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NASA could collapse unless it tightens belt for the long haul

By Makau Mutua | March 4th 2018

True progressives and democrats know there are no shortcuts to deep and transformative social and political change. Those who seek power not for its own sake but to uproot deeply embedded inequities know they may never see change in their lifetimes. Yet they soldier on – one brutal regime after another. There’s no surrender, or weak-kneed compromises and betrayals. I believe – unlike some in NASA – that there are permanent interests and permanent enemies. It’s not ideological purity but a clear-eyed diagnosis of human nature in politics. That’s why I think NASA may collapse unless it tightens its ship.

Let me peel your eyes. Even the chickens in the village know that the elections of August of 8 and October 26 were an abrogation of democracy.  But Jubilee – by hook and crook because it controlled the state – has tightened its grip on power. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have resorted to the bare-knuckled tactics of the 1990s. That’s why NASA needs to prepare for the long haul. There won’t be quick paths to power. Those with a faint heart will fall off the wagon. Many will be bought for a penny. The betrayer class is showing signs of buckling. But the central question remains – who will be left standing to fight for democracy?

Many NASA supporters believe in a merit-based society where your name and ethnicity aren’t used as a spear against you. They want just and impartial institutions to decide who governs. They want to stop the looting of the public purse. In a word, they want to advance the project of nationhood. I believe these are fundamental differences between Jubilee and NASA. In a putative democracy like Kenya, these desires can be a tall order. But they are legitimate. However, NASA can’t in their pursuit adopt the tactics and strategies of the side opposite. Its raison d’etre should be different. But is it?  This is a question NASA principals must candidly answer. There are several warning signs.

I’ve heard some in Wiper say that 2022 is the turn of the Akamba. They’ve threatened to leave NASA and go it alone unless Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka is given the NASA baton for 2022. This is wrong-headed and unproductive. Ethnic groups shouldn’t have turns at the feeding trough. Wiper honchos point to their support for ODM’s Raila Odinga over the past two electoral cycles to press the “it’s our turn” claim. That’s a bad argument. The only argument they should make is that Kalonzo is the best candidate to beat Ruto in 2022. To do so, they need to convince Kenyans of that fact. They won’t do so by shamelessly hiding under the skirt of the tribe.

It’s true that there were certain agreements between NASA principals prior to the August 8 election. I believe those agreements must be honored. But they can’t be honored under a climate of threats and calumny. Similarly, ODM leaders must stop trying to use Raila for their own selfish and survivalist ends. Raila is Kenya’s most senior statesman. He has no equal in the country, and that includes within Jubilee. His fame and achievements are globally revered. He transcends the Luo as an ethnic group. He’s a Kenyan leader, and not a leader of the Luo. That’s why the Luo political elite must stop trying to hold him hostage by insisting he contests again in 2022.

Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi is another key figure who must be the nationalist that many believe him to be. The talk of the Luhya turn – as propounded by Cotu’s Francis Atwoli – is a non sequitur. Luhya leaders must stop whipping up tribal hysteria and fight for electoral justice and democratic reforms. That’s because 2022 won’t matter without these changes. Ruto could laugh all the way to State House unimpeded unless there’s real democratic change. Mudavadi is a worthy leader. Let him prove himself in the arena without the baggage of tribe. It’s critical that Raila, Kalonzo, Mudavadi, and Moses Wetang’ula hang together, or they shall surely hang separately in 2022.

Finally, NASA needs to weed out distractions or it will collapse of its own self-inflicted internal contradictions. Impulsive individuals must be shunned and not allowed the NASA megaphone. Self-seekers will wreck NASA. I’ve seen factotums to NASA leaders make inflammatory comments meant to alienate one principal from another.  The principals mustn’t allow reckless aides any oxygen. It’s true that aides don’t speak without a wink-and-a-nod from the principals. That’s why the principals need to reign in their attack dogs. If NASA fails – and it could unless these fissures are addressed – the opposition can forget 2022. Let’s remember how Kanu routinely beat the opposition in the 1990s.

The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua

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