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We're undergoing the pain of transiting to a developed democracy

By Kamotho Waiganjo | February 3rd 2018

Kenya is a fascinating country. Within the same seven days, we had a new Cabinet nominated by the constitutionally inaugurated President of the Republic and a “People’s President” taking his oath of office in broad daylight in the country’s capital. The police were surprisingly absent from the swearing in ceremony despite tough threats just a day before. As the event was going on, the three main media stations were switched off, an unprecedented event save for Michuki’s closure at the height of poll violence in 2008. But if you were to go into any part of Kenya, including the opposition heartland of Kisumu, you would not sense a country under siege and in the throes of a political crisis. 

Business continues in a vibrant a spirit as ever. Social media, which is the main source of news for many millennials and upcoming middle class, remains as effusive as ever. County governments, the most brazen evidence of Government in the regions, continue to work with their usual gusto, traditional sleaze and political intrigues. While it is clear that opposition operatives will continue to land in court on unsustainable charges in the next few days, the courts will release them on easy bond terms, despite vociferous objections from the Executive.

Outlaws any challenge

Welcome to Kenya. It is only those whose interaction with us is exclusively through media, those who do not live within our boundaries and experience life here, who assume Kenya is a basket case. It reminds me of an LSK forum I attended a week ago. Called to discuss the Supreme Court decision on the 2017 presidential elections, the forum was addressed by among others the Law Society Presidents of Rwanda, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar. They were unanimous in their position; Kenya has First World problems. The Tanganyika Law boss informed us that the Tanzania Constitution contains a provision which outlaws any challenge to the presidential election through the courts! As for Rwanda and Uganda, you only need to ask Ms Rwigara and Dr Besiyge what even a perfunctory challenge to the Big Man in those countries costs!

In this mindboggling scenario, I have four takeaways from the Tuesday swearing in of Hon Raila Odinga. The first is that the police are obviously a key actor when skirmishes occur during political protests. One would have assumed that with thousands of excited supporters thronging Uhuru Park on Tuesday, the absence of police would have led to mayhem and general lawlessness. Alas, once the ceremony was over, everyone trooped back home with few cases of unlawful behaviour reported. Kudos to the Tuesday crowd, that’s the Kenya we want.

My second take. The Constitution no longer has any protector. The opposition, who would naturally be at the forefront of protecting the Katiba, were its greatest violators as they undertook a ceremony which flies in the face of the Constitution. Cry, my beloved Kenya.

Betrayals and deceptions

My third take. Just like there is no honour among thieves, there is none among politicians. While most betrayals and deceptions in politics occur behind closed doors, this one was played in broad daylight. Nothing can blunt the betrayal by non-ODM NASA team on Raila. All attempts to nuance this differently falls flat when one realises that it is not just the Wiper, Ford K and ANC principals who failed to turn up; their entire teams were conspicuous in their absence.

My final take. On this media thing, the government is overreacting. While there was probably some security based justification for the media shutdown on the swearing in day, the continued shutdown of KTN, NTV and Citizen is disproportionate and appears to be a punishment rather than a fair application of the law. It flies in the face of the Constitution and established commitments to media freedom. That the government had to disobey a court order to keep them shut is unfortunate. But from where I sit, this week’s events, while exposing some of our unfortunate idiosyncrasies, speak of hope; we are merely undergoing the normal pains of transiting to a developed democracy. That our worst days are behind us. I pray I am right. 

- The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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