Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What will the Church do?

The Roman Catholic Church is the most ubiquitous institution in Kenya, spreading its tentacles into every nook and cranny in our fair land. It rivals the Government of Kenya in reach and meets the needs of a sizable portion of the population, running schools, hospitals and other social institutions and playing the role of the state where the state has indeed failed. It is rivalled only by the Anglican Church, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Africa Inland Church in reach and influence. The men of the cloth, therefore, find themselves in an unenviable position: unelected opinion makers and leaders who hold the balance of peace in their hands.

In the run up to the 2007 General Elections, the church acquitted itself poorly, failing time and again to exhort peace and reconciliation among the political and chattering classes. Instead, it picked sides and was instrumental in fomenting the incivility that characterised the elections, and standing mute while the country burned. Indeed, because of their partisanship, men of the cloth and the institutions they headed were not spared the brunt of the violence, with the burning of a church in Kiambaa, Eldoret as the most extreme manifestation of the odium heaped upon the church. During the 2010 Referendum, the church once again picked sides, but this time round it studiously refused to be identified with a political party or a political ideology, instead fashioning its opposition to the Proposed Constitution along values lines. It is a testament to changes in the body politic that the men of the cloth accepted the results of the Referendum without too much sore-loser whingeing.

What is notable about the 2010 Referendum is that although the so-called mainstream churches played their role in opposing the Proposed Constitution, it is the leadership of the evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Kenya who were in the leadership position, setting the pace for the debate surrounding the draft and setting the tone for the millions of Kenyan Christians who listened to them. In pulpits across the nation, the evangelists and Pentecostals demonstrated that they were capable of mobilising public opinion on a large scale and that they could sustain the debate well after every one else had given up. Moses Akaranga in the Ninth Parliament and Margaret Wanjiru in the Tenth are manifestations of the growing clout of the evangelical bishops and we would be well advised to keep an eye on them in the future.

The role of the church in the forthcoming general elections cannot be gainsaid; they must and shall play a role in determining whether we have peaceful elections or not. They will also play a role in assisting the public in choosing leaders, whether they do so for their own selfish ends or not. The Constitution separates church and state but does not separate church and politics and the politics of the men of the cloth will be revealed when the expected ethnic mobilisation of the people commences in earnest as soon as the campaigns are officially launched. The signs, though, are discouraging and dispiriting.

The presidential hopefuls among the Ocampo Six, prior to their date at The Hague this past month spent much of their time prior to their departure at 'prayer' and 'peace' rallies, presided over by men of the cloth. It seemed as if a section of the church was supporting the cause of the PEV suspects over the rights of the victims of the violence. At no point during these rallies did the bishops present spare a thought for the thousands that lost their lives and the hundreds of thousands who were chased from their homes or suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of men and women they had called friends and neighbours for decades. It is a strange sight to see preachers of the word ignoring the plight of millions of their congregants at the altar of political expediency.

It is impossible to know how the men of God will acquit themselves in 2012, but they should remember that while their right to political participation is guaranteed they must also temper their political freedom with wisdom and humility. They should studiously avoid the mistakes of 2007 and instead, attempt to guide their congregations in making choices that will stand Kenya in good stead. However, if they have already taken ethnically-coloured political stances, they should be treated with the same contempt that we today reserve for the political classes. The choice is theirs and if they make the wrong ones, they deserve the opprobrium of all right thinking Kenyans.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tick ... Tock ... Tick ... Tock ...

This is the calm before the storm. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto made a triumphal entry after their brief sojourn in The Hague. Their show of force was meant to awaken in the Prime Minister the uncomfortable truth that despite his best efforts, the two were a political force to be reckoned with. It now emerges that Kenyan politicians are adept at betrayal as the former MP for Bahari, Joe Khamisi, reveals in his new book, "The Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator." Apparently, William Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka and Uhuru Kenyatta were in discussions in 2007 to unite in order to stymie Raila Odinga's chances at the hustings, until, that is, Kalonzo struck his own deal with Mwai Kibaki and William Ruto stood four-square behind Raila Odinga. On this Easter holiday, not much political action is taking place, especially considering that the ICC trials are still hanging fire and the date of the next General Elections has been generally accepted as taking place in August 2012. What are these men and women planning for the next few months?

