Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Kanuism's resilience

Three Kanuists have died in the past week. This is an astonishing rate by any standard. Two of them were stalwarts of the Moi Way, which eschewed the rights and fundamental freedoms of Kenyans and, instead, translated presidential fiat into action on the ground. The third was some sort of fixer-henchman-financier of considerable power during a twenty-four-year presidential reign of terror. I look forward to the intellectual contortions Kenyan politicians will twist themselves into looking for something, anything, to say in praise of the late unlamented Kanuists.

While Kanuists are shuffling off their mortal coils, Kanuism is alive and in very rude health. Jill Cottrell Ghai grapples with Kanuism in her most recent Op-Ed in the The Star, as she examines the unenforceable Gazette Notice by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources and the resurgent presidential habit of "creating" new administrative units as sops to voters during political campaigns. While she diagnoses the constitutional infirmities that both Kanuist actions suffer from, she refuses to name the ultimate reason for their very existence in the first place: new constitution or not, Kenyan politicians and senior Cabinet nawabs are still firmly wedded to Kanuism as their guiding philosophy of governance.

Kanuism was famous for its fidelity to the letter of the law which it preferred to interpret as broadly as it could when its proselytisers imposed their will on us and as narrowly as it could get away with when the people attempted to hold Kanuists to account in the courts of law and of public opinion. Take the "plastic ban" as an example. It has the feel and look of a lawful statutory decree because it pays lip service to sections 3 and 86 of the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (No. 8 of 1999), but it has the firmness of a puff of smoke because a careful reading of both sections shows you that the waziri has done nothing to satisfy statutory and constitutional requirements in her "ban". This trick was used often by Kanuists to rob hundreds of thousands of Kenyans of their land, their homes, and their lives.

Kanuism is also notorious for remaining deaf to any and all challenges to its legitimacy. Kanuism serves the Kanuist, not the people. The "creation" of sub-counties, with the imprimatur of a statute that makes a mockery of section 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution -- to restructure the...provincial administration to accord with and respect the devolved system -- serves the recently resilient Kanuists fighting at strength. Do not expect the pace of creation to slow down after Uhuru Kenyatta is re-elected; it might just pick up a new head of steam. The people are a means to an end, and the new-administrative-unit-creation is a useful lever in moving them to vote the right way.

Kanuism's roots are well-entrenched and rooting them out will take more than the goodwill engendered in the Constitution. We must confront the enemy by first acknowledging his presence, identifying the reasons why he is so resilient and taking the fight to him on multiple theatres: the courts, the Op-Ed pages, social media, everywhere. Jill Cottrell Ghai does us an important service by reminding us that Kanuism continues to thrive. We must strike at its heart if we are truly to enjoy the benefit of the phrase, "Justice be our shield and defender" as we intone it in our national anthem.

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