Why Kenyans must constantly demand better leadership

Lest we forget, the freedom we enjoy today was won on the sweat and blood of a few selfless patriotic Kenyans. Some paid the ultimate price, while scores were maimed for life or financially ruined and their children disoriented forever. Memories fade but we should never forget that these heroes, whatever their status in life or their social standing, were fired by the belief that a prosperous society, that shuns any kind of discrimination be it ethnic, religious or financial, can only be built on the foundations of a strong democracy.

On this day 28 years ago, the patriots threw the gauntlet and congregated at the historic Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi and demanded a conversation with their government. They were tired of the numerous forms of repression, which included but was not limited to freedom of expression, thought and association. They also wanted political pluralism and an inclusive government formed after robust democratic elections held regularly and transparently.

The inherent dangers and consequences of their actions for challenging a monolithic government were not lost on them. Their colleagues had been arrested and detained without trial. There was an air of intolerance and any criticism or contradiction of a view held by a party official was taken as defiance which needed to be punished.

By doggedly engaging the government even at the danger of their lives the meek of voices grew stronger and arrested the attention of progressive forces as the movement for change became unstoppable. This was an idea whose time had come and was scattered to all directions by the new wind of change blowing from west to east, thawing the edifices of the cold war. For Kenya, it has been a long and difficult journey fraught with challenges, doubts and missteps. However, in 2010 the world stood to attention when Kenya made history by gifting herself a new constitutional dispensation without a bloody revolution.

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The 2010 Constitution created new institutions insulated from those in power. But it is not a silver bullet for all that ails the country. True, some of the creatures of the new order have on a number of occasions tried to canibalise it so as to satiate their hunger for power and materialism.

And it is during moments like these that questions linger whether the country’s stock of selfless patriots has run out. When elected leaders use their offices for personal aggrandizement, people wonder whether this is what they fought for.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, one of the main bastion in the democratic process, has faltered because of wrangles, dashing hopes of free, fair and transparent elections. Misuse of state machinery to undermine fair elections too has posed a major threat to democracy.

Despite these self-doubts, lessons from the Saba Saba patriots remind us that change is not pursued to benefit those championing such causes. Neither is it meant to be achieved by multitudes. At times, a small group of committed people can change the destiny of a nation.

Today, there is need for a rethink of the national psyche, which seemed to have been warped by the wielders of power, making the electorate to believe that it is okay for an elected leader to use a public office to loot and plunder. The corrupt leaders then balkanise their ethnic block to defend themselves.

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Kenyans have at times become too docile and too willing to be led by the blinkers held by the very people who are the cause of their misfortunes, betraying the spirit of Saba Saba. Today should inspire a new round of patriotism, which will say no to the undermining of institutions created by the Constitution. Fidelity to the law will not only safeguard the order, but also eliminate the need for Kenyans to go back to the streets to demand their rights. We celebrate all unsung patriots who made today’s freedom possible.

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