Authorities should spare us acts of violence

A casual look at the news headlines has probably left you wondering whether Kenya faces an existential threat. The police indiscriminately beating people at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi competed with the plundering of billions from the Kenyan Exchequer and a huge fire threatening Mt Kenya region. I was left wondering whether I should be shouting “Dam this country” or “Damn. This Country?” 

The unfolding dams’ scandal has shocked even the most hardened Kenyans. The levels of investment and breadth of complicity is now at the door of the Treasury Cabinet Secretary and his colleagues. It is not the first scandal. Simple arithmetic brings the amount list to nearly Sh1 trillion since Jubilee took office in 2013. Presently, Jubilee faces a five-sided reputational risk. This pentagon includes scandals in the five sectors: maize, public works, energy, health and water. Together they could amount to Sh30 billion.

The dam heist is probably the most daring yet. Sh20 billion lost in upfront payments to over 107 companies that failed to construct the Arror and Kimwarer dams. Under the weight of public scrutiny, it now seems most are either on the verge of collapse or bankruptcy led by the Italian CMC di Ravena. The impact will go beyond the money stolen. Kenya is classified among the most water scarce countries in the world. Why the residents of Elgeyo Marakwet have not yet taken to the streets to protest or the County Government is not applying to be an interested party in the imminent case is anybody’s guess.

As is always the case, our politicians seem determined to turn this into a circus of politricks. The Deputy President walked himself into fire by contradicting the Director of Criminal Investigations on how much has been lost. His intervention left us wondering which of the companies implicated in the scandal he may be representing. 

The criminal investigations must proceed without intimidation from the political class and the public. All most Kenyans want to see is a thorough, fair criminal investigation conducted within the rule of the law. This must be left to the courts. The president on the other hand faces a reputational challenge. Can he continue to operate with a wounded Deputy and Cabinet that is fast losing all credibility? 

Ironically, as we reel from the squandering of public financing for dams, the dry season just claimed 35,000 hectares of forest cover in fires around the Mount Kenya region. The fires seem to have been contained by the determined and collective efforts of KWS, private companies and communities after several days. 

The sight of Administrative Police officers fighting fire with sticks also caught my attention. This image fused with others of their colleagues swinging similar sticks and throwing tear-gas at Kenya Airways staff, Kenya Aviation Workers, domestic and foreign travellers at JKIA. Why does the Executive continue to misuse our police service to violently attack public dissatisfaction with the management of public affairs and resources? The Kenya Aviation Workers Union have a constitutional right to act collectively, go on strike and express opposition to the controversial takeover of a public institution by a loss-making private entity. 

Given public opposition to corruption, over-indebtedness and public financing cut-backs, perhaps it is time for national and county authorities to find other ways of managing rising non-violent public dissent. Like the French government has discovered, arresting leaders of striking workers  only proliferates grievances in the hands of hard-line and less visible opponents.  The path away from the shameful scenes at our international hub is simple. Corporal Joseph Nthenge knew this when he stopped and dialogued with protesters during 2008 post-election violence. Kilimani Sub-County Commander Muchiri Nyagah knew this also, when he spoke to Kibera youth in the wake of the killing of Carilton Maina by a police officer in 2018. The Kenya National Commissioner for Human Rights knew this when they published A Checklist for the Police and the Public on Peaceful Assembly. Given the restless season is upon us, perhaps the authorities should revisit these guidelines and spare us these acts of violence.

- The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. [email protected]