You cannot help admiring the American political and legal rigour and tenacity at home. It is captured in President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan in 2016, “America first.” When everything is done, where does it leave the country? Hence the founders of America built strong institutions that always place America first.
In foreign affairs, the law does not matter. It is always America first. Theirs has always been a lone-ranger policy. In August 1945, President Harry Truman bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan on its knees in World War II. Not even Churchill, until only a month earlier the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister and foremost ally in the war, knew what was coming.
The Manhattan Project that produced the nuclear bomb was a hugely guarded assignment. So, too, was the decision to detonate on Japan. The bad joke of it is that Churchill was very thrilled. He suggested that a third bomb should be dropped on Moscow. Moscow had been a staunch ally in the then ending war. Fortunately, Manhattan had produced only two bombs. That unilateralism continues today. It poses great danger to the rest of the world – and even to the US. We see it today in the Persian Gulf.
The situation is tense and uncertain after the killing of Iranian strongman, General Qassim Sulemani, in Bagdad on January 3. Soon after, Iran brought down a Ukrainian civilian aircraft. All the 176 people on board died. Was it an innocent mistake, as Iran claims? Time will tell. For now, American unilateralism continues. It has previously been the same in Iraq, Syria and Libya. It was the same in Korea, Afghanistan, Vietnam and in diverse places in South America during the Cold War (1945 – 1990).
There is a huge contrast in the “America first policy” when it comes to domestic matters. Yes, the US treats international laws with the hugest contempt, to place America first. Conversely, at home, it holds the law in the most sacred regard to place America first. Hence, it is all right for President Trump to begin a costly war with Iran to secure his reelection effort later this year. But it is wrong for him to twist the arm of Ukraine with military aid, so that Ukraine can derail the presidential dreams of Joe Biden of the Democratic Party. The former is patriotism. The latter is abuse of office.
Accordingly, an impeachment case against Trump has begun this week. The Ukrainian affair was abuse of office. He must answer to the charge. In a second charge, President Trump has to answer to interfering with the impeachment process against him. It is unlikely that the American Senate will remove Trump. Yet one thing stands out – America’s respect for its institutions in domestic policy. In this respect, Trump is good for America. A maverick President has given the US a perfect opportunity to test the rigors of its institutions. It appears, however, that political party bias is likely to determine the impeachment matter. Trump will stay. He will, however, face the election in November with the history of the impeachment effort – for better or worse.
Back in Nairobi, our institutions count for nothing – absolute zero. State power abuses the law, with impunity. Nairobi is the graveyard of court orders. The ongoing matter of Miguna Miguna, who has been denied entry into his country, is only the latest example. There are dozens of others, where the President and his officers treat the law with contempt. The offices they occupy, in their view, exist to serve them as individuals. It is never Kenya first, in our case.
Make no mistake, this defiance of the law and institutions is only the initial testing of the hinges of good governance. In the fullness of time, they will break up everything and throw it into the fire. This so-called “inclusivity” ruse in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is just the starting point. Twenty-two years ago, Kenyans introduced the Presidential term limit because of hard lessons from having a perennial national CEO.
Peter Habenga Okondo’s 1995 book, A Commentary on the Constitution of Kenya, is easily the best portrait of what ailed the country – it was a regal and monarchical Constitution. If the head of state bestrode the country with colossal control, the Constitution wanted it that way. As the cure, the Constitution of 2010 clipped the wings of the national CEO. It also reinforced the presidential term limit.
If today the President and his assignees are insensitively regal and monarchical, the law is innocent. They do so out of their own contempt of the law and the people. Yet they have also indicated that they are not averse to changing the law, to regularise their contempt for it. The entry point is to make nonsense of the national CEO’s term limit. What does it matter whether we call him the President or the Prime Minister?
The clampdown on dissenting voices has just begun, with the sacking of former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Mwangi Kiunjuri. Others have been put on notice. If they don’t toe the line, they will be axed. Parliament is next in the line. MPs are already being tamed through sundry inducements, harassments and intimidations. Amidst all this are emerging raucous political rallies in the name of BBI. Kenya is rolling back the democratic gains of recent times. Autocracy is sliding back. It is now only a matter of time before full-throttled repression takes over. The music is coming. Prepare to face it.
— The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke
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