Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A colonial way of doing things

It is dangerous to argue that the presence of an armed police constabulary, armed to the teeth, I might add, prepared to use force, including deadly force, to enforce the peace, engenders a peaceful business environment. There is a section of the Twittersphere that is convinced that Nairobi is calm because of the presence of armed riot police and that the swift breaking up of a political demonstration is a testimony to the peace credentials of our fair city. This notion should be swiftly disabused.

Kenya's protest politics, especially when spearheaded by Raila Odinga, has one outcome only: violent confrontation with the forces of law and order. Mr Odinga inspires the most visceral reactions whenever he is in the opposition, and now that he is free to lead a protest movement when he chooses, there is a section of the ruling alliance that sees it as their duty to crush Mr Odinga's putative rebellion. These people are idiots and they are the reason many Kenyans, especially Kenyans resident in this city, labour under a most unfair delusion that Nairobi is safe and peaceful.

The police in Latin American banana republics (I know, I know; what a pejorative term) are the principle agents in policing political thought and political activity. If the police is arrayed against you, and so long as your movement does not grow, your political activity will be greatly circumscribed. But if your political demonstration becomes a mass movement, as what Raila Odinga is attempting, very soon the army will be called out at which point, only one outcome will be acceptable: the total destruction of the enemies of the people, because that is what the opposition will have become.

Nairobi's central business district is neither safe nor peaceful; it is a boiling kettle whose lid is a tightly wound paramilitary police force. The dissipating teargas fumes are not proof of peace or safety and neither are the closed shops suffering hundreds of thousands of shillings in losses every time the anti-IEBC circus comes to town. What the quiet streets of downtown Nairobi reveal is an illiberal approach to political contest that eschews debate to bullying. They are the sign of a scared populace which will not risk life and limb in the illiberal political combat between the ruling coalition and the opposition.

A safe public space is devoid of overt demonstrations of police power; it is instead, characterised by green spaces, water points, seats. The Nairobi CBD, under the Kidero regime and the entrenched malevolence of the nationa Executive, is neither safe nor welcoming, unless one has a very fat wallet. What the anti-IEBC madness has revealed, if revelation were needed, is that we are yet to reverse decades of received wisdom about the relationship between the people and their government, and the place of robust political disagreement by way of demonstrations. Kenya, and more so Nairobi, is wedded deeply to the colonial way of doing things.

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