Friday, September 22, 2023

Kaluma is the nadir of our political decline

George Peter Kaluma (ODM, Homa Bay Town) has sponsored two Bills in the National Assembly that fly in the face of the Constitution. In the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes (Amendment) Bill, he proposes that the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act be amended to provide that a conviction for corruption or economic crimes should not bar the convicted person from holding public office, whether appointed or elected.

In the Family Protection Bill, he proposes to prohibit homosexuality and same sex marriage, to prohibit unnatural sexual acts and related activities and to proscribe activities that seek to advance, advocate, promote or fund homosexuality and unnatural sexual acts and to impose severe penalties, including the death penalty, for offender under the Act.

Mr. Kaluma is not alone in his attempts to subvert Kenya's current constitutional norms; but the extreme nature of the Bills he has sponsored in the 13th Parliament demand an examination of the environment in which he, and his colleagues, are making laws and overseeing the institutions of the State. One of the revelations from such an examination will be that the fetishisation of the Constitution, and international "best practices", has contributed substantially to the current dire state.

When taking instructions in my profession, we were trained to see legislative proposals in their proper context. We were taught to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, nor the good be the enemy of the good enough. Though we were taught that the highest standards of anything should be our goal as legislative drafters, we were warned that the highest standards may frequently be attained only on paper while the practical realities of governing would undermine that lofty ambition at every turn.

Mr. Kaluma, through his two laws, has revealed the limits of high standards. Because Kenyans have fetishised the Constitution and frequently ignored the compromises they make as individuals, as families, as communities, as professionals and as voters, they have established a schizophrenic public principle: high standards for thee and good-enough standard for me. This hypocrisy is seen in the way we see no disconnect in complaining about the dangerous traffic in urban areas, but do absolutely nothing to drive safely, even when we can, because it is the other guy's responsibility - and not mine.

Mr. Kaluma is betting that on his anti-corruption amendment, he will face little, if any, opposition and, if he phrases his arguments in the most religion-tinged incendiary and discriminatory language favoured by United States' politicians, only human rights defenders fighting for equality will oppose the Family Protection Bill. He is not wrong. Because we have fetishised "public participation", even when the public is a majoritarian mob baying for the blood of minority communities, we assume that merely obeying the letter of the law is sufficient; the spirit of the law is neither here nor there.

We had a window of opportunity after the late Mutula Kilonzo and his successor, Martha Karua, pushed through the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Act that entrenched the Constitutional Review process that culminated in the Constitution of Kenya promulgated on the 27th August, 2010. (It is instructive that that the Thirteenth Anniversary of the Constitution of Kenya passed without being mentioned by State officers in any meaningful way.) That window of opportunity slammed shut when President Uhuru Uhuru Kenyatta and the Parliament of Kenya conspired to ram through the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014. That was the first significant State attempt to undermine the spirit of the Constitution. Mr. Kaluma is the heir of that odious legislative legacy.

"Reasons" will always be found to not do the hard work of nation-building, institution- building and development of constitutionalism as a principle of society. Whether it is lack of "resources" or some other weak-tea argument, if the ground has been seeded with enough Doubting Thomases, the State officers intent on undermining the Constitution will find themselves pushing against an open door.

Kenya no longer has robust institutions that can argue forcefully against the likes of the Kaluma Bills. At various points in our history, it has been chairmen and members of the Law Society of Kenya (for example Willy Mutunga, CJ, Paul Muite, SC, and Gibson Kamau Kuria, SC) and clerics like Alexander Muge, Henry Okullu, David Gitari and Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki and civil society institutions like the Ufungamano Initiative, National Council of Churches of Kenya and Kenya Human Rights Commission, and university dons like Dr. Crispin Mbai and Ngugi Wa Thiong'o and countless other selfless Kenyans, who spoke for constitutionalism, the rule of law and the rights of the people. Those days appear so quaint and long ago now.

From the moment the first "activist" was elected to Parliament, it has been a drip-drip-drip of disappointment after disappointment. Imagine the psychic shock of watching men and women who stood four-square against the excesses of Daniel Moi and Jomo Kenyatta turning a blind eye to the State-sponsored murders committed during Mwai Kibaki's presidency and the active sabotage of a brand-new constitution by the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency. Is it any wonder that the likes of Mr. Kaluma feel no sense of trepidation as they go about their business in the 13th Parliament?

Kenyans fell into a trap when they washed their hands of political work after the election of Mwai Kibaki. They left the "thinking" to the politicians and turned their energies and talents to making money hand over fist. The good times did not last long. Kenyan hiphop offers a mirror to the state of Kenya's politics. There was a time when Jua Cali, Nonini, Mejja, Necessary Noize, Ukoo Flani Mau Mau, and their musical peers were turning down gigs because they were so busy. The music they made was topical, current and deeply, deeply creative. Then the music stopped. Today all we have left are sex-fuelled "celebrity scandals". If this isn't a metaphor for the rise and fall of Kenyan constitutional politics, I don't know what is.

