Mass action will help us realise dream of Constitution

Most Kenyans are tearing hair from their heads, following constant revelations of the plunder that has been normalised by the Jubilee regime. We have complained, vented on social media and been perplexed by the amounts looted. But it continues, unabated, and by people who believe we are so dense that appealing to our tribal sentiments is enough to maintain the plunder.

But why is it that despite all the rhetoric and table-thumping from Uhuru Kenyatta, this plunder continues? Yes, some of the revelations stem from before this apparent newborn fervour against corruption; a time when he in fact spoke out to defend some of his favoured ones, as with NYS1 scandal. Remember that moment in State House when he berated Auditor General Edward Ouko for wanting to dig deeper into the Eurobond scandal, including questioning the Federal Reserve Bank of New York? Basically, when someone with powers—and Kenya’s presidency still has immense powers despite the 2010 Constitution—shouts, moans and pleads about an issue that he can turn around, but still nothing happens, there can only be two reasons for the inaction.

The first is that those plundering know that he is so complicit and compromised that nothing he says will matter. It is their version of “uta do?” Because they know where the other bodies are buried that they are like an albatross around their neck. They know that this is just a show, theatre, that will only go so far, if they just hang on. Which is why they continuously minimise the amounts lost and make dubious claims that “their people” are being targeted.

They are simply playing for time. The second reason could be the last-term, lame-duck syndrome at play, given that Mr Kenyatta will be (supposedly) exiting the political stage in a few years. That is the more charitable view, especially from those blinded by “uthamaki,”and for whom Kenyatta can do no wrong. But if this is the lame duck season, what explains the runaway looting from 2013 till now? Why was plunder allowed to become an existential threat to Kenya? How does this explain the “tuna kula nyama, wengine wanameza mate (we are eating meat as others salivate)” ideology?

But let’s think of solutions, since the constant whining is not making much of a difference. Had those in power been civilised or civil, we would have demanded resignations, knowing there was a possibility of that happening. And in any case, the options in the Constitution on vacancy in the presidency may not mean much of a change, given the character, history and leanings of the current Speaker.

So, we need to be creative, and radical, especially at a time when New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern has showed the world what real compassionate leadership is all about. We must raise the bar. We can’t and should not wait for 2022 for this leadership to emerge. First, as long as the current IEBC commissioners and staff remain in office, or they are changed too close to election date, we can predict the results accurately before we even vote!

Second, for us in Kenya, normal election season somehow brings the worst in us, and we are unable to see beyond the tribe and the little bribes given to us to vote for “our own,” even when we know that “our own” will only make things worse for ourselves and the country. We are living in abnormal times, and non-normal solutions need to be found. So, let us take inspiration from our Ethiopian neighbours who decided a couple of years ago that they had had enough of the grabbing and disrespect of the powers, and protested for months on end. At least 400 people were killed, but there was no retreat, and no surrender.

It is time for our NGOs and movements to first simplify the implication of the plunder since 2013. David Ndii has started some of that in his writing in the East African Review, where he shows what we missed out because of the plunder. NGOs need to graphically explain this to us all, relating it to everyday needs and services. 

Then, like the long-suffering in Sudan and Algeria, we need to get out in mass action. We showed the extent of our anger last year, turning out in the hundreds of thousands at the swearing in of Raila Odinga, even when we expected bullets, tear gas and violence from the state. Raila has ceded the space for as-yet-unclear reasons, but that anger has not gone away. It has been festering, and fermenting.

And at the same time, we have had two thought-provoking declarations of interest for leadership from at least two people with roots in the reform movement. This is the time for them to show the courage and leadership necessary and mobilise usinto sustained mass action that will force the ruling elite to get out so we can start realising the dream of the 2010 Constitution. Saba Saba is a symbolic date, and we should target that date to start persistently exercising our freedom of peaceful assembly.

- The writer is former KNCHR chair. [email protected]

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