A woman who is hated by many in Kenya arrived in Uganda Thursday, and was treated quite well.
We are talking here of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda.
ensouda became a reviled woman because of the ICC case against President Uhuru Kenyatta, which has since collapsed and been withdrawn, and his deputy William Ruto.
The cases against Kenyatta and Ruto roused the African Union, who fumed and threatened to collectively withdraw from the ICC and wreck it.
That anti-ICC charge was led by none other Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni.
Wise Ugandans knew better. Some years ago, the Museveni government had referred the case of the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army to the ICC, and its leader Joseph Kony and a couple of his lieutenants, including a feared commander called Dominic Ong’wen, were indicted.
The ICC indictment was a diplomatic boost for Museveni, because it lined up the world on his side against the LRA.
It also allowed Museveni to pursue the LRA into DRC and the Central African Republic, and draw in the Americans, who sent Special Forces to help.
Museveni didn’t really need an ICC indictment of the LRA by the time his government referred the case.
They had long been defeated not only inside northern Uganda, but had even been pushed out of the South Sudan border areas close to Uganda.
However, the indictment helped position Museveni as the centre of gravity of regional geopolitics.
Recently, Dominic Ong’wen was captured inside CAR and handed to the American troops hunting the LRA there.
Everyone waited to see if Museveni would extend his strident anti-ICC line to Ong’wen, and demand that he be tried in Uganda instead.
No, he didn’t. Indeed, minister of International Relations Henry Okello Oryem said Bensouda’s visit was “part of the agreement government made to fully cooperate with the ICC in the prosecution of the indicted LRA commanders.”
ensouda was also set to break bread with Museveni.
Clearly, Kenyatta’s instincts served him well, when he chose to ignore the AU call for him to refuse to cooperate, and decide to go to The Hague to confront his accusers.
What this case illustrates is something many miss when they are distracted by Museveni’s theatrics. He is the consummate pragmatist to the point of opportunism.
Tanzania’s venerated founder Julius Nyerere, who both liked and mildly despised Museveni, allegedly said the problem was that he had “turned pragmatism into a philosophy”.
A schemer who looks far ahead. It is possible Museveni foresaw that a Kenyatta refusal to go to The Hague would hamstring him as president, and probably make him dependent on Museveni, for doing the diplomatic outreach that he couldn’t do because he was under the ICC cloud.
For Kenyatta, the ICC was an existential issue, on which his personal freedom, his politics, and the legacy of the family of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta rode.
For Museveni, it was just another day at the office. It may be a philosophical flaw, but it’s also the source of his success.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail and Guardian Africa (mgafrica.com) Twitter: @cobbo3