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February 16, 2019

Donors’ Sh15.5bn is for Cord support

Civil activists demonstrate on November 21, 2013 in Nairobi outside parliament buildings over two recent parliamentary bills they say will curb hard-won freedoms, muzzle government critics and undermine democracy. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA
Civil activists demonstrate on November 21, 2013 in Nairobi outside parliament buildings over two recent parliamentary bills they say will curb hard-won freedoms, muzzle government critics and undermine democracy. Last month, MPs pushed through a hugely controversial bill that could see journalists and outlets policed by a special quasi-government body and slapped with huge fines and potentially even forced out of business if they violate a code of conduct. Parliament has also set its sights on NGOs, drawing up a law that would place them under de facto government management and, notably, restrict their ability to receive funds from overseas donors - a key source of cash for many rights groups and anti-corruption watchdogs. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA

When I got to the office at 6am on March 7, 2013 — four days after the 2013 general election — I found several MPs and Senator-elects milling around. The parliamentary and governor results were in and the presidential results were all that Kenyans were waiting for.

Raila Odinga walked in a few minutes later followed by Kalonzo Musyoka. Shortly thereafter, several MPs and Senator-elects walked in and a meeting was quickly convened with a quorum of slightly over 40 newly elected Members of Parliament. Raila, Kalonzo and some of us — senior members of the presidential campaign team — joined them.

“Jakom, we must call out the people to protect your vote. These people are stealing your victory!” a thoroughly intoxicated MP from Nyanza sensationally claimed, kicking off the stormy meeting. Shouts of affirmation went up all around. Everyone had a story of how votes were being stolen at a certain polling station.

Senator-elects James Orengo and Amos Wako (to my pleasant surprise) tried to dissuade people from this course of action. They said the route being proposed had led to loss of lives in 2007-08. They were loudly shouted down and accused of “not caring for Jakom’s vote” now that their seats were secure. After that, none of the politicians dared offer a contrary opinion. As I sat pensively watching as the MPs and Senators — including ‘newbies’ from Western Kenya who were super-excited — argued on who had the best idea of how to stop the presidential tallying from being announced, I thought to myself. “This must be how the 2007-08 post-election violence started!”

It was genuinely frightening.

The theme for the year in my church at the time — CITAM Ngong — was ‘Positioned to Transform’.  Feeling like Daniel in a room full of lions, I bravely put my hand up. Raila looked at me and signalled me to speak. I stood up and offered a counter-argument. I reiterated the fact that calling people to the streets was tantamount to asking Kenyans to kill each other, especially in Nairobi. I asked why we were not willing to go to court.

The Western Kenya ‘newbies’ in the room immediately claimed that I was speaking from my position ‘as a Kikuyu’ (whatever that means). However, senior counsel present further explained that if Cord went to court before the presidential elections were called, they could then not file a petition thereafter. I then asked why we could not have some proxy file the case on behalf of Cord. The implicit suggestion was that we could use a team of NGOs who were die-hard Cord supporters. This was shouted down as too little too late. The politicians then trooped out for a press conference called at the Serena Hotel to announce that Cord would stop the presidential vote tallying through mass action. Raila and Kalonzo were to wait in the office for the team to come back after which the two would lead protesters to Bomas of Kenya to physically stop the presidential vote tallying. The expected resistance from the police  would get Cord supporters out in the streets.

I did not give up. I quietly called several members of civil society who were close to Raila and explained what had happened. They called Raila and convinced him to stop the street demonstrations and allow them to go to court on his behalf.  On Friday March 8, 2013, a petition was filed at the High Court. This is the case that made Kethi Kilonzo famous. (Part of a book coming out some day).

Now I hear Sh15.5 billion is to be shared out amongst some of the NGOs I called then, to support their ‘non-partisan’ election-related civic education.

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