On Tuesday, 14 May 2013, Kenya's civil society did something extraordinary. They corralled a sow and her piglets, loaded them onto a filthy lorry and dumped them (and a tank of blood to boot) right outside the gates to Parliament. It was the most extraordinary expression of popular outrage against the Members of Parliament's demand for higher pay-and-perks, quite against the wishes of a majority of man-on-the-street Kenyans. It was unexpected and shocking. It revealed the vestigial remains of civil society's ability to keenly decipher the mood of the people and to express it in a manner that would capture the popular opinion. It was also offensive, deeply so, and the shocked and outraged visages of MPs reflected the deep insult that had been hurled at them. This is what political civil society must do.
Sadly, their imagination ran out. Political civil society is supposed to be the conscience of the people when the political and faith-based establishments fail in their duty. Instead of advancing, even in the brief talking points put out, the moral, legal, sociological, financial and political case against the Members of Parliament, the protestors advanced juvenile arguments, and deployed aggressive and violent force against the few idiotic MPs who chose to engage with them.
This is the problem with the political civil society today. It may express, more often than not, the popular will of the downtrodden, but it is incapable of engaging intelligently with the nation's or global intelligentsia. It has been reduced to sloganeering at the expense of developing the philosophical weapons needed to prevail, both at the grassroots and in the corridors of power. Some, including this author, argue that part of the reason why political civil society is in decline is because it has become too wedded to the idea that for it to prevail, it must expend money. Money has become the principle excuse of why political civil society does not engage the State on all matters that affect the people adversely. Money has become the umbilical cord that links political civil society with hare-brained outfits from the West. Money is the reason why political civil society champions increasingly resemble the MPigs they were demonstrating against on the afternoon of the fifteenth: rotund and swanning around in SUVs or high-priced limousines. While Members of Parliament want our money to spend on these luxuries, political civil society champions want Western nations' citizens' taxes to spend on the same luxuries! The irony is not lost on this author.
This is not to argue that there aren't intelligent people amongst the leading lights of the political civil society movement. Not at all. Or that if they enter elective politics, and succeed, they will debase their principles at the altar of the filthy political lucre on offer. The Member for Ndhiwa, Agostinho Neto, for example, may not be as famous as Maina Kiai or Makau Mutua. But he has managed, in his brief stints in the Tenth Parliament, and now in the Eleventh, to demonstrate that it is possible for someone to enter the "enemy's" camp with being seduced by the bright lights and temptations on offer. His most recent proposal, while in some respects is misguided, is an eye-opener. While the political civil society shouts itself hoarse sloganeering in the streets, Mr Neto is proposing the amendment of the Constitution to set the total number of MPs at 304, eliminating the nominated ones and abolishing the 80 constituencies created in 2011. In a practical way, if his proposal is accepted, the Parliamentary wage-bill will be radically reduced. Of course this author realises that Mr Neto is pushing against the sky but, nevertheless, wishes the Ndhiwa MP success, even partial success in his career in elective politics.
And that is the point. It is not enough to have a point of view, especially a contrary point of view, without proposing alternatives that are reasonable. Political civil society today is robustly against the explosion of the "public wage bill" but it is yet to propose solutions that will accommodate the interests of both the public servants and the public they serve. Simply accusing public servants of excessive greed without proposing practical, realistic solutions is a recipe for mutual disrespect and conflict. The pigs were a nice touch. It would have helped that the civil society activists had an idea out of the current impasse.