Monday, January 14, 2008

A Bleeding Kenya: Why did this not happen sooner?

Since the atrocities of ethnic violence, mayhem and senseless killings befell our beloved country both in the run up to the December election and soon after the declarations of the flawed presidential election result, I have been following commentaries and opinions in print and electronic media. Despite many opinions and explanations as to the genesis of the quandary the nation found itself in the aftermath of the election, none seems to explicate the pertinent issue. Why did this not happen sooner? Calorine Elkins asked this question in her opinion “Ethnic woes a legacy of colonialists’ power” the Standard 7 January 2008. Unfortunately, even Elkins could not answer the question. Her colonialist hypothesis did not explain why Kenya has remained an island or oasis of peace in an armed conflict turbulent region. In order to understand the current political impasse and the violence and mayhem, it is imperative to answer this question adequately.

First let me characterise the current political stand off in the country in terms of “two centres of political power”. The antagonists of the two centres of power are Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga supported by their (ethnic) political bases. The ended election was supposed to decide the rivalry between the two centres, which strongly emerged after the 2002 elections and continued to date, but it failed and instead bequeathed two equally strong centres. The country is therefore spilt in the middle with both opponents enjoying at least 4 million strong votes support. The stand off has trashed the fa├žade of peace and tranquillity hitherto existing in the country. How therefore can this phenomenon be understood? Why did peace and tranquillity in the country disappear so suddenly? To understand this, interrogation of how the past regimes maintained the relative peace and stability is needed.

The answer to the question may recline to how the first president Jomo Kenyatta and his successor Daniel Arap Moi dealt with alternative centres of power during their reigns. Both never allowed alternative centres of power to flourish and blossom. They vanquished them in the bud. Various methods were used such as political persuasion (KADU 1964), snap elections when their enemies were weakest (little election 1966 and snap election 1983), detention without trial, imprisonment under trumped up charges, brutal force and assassinations (Tom Mboya, J. M. Kariuki and Robert Ouko). Most of these techniques were undemocratic, illegal and a travesty of justice and human rights. But they sustained these regimes in power and the ‘apparent’ peace and tranquillity in the country during their reign. Their actions must, however, be understood in their historical and political context namely one-party state either de jure or de facto. Under those circumstances, the two presidents wielded absolute political power which they used to vanquish any challenge. But what is important to note also is that they did not allow any competitive elections except when their adversary was at his weakest. The last constitutional terms of Moi are the exception but even during the 1992 and 1997 elections the opposition was divided and could not pose a strong centre of power to his presidency. In 2002, Moi did not contest the election because he was constitutionally barred. On the other hand, the opposition managed to unite and fathom out an alternative centre of power which went ahead to vanquish Uhuru Kenyatta, Moi’s appointed follower, and KANU dominance.

After 2002 a new centre of power emerged and Kibaki was not able to snap it in the bud. This explains the constitutional impasse and parliamentary stalemate (though through government of national unity Kibaki was able to circumvent through the deadlock) and the current stand off where Kibaki met a powerful adversary at the election something his predecessor never permitted. Kibaki did not avail himself the illegal measures used by his predecessors perhaps because of the multiparty democracy and human rights context he operated in.

So what is the way forward?

In a dictatorship, peace and tranquillity is maintained through brutal force and unlawful means. In a democracy, it is maintained through democratic institutions. The choice facing the country now is between dictatorship or democracy. If Kenya is a democracy, the solution to the impasse must be informed by the country’s democratic, political and legal institutions and not violence, killings and political mayhem.

After the Election Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the ‘winner’ of the presidential election, no matter how flawed the elections were, the stability of the country rests on its other institutions despite their perceived shortcomings. They must be allowed to shoulder the responsibility they are entrusted with by the law. They must be tested, as perfect institutions do not exist. Strong institutions are created and tempered by crisis. To trash what there is aside is to create a dangerous precedent where any politician and political centre will choose the institutions to be subjected to and which to ignore and discredit.

Whereas foreign mediation may appear an easy way out of the current political crisis, ultimately it is the national institutions that will guarantee rule of law and democracy. Foreign mediation if resulted to must work within the framework of the existing national institutions without circumventing them. At the same time, any party with the interest of the country at heart must permit the national institutions to resolve the political deadlock so that the country and its seemingly bungled democracy can emerge stronger. To embrace democracy is to accept its shortcomings but also to learn from them so as to advance to a higher level of democracy.

Related Views:

Why court is the best solution in poll result row.

Strong institutions our only way out.

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