1940 when Hitler’s imminent invasion became a great danger to Britain’s survival.

Kenyatta seized the AU summit as a moment “to reflect on significant matters relating to the welfare and destiny of our nations and peoples.”

Like Churchill, Kenyatta sees the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) and its American and European supporters as the greatest threat to Africa’s freedom, sovereignty and prosperity since the demise of colonialism.

Despite the imminent threat posed to him and Kenya by the ICC, Kenyatta was not a cry-baby in the speech to his African peers.
Rather, in its distinct tone of a fiery African nationalist, the speech is reminiscent of those of his own father, Jomo Kenyatta, at Hyde Park London in the 1930s and 1940s against colonialism.

The speech was a unique masterwork in the revolutionary oratory last heard on the floor of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Toure. It had the recognisable fieriness of Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Optimistically, Kenyatta painted Kenya’s experience with the ICC within the larger canvass of Africa’s epic struggle against imperialists and colonial interests.

ICC comes through as a mortal throwback to the years gone by when America and Europe “dominated and controlled”, “relentlessly exploited” and “divided and incited” the African people against one another.

A new leadership and Africa’s changing strategic fortunes in global power relations is Kenyatta’s best counterpoise to the ICC. “We are heirs of freedom fighters and our founding fathers,” he declared.

In a clearly radical tone, he speaks of a continent witnessing the “spectacles of Western decline”, the crashing of “the imperial exploiter … into the pits of penury” and the “arrogant world police” crippled by “shambolic domestic dysfunction” (read America’s shutdown).

Precisely, a month before his date with the ICC, Kenyatta captures the court as a threat to a “proud, independent and sovereign nation and people”. It is a threat to a continent “on the rise” and “at the centre of global focus”, buoyed by unity and peace, “sufficient resources to invest in a prosperous future” and a leadership now taking pro-active measures to ensure “prosperity in a peaceful home” for all.

This forms the heuristic basis of his appeal to the AU to defend the interests and sovereignty of Africa, to prevent member states like Kenya from “being controlled once again by outside powers”.

Untypical of Kenya’s hitherto fervently pro-West diplomacy, Kenyatta publicly censures the US, Britain and the European Union and certain eminent persons (read former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan) for threatening Kenya against electing his government in the March elections.

His decisive victory was a “categorical rebuke” by the people of Kenya of “the ICC and its patrons” who were hell-bent on using the ICC to effect regime change in Kenya.

This militant rendition of Africa’s relations with Western powers — who pays the piper by providing close to 70% of the court’s annual budget — as “the drivers of the ICC process” invites the discourse of “resistance” against imminent “re-colonisation” of Africa.

Clearly, this throws Kenya’s compliance with the court in the future into serious doubts.

But Kenyatta hastened to recognise the need to comprehensively tackle impunity issues, arguing that this is why he and his deputy have endured humiliation in the corridors of ICC power — with his government complying with 33 out of 37 demands by the court, shy of the 100% compliance because of legal and constitutional constraints.

But the ICC is no longer the “home of justice”. Its processes have degenerated into a “race-hunting” against the African people and itself into a “farcical pantomime … that adds insult to the injury of victims” and “a toy of declining imperial powers”.

With the hardening positions, what’s next after Addis Ababa?

Clearly, the fight against the ICC has entered a bareknuckle phase.

The ICC is counting on the services of Africa’s eminent persons, those, in Kenyatta’s words “who have drunk out of the poisoned fountain of imperialism”, such as Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, help it wriggle out of its current moral conundrum.

It is a diplomatic scoop for Kenyatta, now poised to become Africa’s boldest moral voice ideologically between former South African president Nelson Mandela and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Kenya now has the total backing of the AU not to attend the Hague trials. Africa has taken over Kenya’s battle with the ICC.

It has appointed a five-strong team of countries to bring the war to the floor of the UN Security Council, where it expects the backing of Russia, China, three African non-permanent members and the Asian and Latin American bloc.

As such, Kenya’s date with destiny is November 12.

If the UN Security Council snubs Africa, as it has done before, Kenya will have to decide whether Kenyatta travels to The Hague or not.

Professor Kagwanja is the chief executive of the Africa Policy Institute and former government adviser.