September 7th 2017
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew” Martin Niemöller, (1892- 1984)
Perhaps in situations of condoned atrocities against minorities and or in volatile situations in a state, it is not about the combatants but the silent minorities or majorities that carry the heaviest load of guilt. The Americans by understanding how important it is to be empowered to speak and exercise the right to freedom of speech and expression as a cardinal requirement in democratic governance passed the famous 1st Amendment. This amendment has become the one key pillar in the American constitution that epitomizes what it means to constitute a government for the people, of the people and by the people if I may paraphrase the words of one of the greatest sons of United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. A country must understand its history and exist to answer to the needs of its entire citizenry and betterment of humanity as a whole. Suppression thus finds no room in such a state. How best then are such paramount freedoms secured?
It is only through strong independent institutions that work in tandem seamlessly to safeguard the constitution and remind the prevailing government that sovereign power belongs to the people that Kenya as a country has a chance at towering tall amongst her peers in the region and on the continent. It is under the backdrop of responsible governance that the prevailing situation in Kenya needs to be addressed. The fragility of the state as expressed by near collapse institutions like the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the blatant attack on the judiciary by the executive arm after the magisterial decision not only to reassert constitutionalism by declaring the presidential results of 8/8/2017 as null and void but also to offer the IEBC itself a new lease of life to redeem itself as a critical institution in the democracy that is Kenya by reorganizing a fresh election, must be nipped in the bud by bold men and women who are willing to stand on the right side of history. Such vitriol that targets institutions that have been established to guard the people’s rights as sovereign entities must be condemned by all and sundry irrespective of creed and color.
Concomitantly, as divided, as Kenya has been, truth and lie are subjective based on ones ethnicity or political affiliation. What is true to the opposition becomes a lie to the ruling government, a lie which must be condemned by all. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the peoples (animals) revolution collapses at the helm of the ruling class. The youthful dogs raised in isolation to specifically do the bidding for the authoritarian regime and ignorant majority who tire to serve the regime and see no evil, hear no evil and act for no evil become the appendages on which authoritarianism thrives. How is George Orwell’s Animal Farm different from many polities in the world, Kenya included where the police secret squads allow themselves to be used to trample on peoples rights, where majority amongst the citizens surrender to the powerful selfish hand of the state where they lament in silence and say nothing when their voice is of critical importance; and in so doing the ruling class behaves like a deity from which the populace must bow down to receive redemption when fact is that the regime itself is rotten to the core deserving of total redemption rather than redeeming anyone and anything.
Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
The media is referred to as the fourth estate for very specific reasons; that it plays the critical role of providing information for the general public and being the public’s watchdog through investigative journalism. An accountable, free and responsible mass media is one of the main principles on which democracy is anchored. What happens when the media becomes partisan and goes to bed with the same people it is supposed to be checking? In the just concluded general election in Kenya, the media relayed no information directly from the field and carried no image that would be deemed as answering to the need to crosscheck and ensure transparency. Instead, they relied on the general narratives being promoted by the other stakeholders specifically the political parties. Worse still, the media has been rightfully accused of blatantly taking the government’s stand in the bungled elections when the opposition started crying foul. It was interesting to see the media struggle hard to put the opposition to task to substantiate their claims. Wasn’t it not their role to delineate truth for the general public by scratching the surface as away of improving transparency? Constitutional undertakings like the 1st amendment only make sense when the media acts in a responsive and responsible manner but when in pursuit of capitalist ends or being captives of divisive politics they abscond this duty then the state lacks stability and continues to tread on a thin line that can easily lead to turmoil.
What of the clergy? While in Kenya, the state and religion are distinct; the clergy have a central role to play in encouraging responsible socialization. The clergy must be seen to be protectors of individual and personal rights by emphasizing on equality of all persons and condemning evils in governance. In Kenya, the clergy since 2007 allowed themselves to be used politically in a partisan manner and they lost face completely. Since the pulpit had been turned into an arena for politics, when the country sunk into the abyss of post-election violence (PEV) in January of 2008, there was no one clean enough to point the finger. Subsequently, they have been rendered immaterial in the process of state building especially politically as many times they do the bidding for politicians and serve partisan political ends. Long gone are the days of the late Bishop Alexander Kipsang Muge of the Anglican Archdiocese of Eldoret, Henry Okullu amongst others; religious champions of ideals of good governance and responsible leadership. Today no “chosen of God” exists to speak for the voiceless masses.
While it is not my intention to sound pessimistic on the situation in Kenya, what worries me is the silence amongst majority young college educated Kenyans. We have chosen to either express our tribal sentiments in the comfort of our ethnic backyards or keep quiet in public on the face of bad behavior from the political class. When Moses Kuria shamelessly whips his constituents’ emotions to profile members of other communities deemed as opposition supporters, where are the young people especially from his backyard to voice their displeasure at such dangerous rhetoric? Where are the institutions of governance charged with the responsibility of dealing with such especially in post 2007 Kenya? In a contest on forgetting, I think warthogs would do better than Kenyans, as we tend to forget where we have come from faster than the proverbial warthogs. When the president orders parliament and senate on whom to vote in as speaker and to the last man and woman his word is headed, aren’t we supposed to worry for our country? Do those parliamentarians and senators understand their duty? Where is their fidelity-to their political masters or the constitution of the republic of Kenya? To make matters worse, when the elected speaker of the Senate, one Ken Lusaka, he who of carcinogenic wheelbarrows that cost close to 1000 US dollars each, is seen hanging on the president’s car like an experienced matatu tout on a campaign trail, can we trust that he will prevail over the executive in order to uphold our constitution and act in the interest of the people?
We have a lot to worry about as Kenya prepares to go through yet another political onslaught in the form of a repeat presidential election. We should all play our key duties as citizens to protect our country from demagogues and political vultures. We should speak on top of our voices to condemn ethnicity especially on social media. We should reprimand bigots in the various whtasapp groups that twist the truth and demonize those they see as their political competitors. Let us find our voices and speak for one united Kenya. Otherwise history will judge us harshly and just like Niemöller, they will come for us and no one will be left to speak for us. No one will be left to dig our grave and our corpses shall be fed on by vultures, wild animals and the remaining skeletons if any at all, will serve as a reminder of a generation that chose silence over
the fight for justice, complacency over constructive criticism, ethnicity over nationhood, bigotry over humanity, and twisted truth to achieve selfish ends for our political gods. I cry and hope for my Kenya in equal measure.
Anyumba Jethron PhD— Technische Universitat Darmstadt, Germany.