ODM is in shambles; William Ruto has emerged as the most serious threat to party unity and the Prime Minister has demonstrated that he will brook no opposition in his quest for the presidency. However, the union of Uhuru Kenyatta, the chairman of KANU, Kalonzo Musyoka, the chairman of ODM-K, and William Ruto is not yet cast in stone and despite Najib Balala's exhortations, it remains unclear whether the three will eventually form a separate party just as ODM was formed in the aftermath of the 2005 referendum. Feverish rumours continue to imply that the Uhuru and Ruto do not trust Kalonzo, and that Ruto and Uhuru may yet have a falling out. The three may be major political players, variously representing ethnic vote banks of considerable size, but there is no guarantee that their electorates will continue to behave like sheep and be led around by the three for long. 

The political re-awakening of the Kenyan people may not receive much publicity from the media houses, but it is anyone's guess whether Kenyans will be persuaded to follow a man simply because they speak the same language. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister seems to be embarking on his own version of shuttle diplomacy, not so much as to guarantee the trial of his political challengers but perhaps, to boost his international profile, reassuring foreign powers as to his suitability to lead Kenya come 2013. Whether his travels will ensure their support for him come 2012 remains to be seen or whether he will translate his international goodwill into votes.

However, it is other players who may determine the success or failure of the various strategies being formed by the major players. Martha Karua has emerged as a serious, albeit underrated, force in Kenyan politics. Charity Ngilu and Wangari Maathai set the ball rolling in 1992 when they became major political actors after the reintroduction of multi-partyism in Kenya. Karua has inherited their legacy, managing to keep hold of the chairmanship of NARC-K, despite the apparent refusal of some of its male members from seriously considering her as a potential presidential challenger. As with many national issues, her ethnicity is being used to deny her the opportunity, with two of her recent elected MPs plumping for Uhuru Kenyatta as the choice of Central Kenya. Despite this, she has soldiered on and it remains to be seen whether she will magnanimously step aside in favour of the KANU chairman or she will throw her lot with his nemesis, Raila Odinga, or whether she will go it alone and split the Central Kenya vote. She has managed to keep her name in the spotlight, participating in run-of-the-mill events like the recent Chaguo La Teeniez jamboree and thereby shoring up her profile among the youthful members of Kenyan society. If she manages to turn their enthusiasm into votes, she will have managed to pull off a great stunt at the expense of the PM and DPM.

So, for the moment, the field consists of Odinga, Uhuru, Ruto, Kalonzo and Karua. In September, it will be confirmed whether Ruto and Uhuru will stand trial at The Hague and whether or not President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga will stand by their men or let them swing in the wind if the charges are confirmed. Meanwhile, Parliament will consider Bills in the implementation of the Constitution and the Constitution Implementation Commission will keep on fighting to see that only Bills it has approved make their way to the National Assembly. Civil society in Kenya is all but dead and their role in the Constitution implementation process remains patchy at best. Given the high commodity prices caused by the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, Kenyans are more concerned about the escalating cost of living to keep a keen eye on the political or Constitution implementation process. We may be in for a turbulent period and Kenyans should prepare for more 'prayer' and 'peace' rallies, with various presidential hopefuls demonstrating their common touch.

Change is coming ... slowly

When Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei acquitted William Ruto and his colleagues of the corruption charges laid against them by the Attorney-General, no one was surprised. This is how it has been in Kenya since Independence, and there are no signs that things are improving when it comes to holding our political leaders to account for their sins of omission or commission. However, if one looks hard enough, one may espy glimmers of hope for the future. The Solicitor-General, as he was closing the two-week induction course for newly-appointed State Counsels, called the 113 new officers the 'face of Kenya' and he couldn't have put it any better. In appointing new lawyers for the government from all its 47 counties, taking into account that it is now a Constitutional requirement to balance the appointments such that gender-equity is respected and that marginalised communities are included in the governance of the country, the State Law Office is laying the ground for what will be a truly representative government, reflecting the hopes and aspirations of its diverse religious and ethnic groups. No one is being left behind, not at the State Law Office at least.

It will take more than the ethnic balancing in government appointments to make Kenya truly representative, but removing the impression that the government is reserved for a few favoured ethnic groups is the first in a long series of steps. The people of Kenya must get off their back-sides and take part in the process of guiding the nation in what is equitable and fair. Three of my new colleagues come from the Suba community and at least one is a Muslim. More must be done in order to ensure that the face of the nation is properly reflected in the institutions of governance. If this country is to wean itself from the vicious cycle of General Elections and elections' violence, men and women of good will must begin the process of identifying what their rights are, what their communities are entitled to, and democratically ensuring that these rights are protected. Some communities have been so marginalised that the number of their members of graduate from our universities in such professional courses as law, medicine, engineering or architecture has remained static for decades while other communities have produced thousands upon thousands of professionals. As a result, marginalised groups have remained wedded to their concepts of culture with dire consequences on their human development indices: low economic growth, low employment, high infant and maternal mortality, low higher education scores, and poor representation in the public service.

