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Is Uhuru suffering for doing the right thing?

By Leonard Khafafa | June 9th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta gives his address during the official launch of 4-K Clubs and ENABLE Kenya Program at the ASK Showground in Jamhuri, Nairobi County on June 04, 2021.[PSCU, Standard]

The biblical character Uzzah died from good intentions. Seeing the oxen that carried the ark of the Lord stumble, he reached out to stop the ark from tipping over and was struck by God. Apparently, touching the ark was in direct violation of God’s law resulting in instant death.

Uzzah’s story bears similarity with current happenings in Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta is on a one-man crusade to allegedly rid Kenya’s Judiciary of rogue elements. By refusing to swear in six judges he claims have integrity issues, he has been accused of violating the supreme law. A High Court judgment has accused him of “violating the Constitution by initiating a process which ought to have been started by ordinary citizens”. It has further said that “Mr Kenyatta has failed the leadership and integrity test”.

Yet the president’s refrain that he “took an oath to defend the Constitution and cannot turn a blind eye to things happening in other State organs” flies in the face of constant clashes with the custodians of the law. Like Uzzah who sought to correct an issue he had no authority over, Kenyatta may have overreached himself by acting beyond the confines of the Constitution.

And therein is the catch; that the president may have elevated his own interpretation of the Constitution above that of others. That in trying to uphold a section of the supreme law, he has unwittingly eviscerated others. A social media commentator discussing the Executive’s displeasure with a recent High Court judgment that stymied an attempt to amend the Constitution asks: “Why does the President of Kenya ferociously defend a mere constitutional amendment proposal more than the Constitution he swore to serve and defend?”

Perhaps citizens would be more accommodative of Uhuru’s intentions if they saw a correlation with improvements in their lives. As it is, only the Executive and his political cohorts seem to be sanguine about the prospects of the country as every matrix of growth and development points south. Even then, a line should be drawn where Uzzah-like pursuits of noble intentions border on brinkmanship; where constant clashes between arms of government create angst that pushes citizens to a tipping point.

It must be borne in mind that the forbearance of Kenyans is not infinite and a combination of toxic politics and a tanking economy are the potent mix that could conflagrate the country. In fact, other countries around the world have exploded in uncannily similar circumstances. Tunisia’s revolution happened against a backdrop of high unemployment, food inflation, corruption and poor living conditions. The tipping point came when a street vendor self-immolated to protest police harassment.

The “Bloody November” protests of 2019-2020 in Iran were triggered by an increase in the price of eggs. But the real background to this was discontent that arose from economic mismanagement and tax privileges granted to the ruling elite. Lebanon’s tipping point arose from a proposal to tax WhatsApp, the ubiquitous messaging phone application.

Perhaps Kenya’s saving grace is the system of leadership renewal every five years. Hope of change at the ballot is the blow-valve that provides release of pent-up citizen frustration. Which is why talk of the possibility of extension of the current Jubilee administration’s term for whatever reason must not be countenanced. The allegorical Uzzah must be constrained from tinkering with this constitutional safeguard lest his indiscretions be the tipping point that hurls the country over the precipice.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst


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