Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Saba Saba at Thirty

"Yote yawezekana bila Moi!" was an anthem as well as a repudiation of forty years of Kanuism. It was the culmination of events that kicked off in earnest on Saba Saba - 1990. Thirty years after Saba Saba, and eighteen years after Moi shuffled off the stage, it is shocking how little progress we have made on the road to political liberation. Kenya and Kenyans are still hostage to fantasies of benevolent dictatorship as a panacea for economic malaise.

Saba Saba at Thirty comes at a time when political and economic freedoms have been rolled back startlingly fast despite a freedom-oriented constitution. Senior officers of the State still ignore judicial decrees. Policemen still murder civilians with impunity. Academic freedom is notable by the dearth of free-wheeling discourse designed to free minds and challenge received wisdoms. Educational prospects are hobbled by "market-oriented" curricula designed to create a generation of spanner boys. religious freedom is marked by how fast a preacher will acquire his first Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Kenya has all the accoutrements of freedom - a Constitution, a freely-elected legislature, a market economy, an unfettered right to worship, and what have you - yet its peoples are spectacularly un-free.

What Kenya's first and second presidents attempted to achieve by brute force, the third and fourth have achieved by velvet gloves and mailed fists simultaneously. The first and most successful gambit was to co-opt the second liberation movement. Leading lights were offered money, power and high office. Many took the bait. The tail is now wagging the dog. The second was to dress up autocracy in the vestments of visible economic progress - soldiers building pavements and the like.

The hard and necessary work of institution-building leading to nation-building has been abandoned as too hard, too contentious, too expensive and too time-consuming. In our rush to put a microwave in every kitchen and a nduthi in every driveway and an iPhone in every hand, many are willing to tolerate the murder of toddlers in their cribs, teenagers in their balconies and the homeless in their gunias if it means that down the road, the privations a lack of institution-building has engendered will be wiped away. Because we ave hollowed out the Kenyan academy and replaced it with academic buccaneers, there are few Kenyans who are able to prophesy that in less than a generation, privation will be a defining feature of Kenya - not an anomaly. The dream that was Saba Saba is becoming a living nightmare.

On the day Willy Kimani, his client and their driver were murdered, it has been a matter of time before the anti-Saba-Saba forces shed their masks and revealed their true selves. If you are still waiting for Huduma Namba and its acolytes to lead to better public services and, in turn, economic and political freedom, you are among the multitudes who have never known what Saba Saba represented, what it imagined, what we dreamt of. You are a victim of false prophets and the illusory power of mass entertainment as political and academic freedom.

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