By: David O. Monda
The recent media statement titled “Kenya’s Democracy is at Crossroads” by a number of envoys from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada, among others, attempted to equally castigate the Jubilee government and the opposition NASA coalition for the lack of a National Conversation on a range of political issues. The envoys spent significant diplomatic capital trying to maintain a neutral stance between condemning the brinkmanship of Jubilee and that of NASA. At the end of the statement, the status quo was maintained. Neither side is compelled to negotiate. As a result, Kenya’s democratic gains continue to erode. Having been constitutionally elected into office, the onus is on the Jubilee Administration to reach out and initiate dialogue to move the country forward. The envoys’ statement on democracy in Kenya let an undemocratic government off the hook. It is a sad day for democracy in Kenya.
The onus to initiate dialogue needs to come from the victorious party. In this case President Kenyatta and his coalition. It will not be possible to repress the discontent from the half of Kenya that rejected the Uhuru presidency on August 8th. A measure as simple as the president visiting opposition strongholds would be a good first step to bring the nation together. This is a measure lacking in the envoy’s statement.
What has transpired since the inauguration of the “People’s President” on January 30th has been an erosion of fundamental democratic gains consolidated over half a century of struggle. The American Ambassador is aware of the threats to the life of a US citizen called Dr. Evelyn Akombe forcing her to flee Kenya for the United States. The Canadian High Commissioner is aware of the reckless abuse of the rights of a Canadian citizen called Miguna Miguna. The Australian High Commissioner is also well aware of the collapse of security structures that led to the recent extrajudicial killing of Australian national called Gabrielle Maina. Lastly, the British High Commissioner, Nick Hailey, is cognizant of the long history of impunity in Kenya – specifically the tragic unsolved murder of British tourist Julie Ward. These unfortunate events happened to these innocent foreign nationals because of a Kenyan government that was highly undemocratic and eroded the tenets of democratic governance in the country.
It is therefore baffling for these envoys to castigate both the Jubilee and NASA coalitions with equal measure for lack of movement on democratic reforms in the country when Jubilee commands all the political power. The monopoly over the use of legitimate force resides with Jubilee and not NASA. The envoys’ statement should emphasize the need for the sitting Jubilee government, which controls the security services and a significant majority of the seats in parliament, to initiate dialogue with the opposition. The opposition has nothing to celebrate but five years in the political wilderness.
It is also in Jubilee’s best interest to initiate dialogue because it won the election. The Supreme Court has ruled as such. The results of the 2017 election are a fait accompli whether NASA accepts this or not. In this regard, clamping down on an already divided opposition only generates sympathy for the opposition locally and internationally. The recent editorial pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post criticizing Jubilee’s actions illustrate this. In addition to this, the government’s flouting of court orders, illegally shutting down media houses, deporting Kenyan born opponents, and withdrawing security and passports for opposition politicians takes Kenya back to the tyrannical days of the Moi dictatorship. Kenya’s post-independence history shows that power accumulated to do good can also be used to do evil.
It is with this backdrop that the envoys’ statement is a setback to consolidating democracy in Kenya. The dead souls of Julie Ward, Gabrielle Maina, and the dejected spirits of Miguna Miguna and Dr. Roslyn Akombe would demand their envoys not let an undemocratic government off the hook for eroding democratic gains. Truth must be spoken to power unequivocally.
David O. Monda is professor of Political Science at City University of New York – Guttman College
Image: US embassy in Nairobi, Discover Diplomacy (US Department of State)