Sunday, July 21, 2013

Still a police state.

There is a feeling abroad in the land that since the landslide victory by NARC in 2002 Kenya has moved on from police-state status and is well on its way to an expanded democratic-state status. Those feelings are misplaced. While Kenyans no longer live with the fear of the midnight knock from men with guns, we are still a police state. This is reflected in the relationship between the State and the people; we are not treated as citizens with inalienable right, but as subjects to be "managed."

Let us take the most common meaning of a police state where the state security apparatus is used to control the people. In Kenya, especially during Mwai Kibaki's presidency, the police became increasingly professionalised. But their profesionalisation was not for the safety of Kenyans; it was for the preservation of the State and the protection of high state officials, especially Cabinet Ministers and sundry politicians. This remains the case today. When Kenyan are getting bombed and maimed in Garissa, Mombasa, Nairobi, Busia and Bungoma, the State's reaction is not to uncover the persons behind the heinous crimes. The State's reaction has been to "flood" the streets with more policemen, round up the usual suspects and pray that the people forget that their security, and safety, is in their hands.

Take a look at the legislation passed by the State. If we were moving on from being a police state, the laws we enact would expand the realm of the peoples' freedoms, allowing and enabling them to create wealth and pursue their own happiness. Instead, laws are used to consolidate the power of the State to interfere ever more in every aspect of our lives, from whom we can marry to what we can purchase. The list of things that can be purchased without a permit is shrinking, rather than expanding. Many of the institutions being established by law are designed to regulate every aspect of our lives, from education to healthcare to commerce.

The relationship between the State and the people is in an uneasy calm today. The Jubilee manifesto makes many promises, some of which are ostensibly for the benefit of the people. But a closer examination of the Jubilee government's plans reveals that they will entail an expansion of the State's power and influence in our lives. The desire to build world-class football stadia in Kenya on the face of it looks like a desire by the State to give youth greater access to sporting facilities and opportunities to identify talented youth and promote them in the national and international arenas. But when you consider that it is the State that will procure these stadia, it will retain the power to determine who has access to these facilities and, by extension, who has an opportunity to shine and who will be denied such an opportunity.

The flagship laptop project is a good example of the pernicious influence of the State. While the goal of giving each standard one child a laptop is laudable, its rationale is wanting. Every global examination of such projects has revealed mixed results. Rather than promote the goal of access to electricity by all Kenyans, including access to schools, the Jubilee government intends to engage in a massive procurement exercise to obtain solar-powered laptops for school-going children, a majority of whom do not have access to electricity. Even laptop computers, sooner or later, must be plugged into a power source.

One of the effects of a police state is massive corruption. The massive procurement-related projects of the Jubilee government will lead to massive corrupt acts. Even while the President has committed his government to combat corruption, the signs so far have been discouraging. The anti-corruption agency remains leaderless and visionless. The National Assembly is slowly whittling away the access the press has enjoyed to keep an eye on its operations and deliberations. It is more interested in lining the pockets of its members than in the improvement of the lives of the voters who elected its members. Ministries are busily trying to expand the size and scope of their operations especially by establishing "autonomous" or "independent" agencies, ostensibly to make their operations more efficient but likely to amass power and money at the expense of efficiency or effectiveness.

While we may no longer live under the fear of being falsely arrested or detained by government agents, and the courts seem to be doing everything in in their power to raise the peoples' confidence in them, we are not permitted to do more from our own initiatives or resources unless we are well-connected to the State and the political powers-that-be. Before we can say that the police state is well and truly dead, we must take a cold hard look at the state that we do have today.

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