The Challenge For Kenya
It’s one those oft-repeated quirks of reality: if you immerse a frog into a jug of boiling water it will instantly try to get out of there; if you instead immerse it in room-temperature water and then boil that water, it will happily and obliviously boil away without trying to escape until it is well and truly dead.
The post-2007 election period in Kenya has seen attempts to both boil the water and boil the frog; with the frog obviously representing our still impunity-clad political and bureaucratic class. Previously, the situation in Kenya is that there was no boiling water to dip our frogs into nor was there any attempt to begin boiling them: ensuring that there has simply been no political accountability for all the shenanigans that have gone forth since independence.
The old constitution ensured that any attempt at boiling our frogs was immediately and effectively extinguished. Assassinations, corruption scandals, political brutality, police killings, egregious human rights abuses and lots more were very swiftly swept under the carpet using such phrases as “no stone will be left unturned” and “police are still investigating” and such mechanics as judicial commissions of inquiry.
And because of this a number of things happened. First, the ordinary citizen (or mwananchi) got used to expecting official iniquity at every turn; it was the rule to expect that state officials would break the law and get away with it and not be sanctioned. In a sense, the whole question of demanding accountability from state officials was removed from the political and governance equation and outsourced to “pesky” activists, “dissidents” and an assorted array of “troublemakers”.
Second, the sense of frustration among the ordinary citizenry at the exclusionary and extortionist nature of this state of affairs burgeoned and there has been a steadily-rising constituency of disaffected citizens represented by such illiberal civil society groups as the mungiki and Mombasa Republican Council. These groups may utilize different strategies and methods to stake their divergent claims but what they have in common is their disaffection of the political, social, economic and cultural status quo.
Third, Kenya’s political and bureaucratic overlords (the mwenyenchi) have so well gotten used to getting away with their nonsense that for them, this is business as usual. Corruption, assassinations, police brutality, police killings, egregious human rights abuses and the rest are hence not the exception; rather they represent the systemic actions and responses of those in power. In short, it is not “a few rotten apples” that we are dealing with (and have been dealing with since the early years of our independence) but rather a whole debe-full of rotten apples.
Then post-2007 election violence occurred and both Kenyans and the international community took notice. The business-as-usual way of political governance had brought the country virtually down a very perilous precipice and there needed to be both accountability and reforms. The water needed to start boiling.
This is where things began to get interesting. In most of the fables for the young in Kenya, the cunning animal is the hare – sungura mjanja. One of the ubiquitous Swahili books for mid-to-upper primary school had an irrepressible trickster in the character called Abunwasi. In football, it is acknowledged that one of the most cunning footballers of all time is Argentina’s Diego Maradona – he who scored one goal with his hand and the other using his gifted and mesmeric left foot in the same football match at the World Cup. Now, if you were to roll up a hundred hares, Abunwasis and Maradonas into one, you may come close to the devious cunning that inheres in the Kenyan frog.
They have used everything in the book - and beyond it - to avoid being placed in boiling water or being boiled. The first aspect was by completely derailing any attempt to ensure domestic accountability for those responsible for post-election violence. Because they are in charge of both the investigation and prosecutorial phases of such a process, they have ensured that nothing really has happened in this regard. Moreover, being in control of the legislature has also meant that any measures meant to correct this situation have been quickly scuppered.
Secondly, they have also raced to blunt the ability of the new constitution to bring the water to boil. We witnessed in 2010 for instance the attempts by the NO camp to use different unsubstantiated red herrings in an attempt to frustrate the achievement of the new constitution. Subsequently, they have been actively attempting to dilute pieces of the enabling legislation to weaken constitutional provisions that should ideally create greater political accountability in Kenya. One needs to simply look at the attempt to amend the constitution – less than a year after its promulgation – as well as those to amend the structure of political party regulation in this regard.
Third, they have been actively engaged in the attempt to demonize and delegitimize the International Criminal Court (ICC) intervention in Kenya. Having successfully resisted domestic accountability, Kenyan frogs have moved to decapitate the ICC cases related to Kenya. They have sought to create an alliance within the African Union calling for the delay of these cases. They have gone around seeking to have the cases brought back to the country – despite all evidence in the first place that there is a manifest unwillingness and inability within the state to do anything about them. They have used countrywide “prayer rallies” to allege an imperialist plot in favour of Prime Minister Raila Odinga because the ICC cases are allegedly meant to keep both Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto out of the next presidential contest – essentially rallying and balkanizing a sympathetic ethnic vote in their favour.
Fourth, they have attempted to delay the ICC cases by claiming that any attempt to begin the hearings before the forthcoming elections in Kenya would undermine national reconciliation and unity. Without scratching too far beneath the surface of this argument, its cunning perhaps lies in the realization that the current tradition among sitting heads of state facing charges at the ICC is their attempt to use diplomatic immunity as their shield.
So beware the Kenyan frog: he is not as harmless and genial as portrayed in Gado’s cartoons. Rather, he is full of political guile and cunning; and for Kenya to survive he must be boiled.
Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.