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Is the ‘Deep State’ a force for good or bad?

By Andrew Kipkemboi | January 18th 2021 at 10:00:00 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta condoles with mourners at the funeral service of the Late Mama Hannah Atsianzale at Mululu Village in Vihiga County on January 9, 2021.

In 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech writer Eric Ng’eno caused indignation when he excoriated a cabal of unaccountable, well-paid civil service men (and women) for undermining the State from within. In a newspaper article, Ng’eno termed them a ‘parallel state’ not keen to get things done but happy to sit by and earn handsome allowances.

Fast forward eight years later and the slow-motion death of Jubilee is blamed on these malevolent forces, popularly known as the “Deep State”. These are the hidden forces supposedly stealthily working underground to steady the sitting administration by distracting, manipulating and determining the course of things.

Mr Ng’eno’s grouse was that after doing the heavy lifting – of running around looking for votes and selling their manifesto to obstinate voters - the job of making this a reality falls on civil service wonks who will not be held accountable by the voters.

As amorphous as it is, Deep State is loyal to no one; only itself. Step back from the contrived outrage over the leaked letter to the president from Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata and consider the symbolism therein.

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Is the president unreachable? Is he in charge? Who is blocking the president’s view and contact with real life? And who is benefiting from the chaos?

“Where is the president?” asked Mutuma Mathiu, the Daily Nation Editor, in his Friday column. He too – and many others - suspect the president has left the affairs of the country to faceless Deep State operatives and top civil servants.

During the long-protracted stalemate on the county revenue sharing formula, Siaya Senator James Orengo set tongues wagging when he suggested that President Kenyatta was inaccessible, perhaps even to his handshake partner Raila Odinga.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta is not accessible…we would not be in this problem if he was accessible.” In the debate, a bipartisan effort by senators carried the day. Generally, because the so-called Deep State doesn’t work with the people, it is prone to make false deductions and draw naive conclusions and misrepresent reality to curry favour with the boss.

The narrative of the Deep State at work was put to test in the Msambweni by-election whose win - by an independent candidate associated with Deputy President William Ruto - has reenergised the Hustler Nation. Did the Deep State go to sleep in Msambweni? What happened to its supposed invincibility?

And does it exist anyway considering all the bad hair days? Or is it a ruse conjured up to apportion blame for the not-so-popular decisions of the State to faceless, unaccountable some things and some ones?

Indeed, the Deep State is quickly becoming the leitmotif of most of the unpopular (at times, unlawful) undertakings of the government.

From the delayed appointment of 41 judges; the blatant disregard of court orders; the targeted war on corruption; the capture of Parliament and thereby rapid speed of approval of motions of impeachment of Ferdinand Waititu and Mike Sonko; the break-neck speed of the vetting, appointment and swearing in of Nairobi Deputy Governor Anne Kananu all bear the hallmarks of a rogue Deep State at work. NMS was rolled out before public participation as is required in law. Realising this breach of the law, public participation was done hurriedly way after Major General Mohammed Badi had started work.

Shouldn’t the Deep State be helping out in such matters with grave consequences like the BBI and the Big 4 Agenda?

But then a Deep State – in the true sense - with a tendency to overplay its hand gets weak, disorganised provides false cover and is dangerous. The BBI train is stuttering while undoubtedly, the steam ran out of the Big 4.

Those pushing the BBI narrative confess they are waiting for an assist from the Deep State to cross the finish line. But will it come? Increasingly, many are growing weary waiting for the invisible hand.

The apparent lack of new thinking and absence of a survival instinct amidst emerging realities is frightening and risks dragging the president down an ignominious path of embarrassment.

As the countdown to his exit begins, paralysis will set in as his administration becomes vulnerable and the survival mode kicks in as ODM reinvents itself to counter the Hustler Nation narrative to reclaim its place.

If nothing, Uhuru ought to take heed of South American freedom icon Simon Bolivar’s analogy of an able-bodied blind man who, “encouraged by his feeling of strength, strides forward with the assurance of the most clear-sighted and stumbling into every pitfall, is no longer able to find his way.”

-Mr Kipkemboi is an Associate Editor at The Standard

President Uhuru Kenyatta Msambweni by-election BBI
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