In his long struggle with what is the best approach to deal with the stain of slavery in America, Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Henry L Pierce on April 6, 1859, observed: “This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and under a just God, cannot long retain it.”
Taking stock of the aftermath of the chaotic scenes last Monday occasioned by the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya mass protests, one cannot fail to wonder where leadership responsibility starts or ends.
As if the ugly confrontations were not enough, Opposition leader Raila Odinga called a press conference the following day to accelerate the protest to twice weekly from next week. In addition, he isolated three private corporates and declared them enemies of the people without justification.
It is in such moments that Lincoln’s deep sense of justice becomes a treasure to a nation and a heritage to generations.
While the freedom to peaceful protests and picketing is guaranteed under Article 37, doesn’t Article 24(1)(d) of the same Constitution provide an assurance that the enjoyment of such rights and freedoms must not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others? To put matters into the right perspective, does Article 37 provide an open cheque for the Azimio leadership to call their supporters into the streets without due consideration of the rights and freedoms of those who do not wish to protest?
Must such protests infringe on the rights of private investors whose businesses were directly destroyed or indirectly denied customers for the day? How about the rights and freedoms of hundreds of thousands of city residents who were denied access to their means of livelihood for that day?
Looking at the demands put forward by Raila and his team, it is evident that the cost of living is merely a decoy to cover their selfish greed for power.
For instance, on the question of electoral outcomes, the matter was conclusively disposed of under the Constitution. How then does one revisit the opening of servers when the Apex court dealt with this matter on a petition presented before it by Raila himself?
How does one legally and morally re-instate the ‘Cherera Four’ into office when three of them voluntarily resigned and the fourth was removed under procedures provided under the Constitution?
Volunteer as witnesses
Why did any of the Azimio leadership not volunteer as witnesses before Irene Masit’s tribunal if they genuinely believed it was a political witch-hunt? Why does it not occur to the Azimio leader, that the more he associates himself with the four commissioners, the more he stinks on the subject of electoral justice? Were they not supposed to be independent commissioners in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities to the people of Kenya? What business did they have with a player in a match they were referees?
More fundamentally, does a leader of the calibre of Raila have to call a mass protest simply because he can? Can a leader purport to protect the livelihoods of the poor by destroying those of others?
While it is true that the Azimio la Umoja –One Kenya leadership would wish to inflict maximum pain on the economy for them to be heard, such a strategy cannot be devoid of a sense of decency.
These leaders have an obligation to preserve the livelihoods of not only those who do not support their course but also that of their supporters.
As per official records on Safaricom shareholding as at 2018, 96 per cent of the company’s shares were held by small shareholders with between 1 and 10,000 shares each.
Last week, I presented here that the company supports more than one million jobs directly or indirectly and consumes over 74 per cent of its supplies from the domestic market according to its 9th sustainability report.
If we escalate these jobs to include the number of Kenyans per household that rely on Safaricom, then the impact of the company on the economy is mind-boggling.
Besides, the company has been the single largest taxpayer for several years in a row now. As at the close of their financial year in March 2022, the company had remitted at least Sh124.7 billion in corporate taxes, duties and license fees to the government.
On the other hand, KCB is the second-largest bank based on Central Bank data as of the start of 2023, with an estimated asset base of at least Sh1.18 trillion (or $9.05 billion).
The bank is so interwoven into the lives of the Kenyan citizenry that there is a KCB branch in every single economically viable shopping centre.
As at August 2021, the bank had 354 branches, 1,103 ATM machines and 15,273 bank agents and merchant outlets. It is one of the key actors on M-Pesa-based credit products targeting Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and hustlers.
Appraising the strength of this bank in the local economy, one cannot fail to wonder how reckless can Azimio be to drag such an institution into their political fights.
Across financial history, a bank-run in a single middle-tier bank can bring the entire financial sector of an economy tumbling down; leave alone a tier-one bank.
For instance, the global financial crisis of 2007/08 was triggered by the filing of bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, a mortgage lender in the US in September 2008. The financial fever of this bankruptcy swept across the world's major economies with lightning speed, pushing the global economy into one of the worst recessions recorded in recent history.
With this economic evidence at our disposal, it is inconceivable how a leader of Raila’s standing can drag a bank of KCB’s magnitudes into his political woes.
Does it mean the man is clueless about the interconnectedness of the economy and politics? Does he not understand a bank-run on KCB can ruin even his own business empire in the country in a matter of hours?
Who is in the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya economic think-tank? Who advises them? If it is true that the Azimio brigade desire to offer a credible alternative leadership option to the country, then they cannot portray themselves as ignorant of the functioning of the economy.
They cannot shift responsibility for the destruction of private businesses and livelihoods of innocent people to the police by their supporters and expect the victims to accept their alibis.
The one who desires to gain trust to govern over the affairs of sheep must demonstrate a high sense of responsibility in protecting even a single sheep from the hyenas, as the Holy scripture counsels. Unfortunately, it is on this issue that Raila’s cookie crumbles like a house of cards!
As I sign off, is it probably about time that media houses weighed carefully what they bring into our sitting rooms in order to advance and protect public interest?