“The price of democracy is eternal vigilance” so said USA’s Thomas Jefferson.
Over the last few weeks in Kenya since the March 4 election, we have witnessed the defilement of democracy in the name of peace, as in the tweet below, that takes away our rights to peaceful assembly:
Are we headed back to the the terrible dark days of no freedom of speech or assembly? Being careful what you say, where, and to whom? Looking over your shoulder before you furtively whisper? There has been a steady stream of worrying signs that this could indeed be the case. Are we sliding back to Executive fiat supported by a police-state and entirely revolving around cult-worship of Baba and Mtukufu Rais (whose sacred person alone embodies the hallowed serikali), totally suppressing the other two arms of government? The Legislature and Judiciary provide the necessary checks and balances in a democracy.
President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta while reassuring constitutional commissions of his government’s support was also however reported on March 16 2013 as urging “the bodies to exhaust internal mechanisms in addressing challenges that arise while performing their duties before taking their differences to the media.” Hmmmh… not very clear on when these mechanisms are to be deemed to have been exhausted, and far be it for the Fourth Estate to report on any such knuckle-knocking, in their recent rebirth as peace evangelists and the hand-maidens of the Executive – blinkered, muzzled, and abdicating their role as public watchdog, trading it instead for Executive’s poodle.
Three days prior, on March 13, the government wagged a warning finger at foreign journalists in this article whose heading was a throwback to the Moi years: an innocuous and warranted act in and of itself, but fitting into the time-series of events since March 4, perhaps not so innocent and indeed worrying. Why crack the whip on foreign journalists at that point in time? And why after an election whose presidential result is the subject of a petition now before the Supreme Court? What next? Will Kenyans running blogs and micro-blogs also need to sign up with the government?
Yet another vile creepy-crawly from the ugly past that worked its way out of the woodwork was the sickening sycophancy following IEBC’s March 9 announcement of the President-elect. Surely, we cannot return to the presidential personality cult venerating the Prince of Peace reigning over our blissfully happy Island of Peace surrounded by a chaotic sea of tumult? Mwalimu namba moja, Mkulima namba moja Baba, namba moja ad nauseum, and his chama which was Baba na Mama to all Kenyans, whether they liked it or not? Kenya is approaching the ripe old age of half-a-century as a republic. We’ve come of age. We’re not children, and we never were. We don’t need an omniscent father-figure paternalistic President. The President is a first among equals who we, the people of Kenya, have contracted (yes, hired) and granted the powers to govern. The President is not a demi-god who is ever to be worshipped and never to be questioned.
Each of the events above is innocuous standing alone. But stringed together, a deeply disturbing pattern is emerging, playing out a sinister script from a ruinous past we thought we’d petrified. A pattern complete with attacks on the West and trumpeting our sovereignty, when in reality, we are the ones being played, and it is our own rights that are to be trampled. And that’s not all: in the murkier alleys of Kenya’s blogosphere, civil society – the one entity that can stand up to a rogue Executive where the opposition has been cannibalised (as our recent history attests) – has been branded as ‘evil society’. ‘Activist’ has been corrupted into a dirty word. It doesn’t stop there: in what has all the hallmarks of a calculated and systematic smear campaign, aspersions have been cast on the personalities of some of the judges at the Supreme Court, including its President, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. The judiciary he presides over is the one institute rising out of the 2010 Constitution in which Kenyans thus far have faith. Need I say more?
Competitive politics is a key cornerstone of democracy, and in that competition, the rules of the game must be fair, the playing ground even, with a recourse and clear pathway to prompt justice for any aggrieved party. Faithfully following in the footsteps of his three predecessors, it would appear that Uhuru is already working to dismantle and eviscerate the future political opposition, holding court with various party representatives in the name of inclusion and unity. With Jomo Kenyatta, the reasons stated was pursuit of a unitary state; with Moi, we remember the (in?)famous defections to the ruling party which completely crippled the opposition; with Kibaki, he raided the opposition benches to form a so-called government of national unity, following his fallout with his erstwhile comrades-in-arms during the campaigns over a pre-election pact he disregarded. With Jubilee already raiding opposition benches even before the houses have sat, they are marshalling the numbers to ensure that they will simply roll over any opposition that stands in their way. A non-existent or totally impotent opposition is not healthy for democracy, regardless of who is in power. Given who could be in power should the current status quo be upheld by the Supreme Court, there are troubled times ahead for good governance, stemming and prosecuting corruption, reining in the runaway greed of MPs (who are already preparing to fire their first self-serving salvo for higher pay), and, most importantly, the 2010 Constitution whose provisions and gains could be easily overturned. The stand Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took on the Integrity Bill that sought to operationalise Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership and integrity is very telling.
When Uhuru’s closest contestant in the presidential race, Raila Odinga, alleged there were irregularities in the election, his contestants responded with unsollicited advice that if dissatisfied he should go to court. Well, Raila did move to court, and I doubt it was on account of this unsollicited advice. His contestants promptly changed tune: elections are over, Kenyans are fatigued by the process, let’s move on. It would appear that any alleged irregularities in the electoral process were of no concern to them, as long as their side had won, and any scrutiny of the process was obstructionist and a political ploy to cut the wind in their sails.
Legitimate questions have been raised on how the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission conducted the electoral process, and not just by the petitioners of the matter currently before the Supreme Court. Indeed, following revelations at the Court hearings, some observers have qualified their reports on the election, separating the voting exercise from the result transmission, tallying and announcements done by IEBC. We should one and all as citizens – voter and candidate, victor and loser – be supremely concerned on the integrity of the electoral process. Voting is the greatest equaliser in our otherwise uneven society. Your vote, mine, Uhuru’s, Moi’s, Raila’s, Kibaki’s – each and every one of them bears exactly the same weight. At the booth, we are all equal. Nobody, nobody, should take this sacred right away from us, and then, as if that were not enough, present their foul bastardised figures clothed in the protective cloak of the will of the very people they have robbed! Anyone that knowingly and deliberately alters figures in order to affect electoral outcome should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In my view, such conduct should be treated as high treason for the heinous stinking crime it is. A bunch of individuals cannot subvert broad-based elections of leaders by the people into narrow selections of the candidates of their choice. Otherwise, why should we bother to vote or have faith in the electoral process?
Recalling his detention by the Moi regime in this article, Justice Mohamed Ibrahim of the Supreme Court, who was then a young lawyer in 1990 says “It made me to appreciate the meaning of liberty, and it inspired me to support the liberation movement and a just society.”
The price of democracy is indeed eternal vigilance, and not eternal peace, as we are being led to believe.
Wakenya, tafadhali tusilale! We must be eternally vigilant, and now more so than any other time in Kenya’s history, when we’re at a tipping point towards progress in implementing the 2010 Constitution and giving it the the additional teeth it needs, or a slide backwards into a police-mediated and enforced ‘peace’.