Friday, June 09, 2017

Beware the NGO-isation of sovereignty

The road to hell, dear children, is paved with good intentions, so they say, don't they? #RedCard20 is the good intention of the 2017 general election, a list of twenty men and women whom civil society organisations have identified as having "integrity issues" and recommending that they not be permitted on the ballot by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The aim of #RedCard20 is to "reawaken the consciousness of the country".

In 2007 and 2008, we stared into the abyss and the abyss stared back. By the time we lost the staring contest, hundreds of Kenyans lay dead, thousands were maimed and scarred for life, and still hundreds of thousands more had been stripped of all their possessions, driven from their homes and were living like beasts of the wild in makeshift camps that came to be indelibly remembered as "IDP camps". The lessons we learnt in 2008 were applied in the the Agenda for Peace, the national reconciliation process that was overseen by foreigners that culminated in the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010. Among its most important features was a provision on national values and principles of governance and a Chapter on the leadership and integrity of State officers such as the President, Deputy President, elected representatives and Governors. Its intent was good; its effect has been insalubrious.

From the moment the men and women of the Tenth Parliament (2007 - 2013) were called on to begin the arduous process of "implementing the new constitution", they were determined to circumvent the will of the people, called "'sovereign" in Article 1, by ensuring that none of them and their political descendants would ever fall victim to the sharp edge of the sword of integrity. The demonseed of their efforts was the Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012, that is designed to look tough without actually being tough. By and large, most Kenyans either were not concerned by the efforts of the members of the Tenth Parliament or those of the Eleventh Parliament (2013 - 2017). They were almost always concerned with what their elected governments were doing, never mind that they still bitch a lot about "lack of development" as being linked to their leaders' "lack of integrity" but never actually doing much about it.

The #RedCard20 initiative assumes that Kenyans, sovereign people, have had their political agency taken away from them and that it is the responsibility of the civil society organisations behind the initiative to fight for what the people have lost. The hubris behind the initiative is breathtaking. First, they assume, without much proof, that Kenyans have been stripped of the power or ability to nominate or elect political leaders of their choice because their choices are limited to men or women with "integrity issues". Second, they proclaim to know what is best for these Kenyans and, third, to propose the only serious and workable solution for the people.

There is nothing wrong in an organisation taking it upon itself to "vet" potential political leaders; we, in our sovereignty, have an absolute right to do so using matrices that have nothing to do with the written law of the land if we so choose. But there is something inherently malign in an organisation decreeing that its matrix is the only legitimate one, that it is more legitimate than a political process that has nominated men and women it has statutory trouble calling "thieves". Take Anne Waiguru, for example, who appears on the #RedCard20 list, who is "under investigations for the National Youth Service (NYS) theft in which up to Kshs. 1.9 billion was lost in the NYS scandal under her watch as the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Devolution."

The makers of the #RedCard20 list refuse to accept that Ms Waiguru hasn't been charged with a crime by any known agency: not the national police, not the anti-corruption commission, not even the national treasury or the central bank. Suffice to say, she has only been convicted in the hyper-partisan court of public opinion in which the mob is unlikely to be rational or fair. On what basis would anyone insist that she is unfit, because of her integrity, to hold any other public office? If the  makers of the #RedCard20 list succeed in their jihad, their is a grave risk that in the future, the same anti-democratic tactics will be used against even men and women of impeccable integrity; all one will need is to find a fragment of a bone from a skeletal scandal and we will be off to the races with accusation, making mountains out of molehills and ending the public service careers of innocent women and men regardless of the harm it does to the wider institution-building efforts of the nation.

I say to them, if you have proof that can sustain a successful prosecution, present it to the only institution that matters, the Judiciary, and live with the judgment of the court. Simply assuring us that you "know" is not enough. It never will be. And no, your good intentions are not enough. Not in the twenty-first century when we know what happens when we take things on faith alone.

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