State’s acts of disdain will eventually lead to people power

The mass uprisings in Sudan and Algeria these past weeks, and in Ethiopia last year, all tell the same story. That you can oppress people for a while (even a long time); deny them their dignity and rights; steal from them; disrespect them and treat them like fools, but there is no stopping them when they reach their breaking point.

I hope Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and others of that ilk are watching. Yes, each country is different, and different tactics are used by different tyrants, but they all come crushing when people lose their fear of death or pain. We may not know the trigger that will lead to the outpouring of people, but tyrants are always overconfident that they can survive—ala Omar al-Bashir--thinking they can manage the protests or kill enough people to spread intimidation.  

Studies of people power globally show that it takes a combination of repression, abuse and marginalisation on one hand, and economic stress on the other to cause fearlessness. When people can barely eat, are repressed and lose their hope for a better life, they also lose their fear of death, pain and/or jail, thus sustaining mass protests.

Kenya was at that point last year when half a million people ventured into Uhuru Park to witness the swearing in of Raila Odinga, despite weeks of threats, intimidation and the real possibility of state sponsored violence which had been unleashed in the months before. The relentless state looting, the growing economic imbalances coupled with the high cost of living added fuel to the flames.

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Last year’s swearing in was not so much about Raila, however he would like it to be. It was the culmination of anger after years of electoral theft, decades of disrespect, lack of inclusion and overt arrogance that those wielding state power expressed. It was bitterness at the constant eating without a break as if our taxes were meant to be gobbled by a few. And it was frustration at the inability of our Constitution to provide the change it was meant to usher in because those implementing it prefer unfettered power to allow them to loot our taxes.

Unbelievable greed

Sadly, the “hand-cheque” took the wind out of the sails then, as Raila perhaps thought that being swept to power on the back of people-power would create demands for a radical and revolutionary way of governance that he was not ready to provide. But sure, as sure can be, the winds are blowing again precisely because tyrants never seem to learn, and they think retreat is surrender.

Not a week goes by without news reports illustrating the unbelievable greed of those in positions of influence, and the disdain with which they hold us. The gulf is massive, and we are surely living in two separate worlds. Scarcely have we fathomed what the impact of Sh21 billion lost in building non-existent dams, then we hear claims that less--but still billions—was looted, as though we should only care about the figures. And all these denials coming despite what the experts reported, followed by the arrogance of telling us they the building of dams—read stealing—will continue, no matter what.  

We are in the midst of a famine whose roots are in bad governance, and had those billions actually bought us some dams—rather than being pocketed--maybe we would not be losing our people in such indignity. And yet again these deaths are publicly denied, by Mr Ruto again, adding insult to injury.

SEE ALSO :Shops reopen as Sudan generals, protesters agree to talk

The disrespect does not stop there. Despite a prohibitory court order, the executive purposes to increase our taxes by a total of three percent to fund houses for middle class in urban areas in what will be a quixotic “affordable housing scheme.” David Ndii has unmasked the companies slated to benefit the most: C-Max, Koto Housing, Kenya Clay Products and Timsales, which are all part of the Kenyatta family businesses. As Dr Ndii posits: “How do you justify forcing a minimum wage tea picker in Kericho or waiter in Kwale to finance middle class housing in Nairobi?”

Every new or re-invented idea that calls for huge public expenditure is meant for looting rather than the public interest. The idea that we, as taxpayers, should hand over Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) — despite its sordid history of corruption — to Kenya Airways to benefit a few is incredible. Yes, the state has some shares in the airline, but it is a private entity with public investment, that has been mismanaged and devoured. The KAA idea seems to be as more about clearing debt to Kenyatta-linked banks, and to mysterious lessors of planes that KQ did not need than anything else. Yet the simplest thing would be to simply sell of KQ and stop the hemorrhaging of our tax money.

But then again, maybe it is good that this regime—with its new and old allies—continue these acts of arrogance and disdain. For it is these that eventually lead to people power and our task is to be ready when the trigger inevitably comes.

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

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SudanAlgeriaUhuru KenyattaPeople power