By Jane Wachira
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” – George Orwell
During the Nairobi International Trade Fair 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta honoured as Farmer No. 1 a small-scale farmer from Kirinyaga County, Falaciah Kinyua, in the women’s category. Falaciah was over herself with joy having received recognition from the highest office in the land. During her interview with Nation Media Group’s Saturday Nation, she could not hide her excitement. Falaciah said she could not believe that it was the President who was telling her “congratulations”. Ever since, Inooro FM, a vernacular radio station has played and replayed a voice recording of an overjoyed Falaciah explaining how the President shook her hand and congratulated her.
The focus of this article is not on Falaciah’s achievements but on President Kenyatta’s act of shaking her hand and congratulating her. Was this a mere public relations stunt, a case of gracing the occasion, conferring accolades of a job well done, and business-is-done-for-the-day, or was the President sincerely proud of her efforts?
In 507 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms he called demoktratia, or “rule by the people”. Demokratia combines demos, the people, and kratos, meaning rule, power or strength. This system comprised three separate institutions: ekklesia, a sovereign governing body that wrote laws and dictated foreign policy; boule, a council of representative from ten Athenian tribes; and the dikasteria, the popular courts in which citizens argued cases before a group of lottery-selected jurors.
Cleisthenes’ invention has been said to be ancient Greece’s most enduring contributions to the modern world. Translated to a modern day setting, ekklesia can be said to be the executive, boule, the legislature, due to its representative nature, and dikasteria the judiciary.
The literal denotation of democracy has always been a government of the people, by the people and for the people, a statement that US president Abraham Lincoln popularised. Core characteristics of democracy include a government in which all adult citizens exercise power and civic responsibility, directly or through their freely elected representatives.
Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule and individual rights. It guards against all-powerful central governments and decentralises the government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.
At a glance, the commonest types of democracy are liberal, a representative democracy in which the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law; constitutional, in which the authority of the majority is limited by legal and institutional means, so that the rights of individuals and minorities are respected; and deliberative, which is a system of government that is concerned with collective decision-making; it emphasises the right, opportunity and capacity of anyone subject to a collective decision to participate. Kenya exercises this form of democracy through the doctrine of public participation.
Thinly veiled interests
While Kenya exhibits the characteristics of most of these forms of democracies, it is evident that the political elites and opulent bourgeoisie run the show behind the scenes.
The first week of July 2016 saw lawyers boycott court sessions to join human rights defenders in demonstrations condemning extra-judicial killings. Human rights lawyer Willie Kimani who was representing his client in a suit involving the police had been found murdered, alongside his client and taxi driver. It is alleged that three police officers took part in their disappearance and killings. The general notion is that the police force’s duty is to enforce law and order and to protect the public; however, what is often witnessed is the complete opposite. Kenyans are afraid of police ruthlessness and brutality, the bribes taken behind bars (pun intended), not to mention the prejudicial charges hauled at an accused person. People are almost never prosecuted for the material crime but rather for false crimes the police deem suitable.
After the 2007 elections, Kenya descended into political chaos after election losers became dissatisfied with the election outcome. It was the attestation of then opposition leader Raila Odinga that the elections had been rigged. Many were killed, masses were displaced, and the economy was greatly affected. The international community viewed Kenya as another African country in a political crisis. The election that followed in 2013 was not without dispute either; this time however, the parties settled their election dispute in the newly established Supreme Court. In the controversial Petition No 5 of 2013, the elections were ruled to be free and fair, even as the Court acknowledged the technical irregularities that marred the voting exercise.
Corruption is so deeply rooted in the Kenyan nation one would think it is one of the guiding principles upon which the nation is anchored. It is so deep a thorn and so widespread a vice that in 2015 the international community begged Kenyan politicians to steal “just a little” if they must. In 2015, Sh791M was lost in suspicious payments to various private companies involved with the National Youth Service. So far, 11 fraud suspects have been arraigned in court and are yet to be charged. The scandal also led to the resignation the former cabinet secretary for devolution Anne Waiguru.