There is no turning back the clock. The halcyon days when the enemy was clear are long gone. We must build a new framework for not just holding the State, its officers and its agents to account, but we must build a framework that preserves our ability to inject new blood into the process. We have seen what happens when we leave it to octogenarians like Raila Odinga and Makau Mutua. It is not a pretty picture.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Beware constitutional fetishists

If Mohamed won't go to the Mountain...

The only president, I think, who was happy with the Constitution of Kenya when it was promulgated in August 2010 was Mwai Kibaki. He was serving out his last term. He had the Cabinet he wanted and exercised the powers of a small god. None of his successors has ever been happy with the no-longer-new Constitution. Uhuru Kenyatta conspired with his bitterest political rival to amend it through the asinine BBI. Uhuru Kenyatta's successor is going about the same enterprise in a more subtle way.

Every president, whether they are happy with the constitution or not, could always do with an amendment or two to strengthen their hands to do the things that they want to do in the way that they want to do them. President Ruto is not unique in this regard. But the game he is playing in the constitutional amendment game is a subtle and nuanced one. He isn't ramming the proposals down our throat like his predecessor.

I saw somewhere on the interwebs that someone thinks that the parliamentary "dialogue" committees are founded on legal quicksand and now I am convinced that Kenyan lawyers have been infected by the same brain-eating prion disease that has infected USA culture-warriors.

The "dialogue" is conducted by parliamentarians in their capacity as parliamentarians and it is wholly consistent with the broad mandate of Parliament to consider issues for the welfare of the people. If the "dialogue" leads to fresh change-the-constitution calls, the only reasonable condition should be that the constitutional amendments must be prosecuted in strict compliance with Chapter Sixteen of the Constitution of Kenya (and the judgment of the Supreme Court on the role of the president in the whole affair).

At present, the "dialogue" has not gone far enough and though among the terms of reference of the parliamentary dialogue committees is recommendations on amending the constitution, the recommendations have not been made. Of course, we recall the proposal to establish the office of the leader of the official opposition and if this proposal forms part of the recommendations of the parliamentary dialogue committees and Kenyans vote freely in a referendum to adopt the new office, only a mad-cow-disease-mad lawyer will object to the amendment. The voice of people, it seems, only interests these lawyers when it supports their preconceived notions of what Parliament can and cannot do.

Kenyan constitution-making has always been a messy affair. Anyone who suggests that there is an accepted template for constitution-making is not to be taken seriously. There are benchmarks, and best practices, but there is no single true way to make or amend the constitution. Certainly, how to choose what to amend and when to amend it is subject only to the politics of the day and the support of the people. We laud the lawyers who do the difficult work of holding the agents of the state to account, but we have nothing but scorn for those who fetishise the constitution beyond all reason.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Mental vassals of the French should shut up

Some quarters on Kenya would have you believe that the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS (and its baby sister, the Economic Community of Central African States, ECCAS) has failed to stem the tide of military putsches that have deposed rulers who have been in power for longer than the soldiers deposing them have been alive. Those quarters are full of very clever idiots.

Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Gabon have been the victims of great political cruelty. For the fig-leaf of independence, they have remained the vassal states of France. The economic wealth tied to their natural resources has only enriched their presidents and France. Burkinabe, Malians, Nigeriens and Gabonese have seen how multi-billionaires live while they have continued to live lives of penury, struggle and strife. Clever idiots would have you believe that the only way to remove the thieving rulers from power is through "democratic means" because these idiots are wedded to the idea of the law being stronger than the will of even a committed military minority.

One of Jimmy Cliff's songs says that "democracy is a road that leads to tyranny" (Democracy Don't Work, 1998) and I can't say that I disagree. In our hearts of hearts we know that a democratic tradition that impoverishes is no true democracy. Democracy, true participatory government, is meant to enrich the greatest number of the people. It is not meant to be a vehicle for the aggrandisement of a single family or thieving clan. Clever idiots will never admit this.

Now it may be that the military juntas that have installed themselves in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Gabon will not succeed in giving power back to the people. And if that is the case, they, too, shall fall victim to punches as well. Shakespeare knew that one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. But as we have learnt from the histories of our peoples, military juntas fail in part because they the seduced by the promises of the likes of the perfidious British and malevolent French. A pox on both their houses.

Clever idiots will point to Kenya and Tanzania and the relative political stability they have enjoyed since they gained Independence, ignoring that the political opposition in Kenya and Tanzania has had to fight, tooth and nail, for political expansion, sometimes at great cost to lives and limb. Merely because military putsches failed in Kenya and Tanzania is not proof that they are true democracies; it is a testament to the resilience of the the thieving first families or the overwhelming degree of control that ruling parties possessed. The absence of war is not proof of peace.

ECOWAS and ECCAS have no leg to stand on when they demand that the military juntas hand back power to the dictators they have flung out of office. The majority of the members of ECOWAS and ECCAS are ruled by thieves and gangsters. These governments should set about setting right their nations, empowering the people to participate fully and meaningfully in the politics of their nations or suffer the same fate as Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Gabon. And the windbags in Kenya calling for military intervention to restore to power the puppets of the malevolent French should sit out the debate. Forever.

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the Na...