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Big Man syndrome: Is it back to the bad past?

By Owiti K’Akumu | Published Mon, March 5th 2018 at 00:00, Updated March 4th 2018 at 23:22 GMT +3

There are misgivings about the end of the Big Man’s syndrome in Africa. Whereas the ignominious African political culture seems to be eradicated in some parts of Africa as can be seen recently in West African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Bukina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, the story in Eastern Africa is quite different. There are those who think that the region, including Kenya, bears the new frontier of the Big Man in Africa.

What Murathe said

In the run up to the August 8 elections David Murathe, the Deputy Chairman of the Jubilee Party, said President Uhuru Kenyatta should rule Kenya as a “benevolent” dictator does. Reason being that countries that are under Big Men such as Rwanda are politically stable and therefore can realise “development” at a faster rate. Mr Murathe’s suggestion met reproof and indignation from well-wishing Kenyans. But Mr Murathe’s sentiments were not out of the blue. Already, President Kenyatta had showed tendencies of ruling Kenya in the Big Man’s style.

The repressive police force that descended on public contestations of the presidential elections result spoke volumes. In a landmark ruling that met worldwide praise, the Supreme Court of Kenya annulled the presidential election results and called for fresh elections. This gallant act by the judges seemingly roused the ghosts of the Big Man.

Infuriated by the Court’s decision, the Jubilee side called the judges all sorts of mean names. They termed it a ‘judicial coup’, an overturn of ‘the sovereign will of the people’ and a decision by a few wakora (swindlers) and promised to straighten the Judiciary once they win back their “stolen victory” in the impending fresh elections. Essentially the Court decision provided a reality check for the push to dictatorship and marks the turning point of President Kenyatta’s rule.

In reaction to the Court decision Jubilee administration is not going to tolerate any independent institution. In order to consolidate power and be in charge of everything all executive and non-executive institutions are or will be targeted. At the Executive level, for things to run smoothly, the Big Man shall need friendly institutions starting with a friendly police force and friendly security organs. Then he will require friendly ‘independent institutions’ like IEBC, IPOA and the like. Institutions with administrative or sectorial police power like Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK), the NGO Coordination Board must also be user friendly to the Big Man.

Still within government, the Big Man will require a friendly Judiciary and a friendly Legislature. It is obvious what a friendly Judiciary is. Whenever Jubilee lost any case related to the August 8 elections and its aftermath, regardless of law or facts, the judgement was branded pro-NASA. We are looking for a situation where all judgments should be pro-Jubilee that’s when you respect ‘the sovereign will of the people’.

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Currently the Judiciary is considered as the only weapon the Opposition is using against the government. We all know what would be done to achieve the ideal status; there’d be purges. It is well known that if you are against any judgement you should appeal against it or use any other legal avenue; writing a complaint letter is not it. Jubilee’s accusatory letter to the Chief Justice about anti-Jubilee judges and judgements was just the kick-off of project Big Man. More is likely to follow.

Control over MPs

The Executive also would want a total control of the Legislature. We have seen this in the recent purge of validly elected Chairs of Parliamentary Committees from the Jubilee side, the recent fiasco of State House meeting of Jubilee legislators where less than 50 legislators attended to the chagrin of the President and the withdrawal of official cars and bodyguards of opposition leaders holding offices in parliament following the controversial ‘swearing-in’ of Raila Odinga as ‘peoples president’. Everything will be done to make legislators comply. Those who won’t toe the line would be purged by any means possible.  

Outside of government, the Big Man shall require a friendly media, a friendly intelligentsia and friendly social movements so as to ensure the smooth implementation of government policies and programes. Recently the media houses were shut down for covering a criminal event or for participating in an act of overthrowing the government in the name of Mr Odinga’s swearing in.

Apart from intimidation the executive will strive to control the media through ownership and censorship. It should quickly learn to circulate only what is friendly to the government. Unfortunately what is friendly to the government is not necessarily friendly to the consumer population so it’ll be a Catch 22 situation.

Intellectuals are supposed to be people with critical eyes but they too must not oppose the government. There’d be need for the number of those who can actively or passively rationalise government action to increase. Those who wouldn’t fit within these categories should rather keep quiet. There would be a return of spies in the lecture rooms and spies everywhere outside the classes. The education system would be used to control the mind of the leaner to cultivate patriotism and inculcate respect to the Big Man.

No more protests

Lastly, there would be no anti-government social movement. Any trade union calling for a strike and disrupting the economy would be anti-government. All NGOs should not participate in subversive activities or else, their accounts would be frozen or they’d be de-registered by the ardent NGO Coordination Board. All professional bodies like the LSK and Kenya Editors’ Guild should be compliant if not affiliated to Jubilee party.

The story will not end there. The more Jubilee would try to do these things, the more things are bound to get out of hands. It is contradictory that UhuRuto first campaigned, in 2013, on a ‘digital’ platform. They presented themselves as the youthful pair that would mark the departure with past ways of running government.

On the contrary, they quickly came through as the epigones of the past bent on returning Kenya to the dark past. But this generation of Kenyans is different. Kenyans of today are informed and self-motivated. They are not the type to bow to patriarchy. They don’t do as the parents have said; they question and say no to their parents. Obviously, they’ll say no to Jubilee and that is going to be a different story.

Mr K’Akumu is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nairobi. The views expressed here are personal


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