Saturday, August 24, 2013

Our Consent.

It is interesting to watch the different reactions to the Egyptian tinderbox. It is also interesting that there doesn't seem to be curiosity whether or not Egypt matters at all, especially to Kenya other than as a lesson...or a warning. A certain amount of hyperbole is to be expected; after all, Egypt plays a not insignificant place in the life of the Christ (in the Christian bible.) It has also played a leadership role in the on-going attempts to resolve the Palestinian Question. But at the end of the day, should Kenyans pay attention to the unravelling of Egypt's politics or to issues much, much closer to home. Like the fact that Uhuru Kenyatta and his entourage to China have somehow managed to push up the national debt by a trillion shillings. Or that some of the National Assembly's members think they can summon the Chief Justice to a parliamentary committee meeting as if they were the Principal and he were a naughty school-boy in need of chastisement.

The Arab Spring was romanticised by those who normally champion the cause of democracy and democratisation across the globe. To them, the Arab Spring symbolised the inevitable coming of age of a region that had so far refused to join the rest of the "free" world in guaranteeing and protecting the rights of the individuals rather than glorifying the place of the State in the body politic. The rose-tinted glasses did not reveal the inherent fallacies in the romance of the Arab Spring. They hid the absence of democratic institutions. They hid the back-lashes of a subjugated people granted temporary respite from their subjugation. They hid the client status of the militaries in the Arab world to the United States. Arab Spring nation after Arab Spring nation is following a path that was laid down by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Tunisia, Algeria, Libya...all have somehow managed to give reactionaries power at the expense of the groups that the democracy peddlers would have sponsored. It is now Egypt's turn.

Kenyans must draw the proper lessons from the Arab Spring. It is not just that democratic institutions are vital to democracy to flourish; it is not just that constitutionalism must take root in the body politic for the rule of law to prevail. What is crucial is that when a nation embarks on a path to reforming its political landscape, it must do so knowing in advance that the path to reform is not a straight line. There will, inevitably, be very strong obstacles to be surmounted. Some will come from unexpected quarters, such as the champions of the revolution, and some will come from the expected quarters of vested interests and incumbents.

Kenya is attempting one of the most complicated reform experiments in the world, bar none. It is doing so after a crisis, but not after a civil war like is the norm the world over. It is reforming its constitutional order, its political order, its institutional structures, its education system, its security system, and many more. It is doing so with little money and little support from the National Treasury. It is doing so in the face of strong challenges from the vested interests that have made a killing from the status quo. It is doing so in the face of radical u-turns from democracy champions on all sides of the political arena. It is doing so with a youthful population in the millions that is well-educated but unemployed. And it is doing so when the fate of its national leadership is in flux, with the President and Deputy President fighting indictments in a foreign court and the unofficial leader of the Minority Party attempting to rebuild his political career in the face of constant debilitating setbacks.

We must stay the course. We must hold our national leadership's feet to the fire. We must ensure that the crass political class sacrifices where they must. We must build up the capacity of the public institutions to survive. Teachers, doctors, policemen, magistrates, nurses and civil servants must be given the facilities they require to help Kenya move to the next level in its reform programme. More money must be set aside for the institutions that directly benefit the Kenyan at the grassroots; it is not important that governors, senators, speakers, elected representatives, cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries, judges, commissioners or holders of independent offices have cars, drivers, body guards or fat wallets. It is not important that governors fly the national flag from their official limousines. It is not important that the Senate thinks of itself as the "upper" house. It is not vital that the National Assembly thinks it can judge judges.

It is vital that the rules by which we choose to govern our body politic are respected by all. It is vital that the concept of democracy is inculcated in all of us, that we all believe in constitutionalism and the rule of law, that the niggly bits of the reform process are not allowed to mushroom into Mushroom Clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Which means that those that see themselves as our rulers need to be reminded, in stern terms, that they are leaders and that they lead by our consent.

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