By Anyang’ Nyong’o
While “authority” refers to legitimate power, in other words power exercised by those appointed or elected to do so by approved and agreed norms and procedures by the ruled, “authoritarianism” is associated with “arbitrary” illegitimate authority, at least according to liberal democratic values and norms.
Non-democratic regimes have one thing in common: Those who wield power quite often do so through little or no choice by the people, and they rarely care a hoot what the people think of the way they rule or how they use and dispose of public resources.
Where they allow the people some choice through elections, such elections are quite often controlled and determined from the centre of power. The so-called elected are often the “yoo-yoo” men and women of “bwana mkubwa” (the big man) with little room to speak or act freely. The Moi and the Kenyatta regimes were typical African authoritarian regimes.
The Narc revolution of 2002 ushered in a brief period of democratic “spring” in Kenya; an air of freedom and optimism, with tremendous public exuberance of democratic renaissance, was experienced in the republic for a good part of 2003. That was the time we implemented a popular Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation, which rekindled economic growth in an economy already in the doldrums with the weight of authoritarian politics and economic underdevelopment.
With the onset of the struggle for a democratic Constitution at Bomas in 2003, the authoritarian system started to fight back. The murder of Prof Odhiambo Mbai, the chairman of the Bomas Devolution Committee, was a clear signal that authoritarianism would not give in that easily to the democratic upsurge.
Democracy had to be fought at all costs. The arbitrary use of political power at the centre – in the name and at the service of the presidency – had to be restored and institutionalised come what may.
The immediate result was the Anglo Leasing Scandal, and the going into exile of the anti-corruption czar Mr John Githongo, then Permanent Secretary in charge of Ethics and the fight against corruption in the President’s office. Githongo had actually “polluted” that office with the fight for a clean Government. He needed to return to where he came from: The civil society.
It is no wonder therefore that all the reform forces in the Narc Government went back to the trenches during the referendum of 2005 to start afresh the fight for the Narc dream: A democratic Constitution and an empowered people living under a freely elected Government that respects the rule of law and human rights.
The Kilifi Draft Constitution that had sought to preserve the vestiges of authoritarianism was soundly defeated by the people, following which the reform forces in the Narc regime were thrown out of Government. Authoritarianism came back in full force as if the Kanu regime had never departed.
Notwithstanding the passing of the democratic Constitution in the referendum of 2010, and not withstanding further the laws that have been passed by Parliament since then to implement this Constitution, the forces of authoritarian rule are clearly reasserting themselves daily with the clear signal that they can easily reverse the democratic gains Kenyans have made since 2010. The evidence is there as clear as the path to a parish church.
Why, for example, have we been dithering about the National Police Service Commission and the appointment of an Inspector General, who will undertake the reforms necessary in the Police Force? Why is the Provincial Administration still controlled by the same persons who have been presiding over authoritarian rule of yesteryears when we know we need reformers to preside over this system at this crucial time of transition?