I had hoped not to write an apocalyptic column this week. But that is moot now. I have no choice. The events of the past week have laid bare Kenya’s worst demons. It doesn’t matter how finally the presidential election will be resolved. That’s because irrevocable damage has already been done to the country’s zeitgeist.
I know that Kenya lost its electoral virginity decades ago—in the 1960s and throughout the period futility during the one-party state. In 2002, with the ascension of Narc, there was a ray of hope our innocence could be restored. That ray flickered for a brief moment, and then petered out. We’ve been living in darkness since then. But what happened on Tuesday was the proverbial deathblow.
States and nations are living organisms. They prosper or fail depending on what happens to the body politic. Like the human body, you can’t keep on abusing it and expect it to be healthy. You can poison your body to point of extinction. Put differently, the nation — like the human body — can only take so much crap. That’s when failure — and even rigor mortis — could set in.
If you doubt me, look across the border in Somalia, or further afield in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. These states are the equivalent of walking corpses. Question — does the Kenyan ruling elite love power more than it loves Kenya? The answer to that question may determine whether we can snatch our country back from the brink — again.
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There’s something called faith — I don’t mean of the religious kind. I am talking secular faith — and belief — that your partner won’t be betray you, or stab you in the back. The innocent trust that a child has in a parent. Citizens must have faith that their State — their nation — will not irreversibly betray them. That’s the social contract — the oath taken between the citizen and the State — that their destiny is intertwined. It’s the truism that as goes the citizen, so does the State. It’s literally a state of symbiosis. You nurture it because you know that it’s the only thing you have. Being a refugee isn’t fun — I know because for a decade I was one.
You don’t want your State to divorce you, although you are free to divorce it. I say these things because the August 8 election has struck a virtual fatal blow to our loyalty to the State. That’s because the State has shown no loyalty to us. I am not talking here about who won, and who lost. No — I am talking about our faith in the system. That intangible thing called faith in the State may be gone — forever.
I have seen countries where this has happened. They lumber on, like the living dead, except they have no soul. Recapturing the lost faith by the citizenry in the State is damn near impossible. That’s why dark-skinned people are dying by their thousands in the Mediterranean trying to reach a Europe that doesn’t want them. Let me extrapolate.
In 2007, the country went to the dogs after the disputed election. We showed the world that we couldn’t conduct a free and fair election. The late Samuel Kivuitu, then chair of the electoral body, said that he didn’t know who between ODM’s Raila Odinga and PNU’s Mwai Kibaki had won the election. Yet Mr Kivuitu swore Mr Kibaki in under the cover of darkness. Carnage and bloodletting — as Kenya had never seen before — engulfed us. In 2013, Raila took on Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta. Again, the election was disputed. Again, we showed the world that we couldn’t conduct a free and fair election.
Last Tuesday, Raila again squared against Kenyatta for what would be a last contest between the scions of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Again, we’ve shown the world that we can’t conduct a free and fair election. Raila and NASA have raised fundamental questions about the integrity of the electoral system and the veracity of the IEBC.
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Their charges against IEBC are damning. No matter how this ends, it’s a bad movie. It’s stolen our souls and fed them to the devil. Why after three consecutive contested, or stolen, elections would Kenyans have faith in their State? Why vote in the next election? Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Is what happened on Tuesday democracy?
Methinks not — it was the antithesis of democracy. Where we go from here is the bigger question. I know the key NASA players. They’ve spent their lives in public service. They are men of substance. When Raila, or his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka cry foul, we must listen. We can’t restore faith in the nation if we don’t.
- Prof Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua