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.

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