Let’s guard against creeping tyranny in public sphere

I am scared for my country. I see repression slowly but surely tiptoeing in the management of public affairs. It is in its nascent steps, but it surely is tyranny being fashioned. I speak not for Tangatanga faction of the ruling Jubilee Party or any other current formation. But the strong arm tactics being applied to neuter them smacks of a police state of yore.

What is at stake is not that BBI factional proponents have recruited state security to run roughshod over their perceived opponents the way it happened in Kakamega. Though it is expected in a political contest everything goes, the armoury stays in the barracks. What is at stake therefore is trampling the freedoms and rights to dissent, assembly, association and information.

Some may celebrate that the government is eating its own children, but what happens when a hungry government is through with eating its own? Will the rest of us survive a ravenous government that has already tasted blood?

How did we get here? The turning point was January 14. The President, while outlining policy targets for this year and shuffling the Cabinet from State House, Mombasa is reported to have “instructed” – a first in Kenyans history of intelligence security - the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to crack down on corruption cartels.

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Politicisation of operations

He is quoted ordering NIS to dismantle criminal cartels “in the public systems of budgeting, procurement, regulation and illegal rigging of markets.” The cumulative result is NIS has been tasked with investigating government. Here, the President invited a purely intelligence gathering and counter espionage entity to directly fiddle into crime investigations. That was a shocker never publicly stated before.

The last time we had this happen was when the defunct Special Branch was tasked with spying on and tracking domestic political opponents in the Moi era, and with time turned rogue to torment, torture, maim and kill innocents. It operated like the Staci in Romani and KGB in the former Soviet Union.

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The problem with an intelligence service dubbing into pure domestic crime investigation is politicisation of its operations. Once that happens, it is difficult to wean it from blood it has tasted. Instead, the service may turn rogue against the government itself. 

Yet this turning point was actually a culmination of deliberate planning and infiltration for control of the security sector by spies. Under President Kibaki, it was fashionable to have military intelligence officers run NIS and the police. In bold, President Uhuru has, however, taken it a notch higher. Not only has he retained the military in intelligence, he has moved to populate policing, investigation and prosecution with spies at the helm.

Former spies Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai heads the Police Service, Twalib Abdallah Mbarak is in-charge of Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and Noordin Haji completes the triumphrate picture as the Director Public Prosecution (DPP). They might as well be on secondment from their spy stations!

This is not a bad thing except that where excesses will occur, there isn’t counter institutions that can provide alternative checks and balances. To the credit of the President, the spies’ network has helped him paralyse the political opposition into inactivity or co-opted them into being government cheerleaders. It is ahistorical that a political opposition can be so vanquished that it subsists vaguely to praise worship the President to survive.

The religious and civil society, once veritable forces that kept government on its toes watch from the side-lines. Hope that the Judiciary could step in and counterbalance overwhelming government fiat is thinning. A bold President can scold them for “lack of convictions” but refuse to appoint judges.

Parliament can brazenly cut Judiciary budget leaving Chief Justice David Maraga to appeal directly to the public for sympathy over Judiciary tribulations. Indeed, should rights be violated, as they indeed would, justice may not be readily available. In any case, tyrants muzzle the Judiciary as the last bastion of defence for the people. 

- The writer is a political commentator and communication and governance consultant

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Public AffairsTyranny