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Imprisoning democracy allows Jubilee chance to slip in authoritarianism

President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto duting the inauguration at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi in November 2017. [Photo: Courtesy]

Jubilee’s top honchos have abandoned any pretext to espousing the tenets of democracy. Bare-knuckled, they went for the Opposition and the media, accusing the two of being partners in a diabolical scheme to overthrow Uhuru’s government. The build-up to this can be traced to the August 8, 2017 General Election and the nullification of the presidential results by the Supreme Court. The rupture has revealed a hitherto camouflaged, steely side of an otherwise outwardly amiable Uhuru that many did not believe existed, not even after the Jubilee Party vice chairman, David Murathe, told Kenyans to brace themselves for a dictator who would grant no quarter to nonconformists.

Our ‘progressive’ Constitution, no doubt adopted ahead of time given the abundance of political intolerance and immaturity, suddenly lost its appeal and has been temporarily suspended. In particular, sections detailing human rights and freedoms critical to any functioning democracy have been abrogated. Media freedom and the right to information were curtailed with the forced closure of tree television stations that command two thirds of Kenya’s viewership. Individual passports, security detail, and firearm licences given to Opposition leaders have been withdrawn on reasons that cannot stand scrutiny, reasons that trample on the very essence of our Constitution.

Opposition leaders have been arbitrarily arrested. Court orders to restore television stations and release Miguna Miguna were not just ignored, Miguna was later deported for being non-Kenyan. How ironical after he was cleared by virtually all the snoopy government agencies to contest Nairobi’s gubernatorial seat in August 2017! As it were, Africa’s ‘most progressive’ Constitution, with all its civil rights and liberties, is as good to us as the most expensive suit on a monkey. That’s how low we have sunk as a nation, thanks to an insensate, dysfunctional, vindictive leadership. Whoever directs the assault on Kenyans and the media should learn from Walter Cronkite’s counsel that “freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy”.

Authoritarianism

By imprisoning democracy, Jubilee welcomes dictatorship that thrives on creating fear and uncertainty. This is not surprising considering who Jubilee has chosen to learn from, namely, the Chinese Communist Party and the African National Congress. But you can give it to Jubilee; it is a good student. The Tibetans struggle for self-determination exposes gross human rights violations by the Communist Party. In his book The Black Book of Red Terror, Jeremy Reedy contends that communism has killed no less than 65 million people in China alone.

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Dissent in this vast Asian country of 1.4 billion people is a foreign concept whose propagators face the hangman’s noose. China jails bloggers, journalists, and activists any time they rub the establishment the wrong way.

State operatives clubbing the media clearly never heard of Russian playwright-cum-medic Mikhail Bulgakov’s exhortation to journalists: “To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.”

Losing hold

One wonders, what has caused this panic in Jubilee? Does the party that forms the Government doubt its own legitimacy? If Jubilee must impose its ideals by brute force, then it must feel the ground on which it stands is not firm. This is a country tottering on the brink of total disaster, yet, alarmingly, those who must champion Kenya’s cause, shepherd it to a higher ground of social and moral ideals, are completely oblivious of this grave danger.

It is too soon for Uhuru to forget he swore to uphold the Constitution, unite a divided country, and get it out of the morass of stagnation with his ‘big four agenda’, but his modus operandi is baffling. You don’t gain people’s trust by locking them up in a dark room, clobbering them, and jailing and deporting their leaders.

The machismo that Uhuruto felt when they spurned calls for national dialogue will come back to hound them. And the irony is that, as the Swahili say, “mwenda omo na tezi marejeo ni ngamani”, there will have to be dialogue at some point.

On constitutional freedoms and human rights, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States of America, expressed the view that “Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.”

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Calvin Coolidge, the 30th US president declared that “wherever despotism abounds, the sources of public information are the first to be brought under its control. Where the cause of liberty is making its way, one of its highest accomplishments is the guarantee of the freedom of the press.” That is the least that Jubilee can do; power is transitory.

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