Monday, August 31, 2020

The tunnel vision of the blind

Seven years ago, rather tendentiously, I declared that because of Parliament, the Jubilee government "may go down in history as the worst government. Ever." Three years before, I had declaimed that "no longer should Kenyans be held hostage to the selfish goals and objectives of politicians; it is the responsibility of their representatives, through such organs as the PSCs to ensure that when decisions are taken, they are taken with the national interest in mind." In both cases I had underestimated the long tail of the not-so-dead KANU-ism that has proven as tenaciously resilient as witchweed.

Covid-19 gave the national executive the opportunity to subvert the ostensible separation of powers intended by the Constitution. The irony of such subversion occurring on the tenth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution is not lost on the discerning. In five months, Parliament has been neutered and its power cast asunder like so much flotsam. From the moment various "parliamentary groups" were summoned to State House and read the riot act, Parliament's autonomy and independence has become a figment of our imagination. What began has a "handshake" three years ago has sealed the Twelfth Parliament's fate - Parliament can no longer claim to be separate from, or independent of, the national executive.

Martha Karua, the eponymous leader of NARC-Kenya, has a stark warning, which I paraphrase: if Parliament fails to re-assert itself, to take black that which has been granted by the Constitution, dodgy health-sector tenders will be the least of our worries. In my estimation, though, rigid fetishisation of the constitution will do more harm in the long run, and that includes the zealotry of the implement-the-constitution religion that is demanding the dissolution of parliament because it has failed in implementing the two-thirds gender rule.

No political system is perfect. Ours certainly is imperfect in many respects. The constitution was among the most difficult tools in resolving the imperfections of our system. We continue to suffer these imperfections because], on the one hand, the political elite will do everything in their power to prolong their place at the national trough even if it means running the national finances into the ground. On the other hand, Wanjiku prioritises immediate survival concerns at the expense of long-term political health because when one lives hand to mouth for most of the year, and one is faced with a once-in-a-century epidemic, one can't spend too much time parsing whether or not women, youth or the disabled have received a fair constitutional shake. It is the middle classes of intellectuals, business leaders, ministers of faith and political party apparatchiks who are supposed to discern the needs of the people and drive the ship of state into the calmer waters of long-term political, economic and social stability. But the middle classes, at the expense the Wanjiku they are supposed to lead, guide and assist, have cast their lot with the political elite in the hopes of inheriting the mantle from the political elite. The middle classes have betrayed their cause in the false hope of ascension into the ranks of the rich and powerful.

If the fervour with which the 2022 general election is being conducted is anything to go by - if you really think that they are not campaigning, you have not been paying attention - the political elite and Kenya's tabloids have completely forgotten the existence of Wanjiku and, instead, have turned their world into this massive echo chamber where only their ideas and views of the world percolate. Poverty? Kenyans aren't poor - even during the pandemic, inflation was low and exports were up! Unemployment? It is only temporary; as soon as the pandemic ends, the economy will roar back into full productivity on the back of higher tourist visitors and greater demand for cut flowers! Political instability? Please! Now that parliament and State House are in sync, the Big Four Agenda and the BBI Initiative will give the people what they ahem always wanted: a seat at the table for the people who reflect the face of Kenya! In short, if the middle classes and the political elite they serve don't wish to see it, then it doesn't exist.

The BBI's recommendations will be rammed down our throats. The Big Four will be implemented come hell or high water. CBC will churn out successive generations of unquestioning drones. But only if tunnel-vision prophecies by the blind come to pass. And none are as blind as the political elite, the Fourth Estate and the predatory bankers who bankroll the whole kit and caboodle. Listen to them at your own peril.

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