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You may sit down with criminals, but at your own peril

Publication Date: 5/31/2008

GITAU GIKONYO argues that a government that negotiates with such people is criminal

Kenya as a country may not have been there when the original idea of Seven Wonders of the World was mooted by Herodotus (484 BC – 425 BC) and Callimachus (305 BC – 240 BC). A list was drawn of the original Seven Wonders, of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza is still standing.

Members of the Mungiki gather outside the house of their jailed leader, Maina Njenga, after the Government ordered the withdrawal of police from manning it. Prime Minister Raila Odnga has suggested negotiations with the illegal sect. Photo/FILE

But credit for the recent declaration of the annual Wildebeest migration one of the modern wonders should really have gone to our beautiful country, Kenya, with its unique people, wildlife and political leaders.

All one needs to do is look at the unfolding events in relation to releasing the alleged perpetrators of the post-election violence and negotiating with outlawed groups like Mungiki.

I learnt my lesson on negotiating with criminals the other day when I made my maiden voyage to the villainous Muthurwa market, ostensibly unplanned.

I boarded a matatu in the early morning and confirmed with the conductor that it would drop passengers at the city centre.

But the matatu went straight to Muthurwa market. Quite naturally, everyone on the vehicle was angry and demanded a fare refund.

In the ensuing commotion, I offered to negotiate on behalf of the passengers and as a bargaining chip, I grabbed the matatu ignition key.

At first the driver seemed cornered until all the hoodlums and hanger-ons masquerading as hawkers joined the fray, turning it ugly.

I found myself surrounded by over 300 of them all baying for my blood. It slowly dawned on me that my lecture on contractual obligations and the offence of obtaining money by false pretences, contrary to Section 313 of the Penal Code, was not being given a hearing by anyone.

I realised then that as we are busy seeking the relevant historical context between “ethnic hatred” and “socio-economic structure adopted since independence”, violence grounded predominantly on a robust and visible criminal network threatens to disrupt the fragile peace.

To say the least, I hastily retreated — beaten — returned the keys and walked the remaining distance, with a lesson well learnt: you cannot negotiate with criminals.

My early morning experience brought to the fore the ongoing clamour by politicians, either styled as elders or representatives of certain regions, calling for the release of certain people or for negotiating with some organised groups. As I understand it, the primary mission of all governments is to ensure security for everyone on the national territory where the Government exerts its authority.

It is also my understanding that in so doing, the Government must respect and uphold the rule of law.

The concept of rule of law in its most basic form is predicated on the principle that no one is above the law.

Thomas Paine, a radical and intellectual English revolutionary, wrote in 1776 in his powerful and widely read pamphlet, Common Sense, “. . . the world may know, …THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law OUGHT to be King; and there ought to be no other”.

What Paine was saying is that, in Kenya, for instance, the law ought to be king. Thus, everyone is subject to the law. It also means that no one in the society — the president, the prime minister, the cabinet, senior civil servants (including judges) or police has power, except as it is derived from law.

Authority can only come from law — the Constitution, a statute, legal regulations, common law, municipal by–laws and so on.

However, sample this: One day the Right Honourable Prime Minister says the Government will talk with some organised group.

Later, failed Mt Kenya politicians camouflaged as elders enter the fray as does Mr Isaac Ruto and other Rift Valley MPs, all seeking the release of their people.

The PM later joins calls for the release of suspects held over post-poll violence.  Prof George Saitoti, in whose docket matters to do with internal security fall, says no negotiations.

And  Ms Martha Karua of Justice says no amnesty. The Cabinet then gives final verdict: No blanket amnesty.

The question that quickly comes to mind is: What is leadership? It is one of those things you know when you see it. It is easier to say what leadership is not than what it actually is.

No wonder, while most people cannot define leadership, they know when they have been led. How then do our politicians lead us in calling for the release of people in police custody without due process?

How can politicians ask for the release of people convicted and serving jail sentences? Where people have been arrested on suspicion of being criminals or engaging in criminal activity or for whatever reason, the law must be allowed to take its course. The law is clear, if the allegations are unfounded, the innocent ones will be released.

Criminals are criminals and not community or religious leaders, or anything else. They do not deserve anything other than the law.  Our politicians must therefore have enough fortitude to stand up to them. Not negotiating with criminals ensures in the long run that one is not at their behest.

The only time the government is known to negotiate with criminals is when it is criminal or made up of officially elected criminals. Such people will attempt to obtain numerous truces with other unofficial unelected criminals.

This is what happened in Trinidad and Tobago when senators Manning and Joseph, said to be criminals, supported as well as wined and dined with known criminals masquerading as community leaders. They even gave them government contracts.

Similarly, in Haiti, by December 2006, armed criminals had increased their declarations positioning themselves as ready to inflict fire and blood unless their demands were met.

Yet these criminals continued to benefit from the impunity being part of direct but futile negotiations with the government. The government had established the National Commission of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (CNDDR) to reintegrate armed gang members into regular society.

Unfortunately, at some point  CNDDR had, at its heart a criminal, the spokesperson of Operation Baghdad I — Jean Baptiste Jean Philippe alias Samba Boukman. Consequently, the success of the CNDDR was compromised.

A lot of money was wasted on the programme, with gang members admitting themselves into it by submitting at least one firearm as an assurance of their resolve to renounce violent life. But this never worked.

How has Nigeria fared with criminal elements? Each time the hoodlums struck by kidnapping foreign oil workers, either the federal government or the state one immediately negotiated with them and paid the ransom demanded.

When the government cut deals with criminals and their masters, the hoodlums became so bold they are taking on the entire Nigerian state and shutting down one of the major cities.

According to a recent editorial of the Nigerian paper,  Tribune, one reason kidnapping has become a thriving and lucrative business is that nobody has really been punished for it. This stems from the days when foreign oil experts were taken as hostages.

Rather than arrest the criminals, the Nigeria government sat and negotiated with them, thus sending  the message that it could no longer guarantee the protection of life and property.
The bottom line? It is only a criminal government that cannot be concerned with stopping criminal activities.

Where a government’s politics consists of negotiating with criminals, it is a form of encouragement to fraudsters, thieves, kidnappers and other criminals who enjoy official impunity and are treated as bona fide political associates.

These criminals are devoted to gaining from the government’s strategies.

What morality chairs governmental procedures when the Prime Minister and other government officials affirm their desire to negotiate with people who impose the terror, kill, rape and steal?

The leaders of all the gangs are well known, the hoodlums in the streets are not phantoms either, they are human beings.

Kenyans demand that the Government immediately take the battle to them and stop any negotiation.

Mr Gikonyo is an advocate of the High Court; gikonyog@yahoo.com


About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.



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