Rise and fall of Kenya’s democracy
Published on February 24, 2008, 12:00 am
By Otsieno Namwaya
Regarded as a beacon of hope and democracy, the world is struggling to come to terms with events in Kenya.
Locals and foreigners are dismayed at how quickly the country is sliding back to the dark old days of fear and repression.
Kenyans were rated as most optimistic people in the world following peaceful elections and change of guard at State House in 2002, followed by a burst of political freedom confidence. In one fell swoop, civil society activists are walking in fear due to threats. The media is suddenly confronted with State instigated sanctions, politicians are pleading for protection and claims of political assassinations are high in the air.
|Members of the public at a past political rally. The Government had outlawed public rallies but lifted the ban three weeks ago. Picture: File|
Just as the country was battling to forestall civil war, two opposition MPs were felled by the bullet within 36 hours, under inexplicable circumstances. Earlier, some MPs and civil society activists had expressed concern that some selected individuals were being targeted for elimination.
The killings of Embakasi MP, Mugabe Were, and Ainamoi MP, David Kimutai, came just as the media fraternity was threatening court action against the Government’s decision to ban live broadcasts.
The ban came just at the same time as the ban on public gathering and political rallies, freedoms that had become so normal even in Kanu’s last days in power.
The argument that such rights were inalienable had been so internalised by Kenyans that the fact of their withdrawal seemed to highlight an already dark season. “We are witnessing the return of a police State as practised in the 1970s. That is the only way police are suddenly able to wake up one day and declare a ban on public rallies and station officers at Uhuru Park to block people from going there. This is illegal,” says Mr Maina Kiai, the Chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
Nearly three weeks after the Government said it had lifted the ban on political rallies, police are still sealing off the park from the public. The lifting of the ban on political rallies and restoration of press freedom were among the major requests Mr Kofi Annan placed before the Government to pave way for peace talks between the opposition ODM and PNU.
The little democracy that had been earned just before former President Moi left power is suddenly a distant reality. “The ease with which democracy is being eroded in Kenya has taught me that we were deluding ourselves that we had a democracy when we had not built strong democratic institutions. Our democracy depended on the goodwill of individuals,” says Mr Wainaina Ndung’u, a programme manager of the National Convention Executive Council.
A full return to democracy
That democracy is being rolled back in Kenya is best captured by US President George Bush’s recent demand for “a full return to democracy”. It may be a while before Kenyans actually witness a full return to democracy.
Justin Mironga, a programme assistant at the National Convention Executive Council, says many people now look over their shoulders before speaking and mobile phones of individuals are being tapped. ” We have drifted backwards and even the Moi era that we much used to complain about was better,” said Mironga.
Concerns that Kenya may well have slid back to the dark old days — when police used to keep track of government critic’s phone records or spy on them — have been given weight by latest reports that the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) is spying on Government critics.
The latest edition of Indian Ocean newsletter says Kiai is being investigated by the NSIS for his activities in the UK and the US, where he addressed a Sub-Committee on Africa and Global Health of the United States House of Representatives on February 6. The story says that the NSIS is trying to establish whether by meeting Mark Malloch-Brown, the UK minister of State in charge of African Affairs, Kiai wants to request for political asylum like Mr John Githongo did.
“The NSIS consequently wants to know who prepared the meeting between Kiai and Lord Malloch-Brown. It also wants to know whether Kiai is likely to become a new John Githongo, the former Kenyan anti-corruption czar who became highly unpopular among the supporters of President Kibaki when he denounced corruption within the Kenyan Government team from his exile in the UK,” the story reads in part. It also indicates that some members of the Kenyan Government are also perturbed by the fact that Malloch-Brown’s meeting with Kiai took place just before his meeting with Vice-President Mr Kalonzo Musyoka.
But just what went wrong with Kenya?
“The problem we have is dishonesty. People call for reforms and democracy when they are out of the Government, but change tune when they eventually get to power,” says Dr Reginalda Wanyonyi, who contested for the Kimilili Parliamentary seat and lost to Dr David Eseli. Wanyonyi says the solution to Kenya’s political problems lies in a new constitution and respect of the rule of law.
The new constitution, says Auxillia Nyamwoma, a PNU parliamentary candidate in Matungu in the last elections, should be designed from what people say they want and not what the politicians want.