In 2015, the Auditor-General, expressed fears in his report that the Sh250 billion received in June 24, 2014 as Eurobond proceeds could have been stolen since they was not deposited in the Consolidated Fund. Instead, the Auditor General observed, it was deposited in an offshore account contrary to Article 206 of the Constitution, and section 17(2) of Public Finance and Management Act 2012. The opposition Cord to date is still calling on the government to give an account of the money.
Following a weather forecast of the onset of El Niño in late 2015, the government set aside Sh5 billion from the Contingency Fund and Sh10 billion from donors, later dubbed the El Niño billions. The funds were to be utilised to save lives and increase resilience to mitigate damage and address immediate needs of water, shelter, health and nutrition. The funds were also to be used to relocate people to higher ground. However, the money was distributed in mysterious ways and most of those affected by the rains were never assisted. Floods and landslide victims were left to fight the consequences of the heavy rains on their own.
The tyranny of numbers, coined by prominent political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi during the 2013 election, has remained in the lips of Kenyans and politicians alike ever since. His hypotheses indicated that Jubilee would win the 2013 presidential election in the first round with a substantial majority over Cord; this came to pass. “Tyranny” conventionally refers to the cruel and oppressive governance or rule. In Kenya it makes a plausible but trivial claim that Kenya’s voting is historically influenced by ethnicity – the ethnic tribe with the majority of voters gets to head the government of the day. This undermines the democratic principle of the “spirit of the people”, that the government of the day is a government by the majority and for the majority. The same tyranny has been witnessed in the Parliaments during the passing of laws – where the political party with the most seats dictates which laws are passed.
Kenyans pay into the National Insurance Hospital Fund faithfully every month; however the same cover does not extend to medical trips abroad. Kenyans have to turn to fundraisers to foot medical bills. This can be rightly said to be a form of infringement of the right to the highest attainable standard of health under Article 43.
True only in theory
We are told and made to believe that in a democracy, the people’s will and wishes are to be represented by the government. While this is true in theory, it is clearly not put into practice. A few examples from the “civilised world” will suffice.
When the US invaded Iraq in a bid to fight terrorism everyone supported what was thought to be a good cause. To date, however, the Middle East is in a crisis so murky as has never been witnessed in history. Then there was the introduction of a belligerent group to help combat terrorism, which later went rogue, pulled a one-over on the American government and turned to the largest terrorist group, ISIS. One is left wondering whether the fight against terrorism as claimed by US is sincere in any way.
Then there was the Nato invasion of Libya in the name of democracy. Once a peaceful economically viable country, Libya is now desolate and in turmoil. Western governments were against the Gadaffi regime, which, in retrospect, ensured citizens’ economic and social rights were granted. He may have denied them their civil and political right to vote and change leaders but neither have the westerners granted it. This elicits the debate of whether there was profit in choosing the lesser evil – economic and social rights vis-a-vis civil and political rights – keeping in mind you might not achieve either as was Libya’s case.
In the same breath, the colonizers of the African continent came in the name of civilising a Dark Continent when the real intention, as is now evident, was to exploit natural resources and take slaves, disrupting once peaceful and well organised African societies in the process.
Coming back to Kenya’s case, when Cord calls on the nation to take to the streets on a Monday to protest and call for the replacement of IEBC officials, questions linger in the minds of many: Are they doing it for democracy or is it to satisfy their personal whims and yearnings for power? Is the common mwananchi ever the main agenda? Are claims of “we, the people…” really a rallying call from the “the people”?
The actions exhibited by the political elites and the opulent bourgeoisie are driven by the idea that the intelligent, well-educated leaders of society alone know what is best for society. This classical idea also embodies the argument that the masses need to be governed and are incapable of governing themselves.
It thus follows that if they need to be lied to, it will be for their own good. It is obvious that democracy in Kenya at this point is more of a smokescreen than anything else. In the eyes of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat are incapable of knowing what is good for them.