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Leaders have abased social contract

By Morris Odhiambo | December 5th 2016

The current state of affairs in our country reminds me of the philosophy and writings of Thomas Hobbes. An enlightenment era philosopher, Hobbes is one of the philosophers who wrote extensively about the idea of a social contract.

As a young student of political philosophy in Egerton University’s Department of Philosophy in the early 1990s, under the tutelage of great scholars like the ever-bearded Prof Muga K’Olale, I simply could not have enough of these readings after I was introduced to them.

The idea of a social contract, even though much criticized by other scholars in later years, bequeathed the world with the fundamental thought that all governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed.

In the historical setting in which the theory was propounded, it provided an anti-dote to the prevailing doctrine of the divine right of kings.

One of the consequences of the notion that kings had a divine right to rule was that citizens (referred to as subjects) were required to render unquestioning loyalty to the kings. Social contract theory therefore redefined the relationship between citizens and those who governed by emphasizing that state and government, as human institutions, derived their authority from citizens.

Subsequently, ideas of citizenship and the rights associated with it, evolved.

In a similar way, Kenya’s 2010 Constitution redefined the relationship between the State and the governed. The very first article of the Constitution located sovereign power in the people, a major shift in the intended reconstruction of the Kenyan state with its colonial and neo-colonial origins.

The Bill of Rights is based on the quest for dignity for all Kenyans. The values and principles of governance in Article 10 aim to make this possible.

They include participation of the people in decision-making, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality and human rights.

It is Hobbes’ thinking about human nature that now attracts my fancy looking at the state of affairs in Kenya. In describing the state of nature, which purportedly existed prior to the social contract, Hobbes’ remarked that the perpetual struggle for power had rendered man’s life “solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short”.

In Kenya today, the perpetual struggle for wealth by the elite, mostly acquired through corruption, has indeed infested all aspects of life. In the National Youth Service scandal, the perpetrators used the hopelessness and helplessness of unemployed young people to loot billions of shillings.

In the alleged Ministry of Health scandal, some people literally robbed the ailing. Massive looting across counties will render the objects of devolution impossible to achieve.

Hobbes’ writings came to mind recently while watching the brutality meted out to residents in Mumias after the reported loss of police guns following a raid on Booker Police Station.

As usual, the General Service Unit adopted a scotched-earth-policy, meting out collective punishment. How the police felt justified to brutalise citizens after their prodigious failure to protect the arsenal is a subject for another day. Two of the victims died and several others are still in hospital.

It was particularly painful to watch one of the victims, a woman, describe how police allegedly tortured her.

They appeared, she averred, to be looking for weapons in her private parts, which they poked incessantly causing massive injury in the process. She still walks with difficulty. And this is happening during peacetime-Kenya, no less.

One would imagine that all the resources vested in reforming the police, including lessons in the observance of human rights, would have made a difference. I have argued before that the key challenge we face is the rejection of the post-2010 constitutional order by the dominant elite.

Whether it is massive looting or police brutality, these are just manifestations of that key problem. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2010 contract is broken! 

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