Kenyans no longer have a champion who will speak up when their rights are threatened. Even in the dark days of the Kenya Peoples' Union revolt, Kenyans had faith that their elected representatives had their interests at heart; it was the business of elected representatives to represent the interests of their constituents in the highest corridors of power without fear. The late Martin Shikuku, Jean-Marie Seroney and Ronald Ngala may have at one time or the other faltered in their duties, but there isn't a Kenyan alive who knew them who could argue that they betrayed their duty to represent their constituents. In the late 1970s, Kenyans had the Seven Bearded Sisters who did all in their power, in and out of Parliament, to point out that the kleptocratic authoritarian regime inherited from Kenya's First President has hell-bent in stymieing the natural expansion of democratic rights and space a nation undergoes as it becomes better educated and wealthier.
In the 1980s, the Mwakenya Movement became the catch-all phrase to describe the men and women who worked in secret to educate Kenyans on their rights and on the sins of their government. Whenever Kenyans linked to the movement were arrested, unlawfully detained and prosecuted, Kenyans, cowed or not, knew that there were others willing to sacrifice their liberty, even their lives, for those who could, or would, not. Dr Willy Mutunga, the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court, was one of the champions that Kenyans could rely on to speak truth to power for which he paid a very steep price. In the 1990s, it was institutions like the Law Society of Kenya, and pressure groups such as the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, that finally forced the State to accept that progressive change was inevitable. The repeal of section 2A of the former constitution was an admission by the State that political progress was a necessity of Kenyans were to fully realise their potential. It was also a confirmation that until the day Kenyans had institutions in which they could repose their full faith, champions were necessary to get things done for the people.
What Kenyans thought was the final defeat of the KANU machinery built up since 1963 when Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as Kenya's third President in 2002 turned out to have been a mere blip in the radar. When Mr Kibaki and his cohort moved swiftly to not only consolidate their power but to also co-opt the champions Kenyans had come to rely on to keep the State out of their affairs, the euphoria of the moment blinded us to what was truly going on. Suddenly civil society organisations were lending their members to State agencies; many were being funded by the State to address key bread-and-butter concerns of the people. But in the important, nay, critical, areas of political progressivism and expansion of democratic space, the Kibaki regime was quick to stamp its own authority and to use the very same draconian techniques that had been employed by every regime since 1921 to control how Kenyans thought, with whom they associated, what they read, and what they could say. And it turned out that many of the champions who should have spoken up for Kenyans had feet of clay; civil society had its nose too embedded in the trough of State truffles it could not be bothered to raise its head, or its voice, or to prick its ears to the incessant cry of pain from the people whose duty it was to protect from their own government.
With the co-option of the home-grown champions by the Kibaki regime, a new breed arose: urbane, well-read, well-travelled and well-funded. But their sophistication hid many flaws, some which are proving to be near-fatal to the state of freedom in Kenya. What had started out as an experimentation in the hey-days of the nyama choma ambassador, Smith Hempstone, had been perfected by the envoys of the European Union: it was not enough to fund civil society champions; they would be "educated" as to what they should do, what interests they should pursue and what issues they should raise. While their language mirrored that of the champions of the 1970s, '80s and '90s, their intent and effect was quite different. Certain progressive ideas were inevitable, especially when the State accepted them as so. Multi-party politics was here to stay. An equal voice for the discriminated and marginalised was the only way forward. Women must play a greater role in the development and governance of the State. These, and many others, were noble, laudable issues to be advanced for the benefit of Kenyans and champions have risen in the past to advance them.
But since 2005, civil society has lost its way. Its obsession, it seemed, was the elevation of one man above all as the True Champion for Kenyans. He has become the darling of the Western powers after Mwai Kibaki discovered that it does not matter where dollars come from, so long as they come and he forged ahead with developing and deepening ties with non-traditional partners such as China, Iran, Russia and India. While the West is mired in its "economic meltdown", the East surges forward and Kenya is hanging on its coat-tails for dear life. But at the same time, the State has adopted mannerisms and behaviours that remind Kenyans who can remember of the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s when men and women were rounded up in secret and either murdered in cold blood or jailed unlawfully. While champions arose to check the State then, today the only people available are only interested in "programmes'' and "policies" and the next fat pay-cheque from overseas to implement a "grass-roots programme" to ameliorate this or that social ill. When they do speak on political issues, it is to repeat what Western ambassadors are saying: that one man is to be trusted over all others to steer the ship of State in the right direction. We no longer have champions; what we have are the worst of the Fifth Columnists: those who would recolonise our minds.