Friday, December 06, 2013

You never knew who was listening.

Do you think that investors would be interested in a country whose leaders do not value democracy? ~ Mutuma Mathiu, Daily Nation, Friday 06/12/13.
The answer, sadly, is "Yes." Look at the hordes that made their way to unified Vietnam in the 1980s and early 1990s. Loot at the ones salivating at the possibility of selling iPhones, iPads and sundry shiny bits-n-bobs to the billion-plus Chinese? Myanmar? Even in the midst of their harsh imprisonment-at-home of Aung San Suu Kyi they were welcoming the worlds "Biggest Democracy" among others to compete for investment opportunities in their rich natural resources, especially hydrocarbons and timber.

The proper question should have been whether in light of the tremendous progress made since the forty-year KANU interregnum came to an end investors would look kindly to a political system that is determined to roll back the gains made, especially as they had led to an explosion of talent, innovation and ideas among the unshackled.

The answer, obviously, is "No."  Whether the apparatchiks around the powers-that-be wish to admit or not, it is the opening up of the democratic space to alternative political parties, voices and ideas that spurred the explosion in innovation. Under the KANU hegemony, ideas were used as weapons against their formulators. It was political heresy to challenge the official line; it could lead to painful, or fatal, results. In Mwai Kibaki we found a flawed champion for democratic growth. His frequently poisonous political partnership with Raila Odinga was the catalyst Kenyans needed for the demands they made of their government and their nation's politics.

We may disagree, sometimes very vehemently, with the content of some of the morning call-in shows that are obsessed with salacious gossip and topics that skate pretty close to pornography. We may disagree with the objectivity of some of the "investigative" journalists who bring to light the dark deeds of some of the men and women entrusted with the fate of a nation. We may disagree with the content of some of the rags we have designated the gutter press. But we cannot disagree with the benefits that we enjoy today because of their existence. Kenyans know more about their nation and their fellowman than at any time since the dawn of Independence. If there has been one success that Kenya has enjoyed since 2003, it has been the banishment of political ignorance.

A political system, especially a democracy (and representative government) succeeds upon the ability of the people to hold their government to account. For this, the people need a free press able to use the media at their disposal to inform and educate the people about what their government has done, is doing and intends to do. When the light of information and education has been shone on the inner workings of the government, only the foolhardy will still insist that white is black and black is white.

The Eleventh Parliament and its immediate predecessor, have demonstrated that representative government is yet to permeate the thickened skulls of the peoples' representatives. They live with the idea that they are here to rule over us. They obsess over the indignities visited on their persons when they are denied eighty-thousand-shilling sitting allowances like their avaricious colleagues in the Judiciary. They do everything other than what they are supposed to do: represent the peoples' interests at the highest levels of government. And they would wish to hide their hideous warts from their electors. Thus they conspire in secret and in public to reverse the gains of democracy that were taken by blood and force from a government that was determined to hold out for a hundred years.

Mr Mathiu may have had good reasons for pointing out the leeriness of future investors if the media is muzzled. But it is time we reminded Kenyans of how life was in the mid-1980s when disappearances were common, the public commons were playthings of the powerful and well-connected, and public dissent meant not just the dissenters' liberty, but the economic destruction of their families, friends, and acquaintances. Kenyans must be reminded of the days when the President's name was invoked in secret and in code because "you never knew who was listening."

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