Even as the government puts up a brave face that all is well, the panicky reaction calling for an overseas travel ban on Raila Odinga has raised eyebrows. Normally, such calls will go through diplomatic channels without even the media getting an authoritative source to interview for a news story.
The reason for the travel ban call, as we were told, is the countdown to the dreaded mass action that evokes the regrettable memories 2007/08. Wrapping it in, with the latest Infotrak opinion showing many Kenyans think the country is sliding south at 60 per cent, the government with all it intelligentsia must be well informed that the public disquiet on the cost of living could be fodder for the mass action call.
In all honesty, punching Raila for the call to mass action is not the smartest political or strategic action the government could give priority to.
There are more, as objective-leaning media commentators have correctly argued, higher priorities such as putting its own house in order for service delivery to Kenyans. After all, the government is directly responsible for enticing the masses into the streets with its own acts of commission and omission. The principle is that mass action is only successful if there are substantial misgivings about the government in office. Ordinarily, voters will ignore such mass action calls coming soon after a grueling long political campaign.
For instance, the bravado with which those in government run down those labelled as losers does not allow everyone to move on as a country.
Thus, it is quite presumptuous for those elected to imagine all Kenyans have moved on following the contested 2022 presidential election outcome.
A sensitive government would be gentle of heart and seek to understand the authenticity of why the hurt ran so deep that some Kenyans are finding it hard to move on.
The panicky reaction of the government to tame the Opposition chief tells deeper government fears we will never have known.
The backtracking on investigating the Bomas chaos that the government had promised will reveal to us the truth on who attempted to interfere with the presidential election process, leaves a bad smell in the air. At least, the voters would have known who was trying to claim a child they did not give birth to.
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With a credible process to exorcise the demons that visited Bomas, the government will probably have shed off the lingering legitimacy deficit claims that the outcome does not reflect the will of the people.
Besides the Bomas fiasco, the travel ban call ropes in the international community into local politics. On paper, these international non-state actors, do not meddle in the internal affairs of a host country. But that is as far as it goes—on paper. In practice, all foreign missions in a country are there for their strategic interests. Who comes to power is surely of great significance to them. It is not out of charity that these international partners fund the elections.
The government has shepherded itself into the prisoners’ dilemma. The public is the law enforcer. The duel is between the international Community and the government. Who will cooperate or betray the other?
At best, the international community will keep silent and let the story die. However, it will be interested to dig deeper on which side of the mass action call it will take. After all, the international community plays a critical role in a presidential election outcome. This travel ban as a means to stop the call for mass action therefore cuts both ways.
The government will read non-action as siding with mass action calls. Favouring the government call to effect ban will show the double standards of the international community funding initiatives for increased democratic space while at the same time siding in local political contestations.
The government needs to gets its priorities right.
Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication