Citizens who ask questions deserve answers, not insults

President William Ruto and his US counterpart Joe Biden taking a walk at the White House, Washington, on May 23, 2024. [PCS, Standard]

The state visit to the US by President William Ruto was certainly a moment of great pride for Kenyans. Watching him hold the hand of the first lady around the White House and hold a joint press conference with his host was indeed an exhilarating moment. But while all that was ongoing, something that should worry us all happened.

A senior government official was captured on video raining insults on a hapless Kenyan for asking him a question. The video remains an embarrassment to the government of Kenya for we, the people, have the right to know how our government is being run and how our country is being managed. The preservation of nationhood is dependent upon responsible citizenship.

It is with deep understanding of this imperative and in fulfillment of the provisions of the Constitution that the office of government spokesman was set up to, among other things, preside over strategic communication of government policies, programmes and initiatives. In the era of heightened citizen vigilance and action buoyed by social media, we at the very least expect the government spokesman to be persuasive, factual and tolerant.

In the course of running government in the last 20 months or so, we have spoken a great deal about living within our means. But when Kenyans look at the auditor general’s report, what they see is the anti-thesis of living within ones means. They see extravagance, they see a display of opulence. They see disconnect with those at the base of the pyramid.

For this reason, Kenyans will certainly seek answers from those holding positions of responsibility. If you cannot give well-thought-out answers, then, please, do not ridicule and insult Kenyans. The citizen certainly felt humiliated when he was told by the government spokesman that he was asking “maswali za kipuzi’’.

Pleasant questions

He was further likened to “ibilisi pepo mbaya’’, which was certainly was uncalled for. When government officials choose to engage the citizens in town halls, it cannot be that they only expect pleasant questions. We have seen the precedent set by the President himself when he let journalists grill him for hours in live interview.

We must therefore get the assurance that Kenyans, who want to critique, interrogate and document governance processes, will continue to do so without fear of retribution.

Intolerance and insolence must be condemned by all Kenyans of goodwill.

The equality before the law and in the eyes of God that are central to the idea of democracy must extend to the conduct of public officials. If politicians and their lackeys will choose belligerence and tongue-lashing, we must be ready to boldly tell them that they are free to choose their modus operandi except but citizens will at all times demand a basic level of respect.

The moment a government loses its capacity to reason with the citizens, it must know that its treading down a very dangerous path. If it were not so, then Marie Antoinette would not have earned a prominent position in the history of political development.

As we debate the Finance Bill 2024, so many Kenyans are asking if they will be able to afford education for their children and visit to the doctor when they fall sick.

This is because a huge section of Kenyans feel the government has not matched its words with actions. Basic commodity prices seem set to go through the roof again while earnings of the ordinary poor are going through the floor.

We must not treat the citizens with contempt. For that will quickly undermine the already frail social trust.

For as Thomas Jefferson once remarked “Governments are instituted amongst men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive...it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it’’.

In the words of Chinua Achebe, “those whose kernels were cracked by benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble’’.

-Mr Kidi is the convenor of Inter-Parties Youth Forum

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