President Uhuru Kenyatta must defend Constitution

One of the pieties of our day is that political oppositions, particularly the noisier ones, are champions of democracy.

CORD, Kenya's opposition alliance, is betting on just this impression to support its push to subvert constitutional processes and institutions in the naked pursuit of power. CORD is playing to three critical audiences.

The first of these are CORD's core supporters. This is a multi-ethnic grouping but one that is fired up by a violence-prone 40-versus-2 ethnic logic.

In 2016, it is the latest version of the 41-versus-1 ethnic electioneering that lit the fires of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Watching the CORD Madaraka Day rally on television, the camera occasionally panned to a young man who was pumping his fists wildly in reaction to what Raila Odinga was saying.

That man, and the millions more like him, are a precious resource to have on your side.

They must be kept ever angry, ever in the mood to take to the streets. Mass action in Kenya, unfortunately, means preparing the rioting mob. They are the trump card that assures the continuing relevance of Raila Odinga and his inner circle.

Underlying the numerous CORD complaints about corruption, or any number of other ills, is the central, motivating point: Raila Odinga not becoming President in 2013 delegitimised the IEBC and the Supreme Court. And now the Constitution that creates and protects these institutions must also be read selectively.

Thus a part of the Constitution's preamble is repeatedly quoted by Odinga: "All sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya..." What is left out is the second part of the sentence: "...and shall be exercised only in accordance with this Constitution."

The second audience is the political class and the president. Because the Kenyan politician is notable for his ability to negotiate without regard to principle, past position, and with an eye to profit, the CORD principles believe that taken far enough, the president will blink.

President Kenyatta has however wrapped himself in the Constitution. Saying clearly that the law must be the way in which the IEBC commissioners are sent home.

If independent institutions are undermined through political pressure, we may as well have never had them.

Kenyatta swore an oath to protect the Constitution, and it may be his sticking to that promise that saves this republic.

Abraham Lincoln said, "The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."

To overthrow the men who pervert the constitution, America went to civil war for principles. A million Americans died on the way to their becoming the world's greatest democracy.

Kenya's streets may be full of stone throwers and tear gas; newspapers may lament the injuries and the cost. Yet if the rioters in the streets demand we destroy law, we need to be ready to pay the price to defend it. To not be willing to stand firm now will turn us into a lawless and reckless land of unbridled political competition. Down that road lies the mass murder of civil war.

If we undermine the Constitution as a response to CORD's willingness to throw violent supporters at police barricades, what next? Will the Mombasa Republican Council take to the gun in the thousands and kill their way to secession against the Constitution and the Republic?

President Kenyatta appears to have understood that not drawing the line here is to get on the path to the continued politics of agitation and confrontation to achieve what is not possible constitutionally. Down that road lies the destruction of Kenyan democracy.

The third audience is the mzungu diplomat who is being set up by CORD to play the naive do-gooder in this IEBC drama.

For decades, Western diplomats have praised 'institutions' and 'rule of law' as the solutions to our ills. Kenya's institutions are built from westernised patents. We can only hope that the West and its ambassadors really believe in their gospel.

Are the Western ambassadors going to give licence to the streets or to the constitution? They should not hide behind tear gas, police brutality and deaths to "urge restraint". Defending the Constitution and the rule of law may look bad, but this is not a beauty contest to be decided in the "perceptions" of a faceless press. Kenya has not gone through the agonies of the last 7-8 years to have its institutions negotiated away in Serena Hotel's back-rooms.

The envoys should know that politics in a representative democracy is about using institutions for negotiation and accommodation. In this constitutional instance in Kenya, Parliament is where the debates on the IEBC belong.

Perhaps some of the envoys do not like Uhuruto for one reason or the other. But this is a time for serious reflection and sober consideration. President Kenyatta, please stand firm and with resolve. You will save us from a bloodbath in the future! Kenyans, prepare to stand for the Constitution. Foreign observers, watch the fight for 21st century democracy. God, let us live to see a democratic tomorrow.