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Political hardline positions widen mistrust in rival camps

By Irungu Houghton | October 8th 2017

When opposing political leaders start to sound and lead like each other, it may be a sign they have lost sight of their real differences. When leaders look and act like their followers, they may have lost control of the strategic context. Last week’s actions on our streets and in Parliament, may have looked different, but in many ways, they were driven by the same impulses, logic and strategy.

Last week, I coincidentally received invitations to join NASA demonstrations and to address the Senate and National Assembly Select Committees on the Election Laws (Amendment) Bills. I appreciated both invitations and declined both. The right to peaceful assembly, demonstration and petition public authorities used to be the preserve of a handful of activists. Over 2016-2017 I marched for wildlife conservation, constitutional awareness, an end to the doctors strike and extrajudicial killings. We may not beat Hong Kong’s annual record of 11,000 demonstrations, but our use of Article 37 has expanded dramatically.

Public participation is also crucial for all our national and county legislative assemblies. Article 1 affirms that all power comes from the people. Alongside others, I have warmly seized opportunities to petition National Parliament on leadership, integrity, corruption, public health or shrinking civic space. At this moment, somewhere in the email in-boxes of both Clerks of the Senate and National Assembly lies unanswered requests for partnership.

Like Article 37, Article 1 has become a rallying cry for all political parties including the incumbent Presidency Jubilee. This, again, is healthy for us all. It stands in contrast to the growing authoritarianism that lurks in our region and the world today. So why did several citizens and civic organisations decline both invitations this week?

Both invitations emerge from highly conflictual political strategies. The zero-sum logic underlying them obstructs the issues they raise. None of the amendments address the Supreme Court ruling. The SCOK called for the IEBC to conduct the fresh election in “strict conformity” with the Constitution and existing elections laws. Some of the amendments are unnecessarily intrusive of the IEBC’s internal workings. Jubilee’s attempt to push them through without bi-partisan agreement widens the mistrust in NASA. It is simply bad parliamentary strategy and no different to the antics of the NRM in Uganda.

NASA’s insistence on its irreducible conditions and bi-weekly demonstrations reflect the same logic. It is also now provoking counter-demonstrations. How we went from abusive utterances by Babu Owino to his repeated arrest and detention to scores of university student injuries inflicted by indisciplined forces and then, 8,000 students being sent home, needs further reflection.

Ironically, NASA and JP leaders and supporters are publicly rejecting and deriding international community efforts towards dialogue. Nearly one year after the IFES deregistration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NGO Coordination Board just deregistered International Development Law Organisation. IEBC and Judiciary will no longer access international assistance. If that isn’t bad enough, Moody’s Investors Service is considering downgrading the Government’s international credit rating. Left unchecked, our half-truths and political hard-lining could leave us isolated in a quicksand of our making.

It is often said that there are only two types of leaders, those who reflect the temperature of their followers and those who control their followers’ temperature. The leaders we need right now are thermostat leaders not thermometer leaders. Fortunately, there are signs of a way out of the current stand-off. The IEBC Chairperson’s announcement of a fresh team on Friday helps this. The withdrawal of these clumsy and one-sided amendments, cessation of demonstrations and multi-sectoral dialogue could offer new hope for a weary country besieged by intransigent hardline positions. Christ is the Answer Ministries Bishop David Oginde’s sermon said as much last week. All Kenyans must now prevail on our leaders to offer real leadership and find a way out together from this prolonged conflict.

- Mr Houghton writes in a personal capacity. @irunguhoughton 

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