President Kenyatta’s letter to the Speakers of the Senate and the National Assembly on Friday afternoon asking them to summon MPs for a special sitting on Sunday caught Ekwee Ethuro and Justin Muturi by surprise.
With both Houses on a break, there wasn’t much going on in Parliament Buildings apart from committee meetings. Even the parking lots were scarcely populated and the corridors quiet.
President Kenyatta’s letter would set in motion what has eventually emerged as a cleverly crafted plan to create a frenzy over whether he would heed the summons by the International Criminal Court.
The Speakers immediately embarked on having text messages sent to MPs as they drafted the notice in the Kenya Gazette to give legal effect to the request by the Head of State.
They did not know what the President was going to tell MPs.
The Speakers were at the top of the list of many who would be surprised by the President and his close-knit circle of advisers and who would be kept waiting until the final five paragraphs of his Monday afternoon speech.
Some of the MPs received the text messages from the Speakers while at the Dutch embassy, which had been forced to open on Friday to accommodate the large number of applicants.
They were granting interviews and it was after one such at 3 p.m. that the message from the Speakers came in.
Majority Leader Aden Duale, who speaks for the Executive in the House, was entirely in the dark as he had travelled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the 1435 Annual Islamic Hajj.
He also had no idea whether President Kenyatta would be travelling to The Hague and asked those who managed to get him on phone whether a decision had been announced.
Asked whether their applications for visas meant the President was travelling, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria told journalists, “We are speaking for MPs.”
There was still no definite word from the President’s men on Saturday and Sunday, with even sources in State House staying mum on the matter or speaking in a manner to suggest they were also in the guessing game.
It was also telling that on Monday, his speech was sent to the press two hours after the special sitting, suggesting it had not been available to the entire team beforehand. The Presidential Strategic Communications Unit normally sends a soft copy of the speech before he has finished reading it.
Without a word as to what direction the President would take, the Opposition Cord on Sunday seized the opportunity to make some political mileage out of the special sitting and asked their MPs not to go to the House.
This was on the basis that the special sitting was called without the consultation of the Minority Leaders as required by the Standing Orders and mainly because, they argued, the President was going to speak about a personal and not a national matter.
A small number of Cord MPs from the Coast, Western Kenya and Kisii attended the special sitting regardless.
President Kenyatta also left the major announcement deliberately late in his speech, spending time before that on how the country has come since 2008, when the crimes he is accused of committing took place, to the making of the new Constitution and his personal disappointment with the ICC’s handling of his seemingly collapsing case.
The first statement on the direction things would go came at the forty fifth paragraph of his 2,258-word speech: “It is for this reason that I choose not to put the sovereignty of more than forty million Kenyans on trial, since their democratic will should never be subject to another jurisdiction.”
But that was still not a definite statement and could have been taken any other way.
He laid his mission bare in the next paragraph: “Therefore, let it not be said that I am attending the Status Conference as the President of the Republic of Kenya. Nothing in my position or my deeds as President warrants my being in court.”
After that, the other surprise was stating that he would sign the legal instrument necessary to appoint Deputy President William Ruto as the Acting President.
At the end, the relieved legislators, a majority from the Jubilee Coalition, were applauding. A diplomat in the balcony forgot protocol and clapped along with the rest. Nobody normally claps in the chamber.