Elected representatives in Kenya have frequently betrayed the hopes and aspirations of their constituents, relying on corrupt methods to get and retain political power. Consequently, they are not beholden to the people who send them to Parliament or the Local Authorities' councils. They have failed to credibly articulate the challenges their constituents face and have failed to protect them from the ill-effects of poor management of public resources. As a result, the people's disillusionment with the political process has engendered a cynicism with the process that limits political participation to voting alone. Therefore, many public institutions are dead or dying because the people are unwilling or unable to participate in their rejuvenation. Witness how the Constitution implementation process has been dominated by lawyers alone to the almost total exclusion of all other professionals or Kenyans.

Mzalendo Kibunjia's NCIC report on the ethnic makeup of government and the State Law Office's recent ethnically diverse appointments are pointers that at least some Kenyans realise that things cannot proceed as they are and that something must change. More Kenyans, especially professionals, must pick up the gauntlet and begin the process of holding their elected representatives to account for the manner in which the nation is government, the manner in which resources are allocated and appropriated. At the end of the day, if we fail to participate in making things better, the light at the end of the tunnel may prove to be a high speed train barrelling down on us.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Getting away with murder

Here the Don paused and drank his wine as he looked around the table at his two sons and Astorre. "Let me tell you the reality," he said, and turned to his daughter. He spoke with an intensity rare for him. "You say human life is sacred? From what evidence? Where in history? The wars that have killed millions are endorsed by all governments and religions. The massacres of thousands of enemies in political dispute, over economic interests, are recorded through time. How many times has the earning of money been placed above the sanctity of human life? ~ Mario Puzo, Omerta (p. 30)

In this month's edition of the Nairobi Law Monthly, my friend Carolyn Makana (The Masses are betting big on ICC) and Barrack Muluka (Trust betrayed) attempt to address the disconnect between what our politicians have publicly pledged to do and what they are actually doing or trying to do. Ms. Makana places great trust in the institution of the International Criminal Court to address some of the pain and suffering thousands upon thousands of Kenyans suffered during the violence that ensued after the 2007 general elections. Mr. Muluka is no longer surprised that the men and women elected to the Tenth Parliament claim 'sovereignty' only when their hides are on the line or when it suits their political purposes. I am surprised that it has taken him this long.

The case of the Ocampo Six has managed to obscure an uncomfortable fact: in Kenya, the wealthy never get their comeuppance. 4 years after the terrible events that followed the general elections, thousands of Kenyans still live in abject circumstances, their plight overshadowed by the apathy of the general public. Kenyans talk a big game, but the fact of the matter is, we have moved on and the 2012 elections occupy our minds to the total exclusion of everything else. How else do you explain the fact that even Mwalimu Mati's Mars Group has not come out with a statement of on the fact that our national debt keeps growing even when national revenue is dwindling?

The ICC process has been billed as the first vaccination against the disease of political impunity. It has been accorded mythical status, variously being described as the shot the nation needs to wean itself off its troublesome political class. However, on the ground, we are carrying on as if the violence we are being primed for will affect someone else. Kenyans still refuse to participate fully in informed debate about its institutions, including its political ones. We have abrogated our duty and we will cry foul when the politicians drive us into the ditch come 2012.

When the Ocampo Six walk into the hallowed chambers of The ICC, they will do so knowing that they have primed the nation to blame one man for their plight. Regardless of the merits of the ICC prosecutor's case, Kenyans will be more concerned with how it will affect the presidential contenders' chances at the hustings. Whether they truly participated in planning and fomenting the violence is immaterial; what matters is whether they will still manage to stymie Raila Odinga's hopes of becoming Kenya's Fourth President or, in the alternative, implicate the PM in the violence and have him dragged to The Hague too to answer charges of international crimes.

In the maneuverings and prayer sessions, not one bishop of preacher has come out to speak for the thousands who lost lives, loved ones and property. The government, as represented by various ministers, not least Uhuru Kenyatta, keeps using them as fodder for its political cannon against the PM. The fusillades being sent against his citadel make no bones about somehow placing the blame for the continued plight of the IDPs on the PM. When the history books are written, posterity will show that ordinary Kenyans abandoned their brothers and sisters and allowed an avaricious bloody-minded political class to get away, literally, with murder.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...